Finding Common Ground: Intergenerational Programs Connect LGBT Elders, Youth

By Parson, Fairley | Aging Today, May/June 2014 | Go to article overview

Finding Common Ground: Intergenerational Programs Connect LGBT Elders, Youth


Parson, Fairley, Aging Today


Lori, a 69-year-old self-described "old butch dyke," sits in the community room at Openhouse, a San Francisco lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) senior social service organization. She speaks of her participation in an LGBT intergenerational program, and laments her lack of lesbian visibility.

"I joined the program because I could walk into a lesbian bar with my short haircut, and pink triangle tattoo, waving a rainbow flag, and the women there would ask me if I was lost or looking for my granddaughter. They don't see me," she said.

Ageism within Gay Culture

Scholar Monika Kehoe coined the term "triply invisible" in the Journal of Homosexuality (12:34, 2001) to describe the outcome of intersecting oppressionssexism, ageism and homophobia-on older lesbians. As prevailing discourse desexualizes all elders, LGBT older adultswhose identities may be predicated on sexuality-often are marginalized.

Peter Robinson, in his book The Changing World of Gay Men (Melbourne, Australia: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), argues that nowhere in contemporary Western society is emphasis on youthfulness more pronounced than in the gay world. Robinson holds that the gay "scene" is popularly viewed as a site of physical display where young men are valorized for youth and beauty.

In his 2013 article for The Huffington Post, "LGBT People: Let's Talk About Ageism," Robert Espinoza, senior director for Public Policy and Communications at Services and Advocacy for GBLT Elders (SAGE) in New York, encourages readers to consider the negative impact of ageism on LGBT elders' sense of place in the community. He argues that ageism is rarely discussed and remains largely unchallenged.

While organizations like Old Lesbians Organizing for Change, based in Athens, Ohio (with chapters throughout the nation), SAGE and Openhouse have made significant strides in addressing the issue of ageism in the LGBT community, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce Policy Institute, LGBT elders still report ageist attitudes within mainstream gay organizations (http://goo.gl/OCbLEq).

LGBT older adults routinely say they are not comfortable with traditional aging services due to homophobia as well as within LGBT organizations because of ageism. The Taskforce's report, Outing Age 2010 (http://goo.gl/CAaEdu), says, "[Nancy] Orel documents LGBT elders' stated need to have both LGBT centers that are elder-affirming and senior centers that are LGBT-affirming, services they currently lack. Advocates and supportive providers have gathered countless stories of LGBT elders who have avoided using services for fear of being treated poorly or were isolated, denied services or discriminated against when they did ask for help or when they needed long-term care."

Further, ageism may be especially detrimental to LGBT elders, who, when compared to their straight counterparts, are more likely to live alone, and are far less likely to have children to assist them.

Intergenerational Programs Can Disrupt Ageism

Proponents of intergenerational LGBT community programs maintain that such programs can play an important role in disrupting ageism by challenging ageist assumptions through fostering relationships and understanding across generations. Without a programmatic focus on intergenerational exchange, LGBT elders and youth often lack entrée to relationships across age cohorts. According to the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce's report Outing Age 2010 (http//goo.g//N6u vqQ), while the "chosen families" of LGBT

people have been rightly lauded for creating and maintaining LGBT community, the vast majority of such families are made up of people in the same age cohort. …

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