Southern Arizona group is building a community for LGBTQ seniors | Local News

Diana Ramos for the Arizona Daily Star

Seniors in the LGBTQ community are more likely than other seniors to experience isolation, advocates say.

They are four times less likely to have children, twice as likely to live alone and twice as likely to be single, according to a 2011 National Health Study co-authored by the Center for American Progress and Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Seniors.

This reality reinforces the importance of having a supportive community, and Southern Arizona Senior Pride works to help provide it.

In 2021, for example, its Community Cares program conducted 1,195 one-on-one visits with isolated, homebound and disabled community members, helping people connect and feel connected.

Part of healthy aging is having company, gatherings and affirmations of who you are, said Joyce Bolinger, secretary of the Southern Arizona Senior Pride board of directors and longtime volunteer.

“You can’t survive without community,” Bolinger said.

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Senior Pride also creates a safe space for older LGBTQ people to be themselves, its leaders say.

Coming out of the closet is a process that some older LGBTQ people still go through, advocates point out. They grew up in different times when being gay was a crime or was thought to be linked to some kind of mental illness, they note.

“Being gay was a big, deep, dark secret that you didn’t tell anyone,” said Robert Bell, vice chairman of the Southern Arizona Senior Pride board of directors and longtime volunteer. “It was just too dangerous to be real, to tell people who you really were.”

For Erin Russ, coordinator of Senior Pride’s Advanced Care Planning Program, Senior Pride is a place where she can recharge and talk to people who understand and support her struggles.

“Being outside and living authentically makes a big difference,” Russ said.

Southern Arizona Senior Pride previously conducted grassroots volunteer activities under the auspices of Wingspan, a community center that served the LGBT senior community. After Wingspan closed in 2014, Senior Pride stepped up and continued its mission of building community for LGBTQ seniors.

In partnership with the Pima Council on Aging, Interfaith Community Services, Southern Arizona Gender Alliance, and Elder Alliance, Senior Pride offers programs that encourage social interaction, education, fun, cultural appreciation, and identity.

From cultural events and workshops to social gatherings and support groups, Senior Pride says it provides social solutions in a safe environment for LGBTQ people to share their stories, loss and grief. It also holds monthly rallies in Himmel Park.

Its wide range of programs – health and wellness, social and learning, arts and culture – strive to empower LGBTQ seniors.

“We share history, we share our stories, we share trauma and we share pride,” said executive director and longtime volunteer Lavina Tomer.

As board chair and volunteer Bruce Hyland said, “(We) are still fighting the good fight there. »

Diana Ramos is a University of Arizona journalism student apprenticed with the Arizona Daily Star.

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