Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Elder Think Tank

Yesterday, I attended a meeting of the Elder Think Tank. It's a program sponsored by the Metro DC GLBT Community Center. The Elder Think Tank recently elected new leadership, and that was evident at the first meeting.

The Elder Think Tank is focused on aging issues for the LGBT communities. Many of the people around the table are experts on LGBT aging issues. Others are activists who have specific interests around these issues. I'm one of the latter.

I want to get involved because I believe that LGBT people have unique needs that can't be adequately satisfied within the current way of caring for aging people. Even "gay-friendly" institutions are no substitute for LGBT people caring for each other. I also believe that we can't wait for the government or the healthcare industry, or communities of faith to take care of our needs. Our communities need to clearly define their needs for our aging members, AND the primary responsibility for satisfying those needs must come from our communities. We need to build the institutions and the social infrastructure to take care of ourselves.

Here are some ideas on how to do that

  • Examine our needs.
  • Whether its a focus group, a survey, or conversations within our communities, we have to explore the needs of aging LGBT people. I believe that LGBT communities have unique social, health, and safety needs that are not immediately apparent to our families and "gay-friendly" service providers. Our communities are in the best position to articulate our distinctive needs.

  • Engage our communities.
  • Our communities do not have the infrastructure, yet, to take care of a huge increase in their aging populations. Groups like the Elder Think Tank need to find effective means to have conversations with social groups, the bar crowd, pick-up sites, religious communities, political groups - in short in every venue where aging LGBT people find themselves. We can't be quiet, because if we live long enough, all of us will need assistance.

  • Take care of ourselves.
  • The primary responsibility for ensuring a successful fade to black rests with all of us. It's more than financial planning or long-term care insurance. It means reaching out to aging LGBT peers, to family members, and establishing networks that encourage preventive health care, socialization, physical activity, good nutrition, continuing education and travel, and compassionate care.

    Many of us don't have strong family ties; we can't count on children or siblings to help out. But we can build robust social networks among our peers that can encourage practices and a life that we can live out in our own homes among our friends. The keys are cooperation and compassionate care.

    Our communities should also use appropriate technologies to reach each other, to work with care providers, and to provide community resources. Whether it's on the Internet or the iPhone, we can make a presence that builds a necessary infrastructure to strengthen and enrich the lives of aging LGBT people.

  • Look to care providers.
  • Where we as communities or networks of friends cannot take care of each other, we have to engage care providers. I hope that many of these care providers can come from our own communities, and that they will know our needs. In any case, we want providers, facilities, and institutions - an infrastructure - that are compassionate, knowledgeable, and accountable. We live our lives differently, and our providers must understand and be flexible to the familial, legal, and social hurdles that affect our communities.