GREENFIELD — Among the LGBTQ+ senior population, the need for community is stronger than ever, according to participants in a focus group on LGBTQ+ seniors hosted by LifePath.
“Personally, I think of the loneliness and isolation that is more acute once you’re older,” said Peggy Vézina, one of eight focus group participants from across the county. “You start thinking about all kinds of things when you get older – where we’re going to live, how we’re going to manage and how we’re going to have a community.”
Monday’s focus group was held as part of the Age and Dementia-Friendly Communities Project, an initiative launched by LifePath in partnership with the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, according to Nour Elkhattaby Strauch, senior-friendly program manager at LifePath.
“This is a global initiative launched by the World Health Organization and administered in the United States by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)…to engage in age-friendly planning for the future,” explained Elkhattaby Strauch. “The infrastructure and the public policy and the things that worked when we had 10% to 12% older adults in the community now have to work with 30% to 35% older adults, which some of our cities are doing. »
The focus group, which was designed to help identify some of the unmet needs of the LGBTQ+ community, followed a survey by nearly 2,000 area residents over the age of 50, seeking feedback on topics ranging from daily exercise to internet availability, and from nutrition to health care and financial security.
“It’s a participatory approach,” he said. “Instead of having a grant-funding organization tell us how to make the city age-friendly…the ideas actually come from the community itself.”
Elkhattaby Strauch said the focus group with the LGBTQ+ community this week was one of the few focus groups that should take place as part of the overall needs assessment stage of the process. Other focus groups that LifePath plans to host include one for low-income seniors and another for ethnic minority seniors. A focus group was recently held for people living in supportive housing.
“I think you have to keep in mind that when we talk about LGBTQ+ seniors, we’re always talking about seniors,” said Elkhattaby Strauch, one of the panel’s moderators. “It’s not a separation of the issues of older people in the community – so many things are the same. For example, the first thing that came out was transportation when we were talking about unmet needs…and access to affordable housing; also, the isolation and loneliness that people have experienced over the past two years.
Still, he said, there are issues that are unique to the LGBTQ+ community.
“A lot of people have mentioned that many seniors who identify as LGBTQ+ don’t always feel safe in supportive housing, shared housing, or subsidized housing,” he said. “There’s still a lot of stigma, even after all these years.”
The need for services and support is often more difficult to manage due to the “additional layer of discrimination”.
Cheryl, a focus group participant who declined to share her last name, said that in “the current mood of our country” she feels much less safe as a person with a disability who identifies as a lesbian. .
“We have, by necessity, been self-reliant,” she said. “We learned to fix things, we learned to use tools, we learned to fix things.”
Likewise, Vézina, who retired in the fall, said that as she gets older, she’s no longer able to do everything she once could.
“The need for community is stronger because of these things,” Vezina said.
She added that although she has had conversations with his wife about elderly housing, even that scares her.
At least one focus group participant expressed a desire for regular meetings of like-minded individuals, Elkhattaby Strauch said.
“One of the things that was interesting and unique about today was this idea that sometimes we lump this category together – LGBTQ,” he said. “Some people have said they wish there was more of a focus on lesbian-only groups or bi-only groups.”
Participants stressed the importance of not viewing an entire category as a monolith, a group, he said. For example, health care needs in the trans community may be different from other communities.
“There are a lot of different needs,” he said.
Elkhattaby Strauch said data collected from focus groups, combined with survey data, will help create an age-friendly action plan that incorporates short, medium and long-term goals to improve the physical environment. and social of seniors. . He hopes to have an action plan to implement by early 2023.
Journalist Mary Byrne can be reached at [email protected] or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne