Key to Healthy Aging? Noshing and Chatting With Friends

Today marks the first Blogging for LGBT Elders Day and we couldn’t be happier to participate. While societal acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people has rapidly accelerated in recent years, a lifetime of discrimination, harassment, and rejection takes a toll on a person. If you talk with just about any LGBT person over age 60, you’ll hear stories about how they or their friends were fired from jobs, physically attacked, shunned by parents, condemned by their faith organizations, committed to psychiatric hospitals, or denied assistance from government agencies and other organizations.

Perhaps the most important thing we can do for LGBT older adults is to help create community spaces in which they can socialize with others without fear, and make it easy for them to stay out as they age. The LGBT Aging Project has found that one of the most effective ways to do this is to create meal programs where LGBT older adults can routinely come together for lunch or dinner.

Such meal programs, known as Congregate Nutrition Services (CNS), were established in 1972 under the Older Americans Act. They help older adults remain independent by reducing social isolation and providing sustenance through good nutrition. CNS specifically target those with the greatest social or economic needs.

“With a growing population of LGBT older adults in the US, we know the need is great for meal programs,” said Lisa Krinsky, Director of the LGBT Aging Project of The Fenway Institute at Fenway Health. “The aging LGBT population is more vulnerable to isolation than the general population. They’re less likely to access services from local councils on aging that their heterosexual peers feel comfortable attending, because they fear that they might have to closet themselves in such settings.”

More and more research backs up what common sense tells us: community involvement and support promotes physical health, mental health, and longevity. “Our community has always excelled at fighting off discrimination and rejection due to our sexuality orientation or gender identity by coming together,” Krinsky added. “Meal programs are an effective way to do this, whether they are standalone programs or integrated within the services offered by an existing council on aging.”

The LGBT Aging Project collaborates with community partners to conduct research among LGBT elders and mainstream providers; provide training to caregivers; and increase public awareness of LGBT elders and caregivers, and the issues that impact their lives. It is a founding member of the National Roundtable on LGBT Aging, hosted by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF – The Task Force), which facilitates collaboration with colleagues throughout the country in order to address national policy issues. The LGBT Aging Project also helped found Café Emmanuel with Ethos, a Boston-area Aging Service Access Point. Café Emmanuel is Massachusetts’ first federally funded meal program for LGBT older adults and their friends.

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