Coffee and Conversation: Aging in A Difficult Political Environment

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Senior life in South Florida isn’t always fun in the sun.

With age comes doctor’s visits, annual health exams and tests, operations and procedures, expensive medication and, God forbid, hospitalizations.

After death plans are routinely advertised by funeral homes. Assisted-living facilities frequently sponsor community center functions.

At the Pride Center in Wilton Manors, Florida, a weekly “coffee and conversation” program is a popular meeting point for older LGBT people. Bruce Williams is the director of senior services at Pride Center.

“I make an ass out of myself and people keep coming,” Williams said.

Williams opens the program with a joke and has been known to perform a solo or skit for laughs. The program is important, for many reasons, Williams said. The weekly interaction between members of the community – to talk about what is going on in their lives – is immeasurably valuable, Williams said.

Recently, U.S. Congressman Ted Deutch made an appearance. Deutch, a Democrat who represents Florida’s 22nd district, “pops in once every six months,” Williams said.

Wilton Manors, a hub of LGBT life in South Florida, is part of Deutch’s district. The Congressman is serving his fifth-term in Washington, D.C. and is popular with his gay and lesbian constituents. A graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, Deutch is married with three children and considered a rising star among Jewish politicians.

“Rick Scott couldn’t be trusted to stand with the LGBT community in his eight years as governor,” Deutch said. “Floridians shouldn’t expect anything different from him as a Senator. He refused to expand Medicaid, which would help 800,000 Floridians access affordable healthcare and he’s added Florida to a lawsuit to take away protections for people with pre-existing conditions.”

Health services are part of the Pride Center’s programming. At the weekly coffee and conversation program, HIV prevention health care workers are typically present to plug their programs. Recently, at the 2018 United States Conference on AIDS (USCA), 2014 data was revealed showing people aged 50 and over accounted for almost 50 percent of Americans living with HIV.

Gilead Sciences is a biopharmaceutical company with offices in Foster City, California. Eric Waters, a Gilead Sciences spokesman, said the HIV community has arrived at a crossroads.

“It’s critical to envision the future and develop innovative solutions that can help improve the long-term outlook for those living with HIV,” Waters said.

For LGBT seniors in South Florida, life can be defined by three Hs -- health, housing and happiness. 

Properly treated, HIV positive individuals are living longer lives and the disease is no longer a death sentence, Deutch said.

“But beyond medicine, the next most important thing is community, be it the family you’re born into or the family you choose,” Deutch said. “We’re fortunate to have such a tight-knit and supportive community in the Fort Lauderdale area, offering those living with HIV important resources to treat their conditions and fight social stigmas. And more cities should be encouraged to offer affordable housing options for low-income LGBT seniors.”


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