On Thursday, May 9, the Palm Beach County Area Agency on Aging/Your Aging Resource Center (AAA/YARC) held a gathering of local LGBT residents to discuss the issues faced by LGBT people as they reach retirement and contemplate their future needs for medical attention and long and short term care.
Organized by Richard Hart, director of strategic initiatives at AAA/YARC, with help from Trish Ernst, communications director, about 30 people attended the program which was entitled “Improving the Lives of LGBT Seniors – A Call To Action.” Snacks and beverages were served. The meeting started at 4:30 and ended shortly after 6.
Hart, an openly gay executive at AAA/YARC, welcomed the group and introduced Ernst as an ally, to the community. She gave a formal presentation on the goals and functions of the AAA/YARC, explaining that the organization is federally funded and required to provide services to all seniors in their service area – including LGBT seniors.
“We need to find out what people need and then determine how best to meet those needs,” she said. “That’s why we’re so happy to have you all with us today.”
Jim Sugarman, the executive director of the West Palm Beach Library Foundation and an early member of the steering committee Hart had gathered to begin the process of creating a task force, led the group in an ice breaker helping everyone to get to know one another and share their hopes and expectations for their time together.
The short documentary, “Project Visibility,” was shown. Created under the auspices of the Boulder (CO) County Aging Services Division, the video features a number of aging LGBT people sharing their generally bad experiences and their equally negative fears about having to return to the closet in order to be safe.
Group discussion ensued including a sharing of concerns. Just about everyone present agreed that educating service providers is a critical need.
“People who provide services to gay seniors should have to pass a competency test,” said Connie Kurtz, whose partner of 37 years, Ruth Berman, was unable to attend. “And there should be inspectors to make sure they know it — just like there are inspectors to make sure the places are clean.”
Rev. Taylor Stevens, a life coach and spiritual counselor, shared with the group that he recently had surgery and was accompanied to the hospital by his husband.
“I have to admit that I had some reservation about being too visible as a gay couple because in a few minutes the doctor, who was meeting my husband and would soon be wielding the scalpel, might have an unconscious homophobia that could result in an ‘accident,’ that could mean a significant injury.”
“I’m still ten years from retirement,” he added. “So I can just imagine the fear of someone who is elderly and frail. It has to be awful.”
Hart explained that there are a number of programs being launched in LGBT communities around the nation although currently little seems to be happening in Palm Beach.
“We need your help so we can help you and everyone concerned with this issue,” he said. “So we’re inviting you to sign up to be part of a task force to begin the process of identifying the best next steps that can be taken by the community with the support of the agency.”
Hart said the AAA/YARC will host a monthly task force meeting at its facility in West Palm Beach starting in June with dates and times TBA. Readers who are interested in becoming task force members or learning more should contact Richard Hart at 561-684-5885 x 237.