By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly
As Gay & Grey prepares for its Fourth Annual Expo in May, the Friendly House-based advocacy and education program for LGBTQ elders is also readying itself for growing ranks, thanks to an aging Baby Boomer generation.
The expo, the largest event of its kind in the nation, will feature resource and vendor booths, health screenings, entertainment, and workshops on a wide range of topics including sex after 60, travel and recreation, living well with HIV, end of life concerns and celebrations, and spirituality.
“This year’s expo will build on the good work done last year when we saw a large increase in attendance and enjoyed Governor Kitzhaber’s Proclamation of Gay & Grey Day,” says Friendly House executive director Vaune Albanese. “The expo will bring together the gay, elder, and provider communities with the goal of improving services and housing opportunities that allow LGBT seniors to experience their golden years with joy and dignity.”
As many as 500 people are expected to attend the expo and screening of “Gen Silent” — a documentary about LGBTQ elders, according to Martha Wright, marketing and communications coordinator for Friendly House.
That number is large for an event of this type, but pales in comparison to the 10,000 LGBTQ seniors Wright estimates live in Portland. Nationally, she says, conservative estimates place that population at 3 million. That number is expected to grow to 5 million within the decade.
“To me, the statistic of the aging population kind of boggles the mind,” Wright says. “The average person has not really taken the time to really grasp what that means.”
What it means is that the need for LGBTQ-friendly senior services is only going to increase. When it comes to the all-important issue of housing, there’s a fair amount of work to be done.
A recent Lewis and Clark survey asked the management of long-term care facilities to indicate how prepared they are for a growing LGBTQ population. The results were not encouraging. Most facilities are not ready, Wright says.
“Working directly with residential communities, senior housing facilities, and long-term care agencies it very important,” says Laruren Fontanarosa, program coordinator for Gay & Grey. “We hear directly from LGBT older adults time and time again the fear and uncertainty they have when it comes to moving out of their home or access care-giving services.”
Fortunately, Gay & Grey has in its arsenal an educational program shown by a recent University of Portland study to be highly effective.
“The UP study gave us the data to illustrate the positive impact our trainings have,” Fontanarosa says. “Especially prevalent were the comments audience members made about how powerful our Elder Panel is, and how meaningful it was to hear the stories of LGBT elders from elders themselves.”
Also working in Gay & Grey’s favor is its recent affiliation with the national organization SAGE (Services & Advocacy for LGBT Elders), says Mya Chamberlin, Friendly House director of services for seniors and homeless families. That partnership not only brings national attention to the program, it may also give Gay & Grey access to funding for special projects, training and access to advocacy materials, and technical support with legislative and advocacy issues.
“Being a SAGE affiliate has also been great,” Fontanarosa says, “to be able to share with other people all over the county the work we are doing, get inspiration from their programs and see the larger effort that is going on to support LGBT elders.”
For more information on the Gay & Grey events happening May 11-12, visit www.gayandgreypdx.org.