To age as comfortably as possible, elders need a stable support system. Yet seniors who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender often find themselves lacking that support and even facing social isolation because they fear not being accepted by their peers.
Services in Massachusetts are available, advocates say, but often elder LGBT individuals may not be as open about their status as younger individuals. Several local organizations are developing programs that are specifically geared toward meeting the population’s needs.
Marlborough-based BayPath Elder Services was able to step up its LGBT initiative after receiving a grant from MetroWest Health Foundation. The grant will allow BayPath to hire a part-time staff person focused on the LGBT program. It hopes to fill the position soon.
“As an area agency on aging . . . we are charged with meeting the needs of underserved populations in our area, and we have consistently identified when we do surveys . . . that the LGBT community is an underserved community,” said Christine Alessandro, BayPath’s executive director.
BayPath currently serves 14 MetroWest cities and towns, including Framingham, Marlborough, and Natick, but social events are open to individuals from the broader community.
Earlier this year, BayPath hosted a screening of the documentary film “Gen Silent.” Shot in Boston, it tells the stories of elderly LGBT individuals. BayPath hopes to host another screening of the film in November.
The next major event that’s part of the LGBT initiative will be BayPath’s first Evening Gala, on Oct. 11 at Framingham State University. The event will include dinner, keynote speakers, and a panel discussion.
But BayPath isn’t alone in the effort to serve LGBT elders. The Natick Council on Aging has also hosted several LGBT-friendly events since learning that those elders have been underserved.
“It was very striking for us to identify that there were no organized social opportunities here in MetroWest [for LGBT elders], and people asked if that was an area that we could work on,” said Susan Ramsey, director of the Natick Council on Aging. “Folks from MetroWest tend to travel to Worcester, Providence, R.I., Cambridge, and Boston.”
The Natick Council on Aging has hosted its own screening of “Gen Silent” along with bi-monthly social events at which LGBT elders and their allies can speak in an open setting.
Ramsey said she is hoping to secure funding for the Natick council’s own paid staff person by October. He or she would work on inclusion and diversity issues, with an initial focus on the LGBT community.
“Once we get that kind of under our belts and launched . . . then we’ll address their attention to other underserved populations,” Ramsey said.
BayPath and the Natick Council on Aging are just two organizations that have participated in training sessions with the LGBT Aging Project, which trains mainstream elder care providers in LGBT cultural competency throughout Massachusetts. In 2013, the LGBT Aging Project became part of the Fenway Institute at Fenway Health.
Since its inception in 2001, the Aging Project has provided training to more than 2,000 people.
Some of its work also focuses on strengthening elder care outreach and educational efforts for LGBT elder individuals.
However, cultural competency training is not required of elder care providers in Massachusetts, as it is in some other states, such as California.
“We want to be doing this training in places that don’t want us there,” said Bob Linscott, the Aging Project’s assistant director. “It’s the ones that say, ‘Oh we don’t have any LGBT folk in our town, there’s no need to do this’ . . . Those folks are missing the boat, because they don’t realize that people don’t even feel safe or welcome to go into their senior center for fear of how they’d be treated.”
The Aging Project has been working on a bill pending in the Legislature that would make LGBT cultural training standard for all elder service agencies.
“We want everyone in every town to have a place where they can access some sort of LGBT-friendly program or service. That’s the big goal,” Linscott said.
A hearing on the bill is scheduled for Sept. 21 before the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs.