By LaTierra Piphus
For many younger folks, September is Back-to-School month, but for many actively engaged older adults, it is National Senior Center month. Popular organizations like the National Council on Aging has even published a Program Guide to help Aging Providers to develop opportunities for their seniors with useful resources like money management tools, healthy new recipes and low-intensity fitness exercises.
Specifically, this National Senior Center month’s theme is “Find Balance at your Center: Learning, Friendship, Purpose, Fitness”, which is meant to emphasize the various activities that older adults could partake in at these senior centers. However, for many LGBTQ+ older adults exploring local senior centers for a possible “home”, their decision to join often comes down to how welcoming and affirming the staff and environment seems at a glance.
The influx of LGBTQ older adults accessing senior centers are cause for local aging services providers to make sure their facility and staff are both welcoming and affirming to their LGBTQ+ participants.
Here are a few suggestions to ensure that your organization is both culturally competent at first impression and behind-the-scenes:
1) Diverse Collateral/Promotional Materials: Most senior centers have decorative photos framed or brochures in the common areas of their facility. If there are couples featured in those materials, make sure some of them are same-sex couples. Modeling that you all recognize more than just traditional heteronormative relationships is a great start. Also, making sure there is visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming seniors featured would be helpful.
2) Inclusive-language usage: On any intake forms or documents that seniors need to share their contact information, make sure when asking about gender to include more than just Woman/Man, Female/Male or Wife/Husband. Including terminology like Transgender person/Gender Non-Conforming or even leaving a blank space for them to write-in their own gender identities allows for people to identify as they see fit. Also, replacing gendered language to terms like Partner, Significant Other, Spouse instead of Husband or Wife will show that you don’t assume everyone is in a traditionally heteronormative relationship and recognize all commitments.
3) Verbalize your inclusive language: Don’t limit your inclusive language to just your walls or forms. Speak freely about how supportive your environment is to LGBTQ+ folks and when engaging in conversation, ask for people’s gender pronouns and partnerships in a neutral way. For example: Instead of saying “Will your husband/wife be joining you here at the center?”, say “Are you currently partnered? And will your partner be joining us also?” This leaves room for them to share what they feel comfortable sharing.
4) Train your staff: The National Resource Center on LGBT Aging has wonderful comprehensive trainings for aging services providers to gain cultural competencies on working with seniors of all sexual orientations and gender identities. They provide a national network of trainers that can work with your organization on getting everyone in your facility on-the-same page, so check them out today: Click Here
5) Start a GSA, then Promote it: Gay Straight Alliances don’t have to end after high school or college. Older adults still need those structured supportive communities at all ages, especially for populations at greater risk for isolation like LGBT seniors. Learn more about how to start a GSA in your center: Click Here
These suggestions should certainly extend past just this month’s designated observation, but if you need help ushering in these new changes then September is a great time to start. Creating a welcoming and affirming environment for LGBTQ older adults will be important to helping them Find Balance at your Center!