A new report from Caring and Aging with Pride, the “first national federally funded project to examine LGBT aging and health,” reveals some startling facts about our community elders.
Among the findings: “An alarming number report disability (47%), depression (31%), and loneliness (53%), with bisexual older women experiencing higher levels of stress than older lesbians and transgender older adults experiencing higher rates of disability, depression, and loneliness than non-transgender older adults.”
Involvement in community activities can have a positive impact on mental and physical health for LGBT elders (age 50+), and most participants reported at least moderate levels of social support which can “counteract the unique challenges that LGBT older adults face.”
This feature examines three local groups providing support to gay and bisexual men, lesbian and bisexual women, and LGBT Jewish individuals. It is worth noting that there are also national groups addressing the needs of LGBT elders, particularly Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders (SAGE). Find more information at SageUSA.org.
Prime Timers Socialize in Style
The Prime Timers of Baltimore is a social club for “mature gay and bisexual men and the men who admire them,” according to their website. The group has been in existence for 15 years; before that, members were part of a joint Baltimore/Washington, D.C. chapter.
“I was looking for a way of connecting with other men my age, and a friend encouraged me to join,” said Lee Fischer, current president of Prime Timers. “It’s a friendly group that’s very compatible because we are all facing the same issues as other men over 50.”
The club has a full social calendar of activities, including a monthly general meeting with a potluck dinner, mixer night at local bars, movie night and the popular dining out on the first Saturday of each month. Any activity involving food is popular with members, according to Fischer: “People really like the dinners, going out to restaurants, and potlucks.”
And members don’t just stay in town and socialize. The annual cruise is also well attended. This year’s two-week excursion, “The Big Apple to the Big Easy,” leaves from New York City and travels to St. Thomas, Antigua, Barbados, and Aruba.
Since Prime Timers is a national organization, members like Fischer who travel can also meet up with other Prime Timers in cities such as Richmond, Cleveland, and Minneapolis. The organization also has an annual convention; this year’s national gathering will be held in Columbus, Ohio in early October.
“I have made a lot of new friends, and there are many different places where I can connect with people,” said Fischer, speaking about the benefits he’s received from active participation in the group.
But it’s not all fun and games for Fischer and his fellow members. Fischer, who became HIV+ at age 60, knows personally the importance of more serious matters such as health. Speakers have come to the Prime Timers periodically from health organizations such as Chase Brexton to lecture on concerns for older gay and bisexual men. Social workers have also talked to the group about long-term health care.
For more information, visit their website at PtBalto.org or call Lee Fischer at 410.227.9788.
OWLS of the Greater Capitol Area Provide Support to Women
About 35 years ago, a group of women from Baltimore, Silver Spring, and Washington, D.C. came together informally, to socialize and to support each other. They called themselves the OWLS—Older, Wiser Lesbians. Eventually, the group grew, developed by-laws and became a tax-free organization with 150 current members.
The OWLS provide social activities for their members, such as theme-night dinner parties at each other’s houses, service projects, and theater trips to Washington, D.C. and New York City. They also sponsor an annual fall crab feast at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis and a heavily attended Thanksgiving dinner at the Candle Light Inn in Catonsville.
“We have known each other a long time,” said Mir (pseudonym used by request), current chairwoman. “Many people don’t have family to have Thanksgiving with, so we get together on the Sunday before the holiday.”
But providing social support for each other is not the only need the group meets.
“Health is very important as we get older,” Mir said, age 72. “We take care of each other a lot. Some members are not well, or handicapped, so we take care of them physically.”
According to The Aging and Health Report, the “lesbian, gay and bisexual older adults (age 50+) have higher rates of disability compared to their straight counterparts. They also “experience higher rates of mental distress,” with 1/3 of participants suffering from depression.
“Lesbians and bisexual older women report higher risk of cardiovascular disease and obesity than heterosexual women,” according to the report. Couple these health issues with the social isolation that can accompany LGBT elders, and it is clear that our aging community members benefit from organizations like the OWLS.
“We care about the community, “said Mir, referring to the “hard-working women” on the Board. “We want to make things happen and to keep the OWLS going. We laugh and tell everybody that if you are bored, it’s your problem, because there is so much to do here.”
Jewish LGBT Group Addresses the Spirit
Many LGBT older adults “attend spiritual or religious services or activities,” according to The Aging and Health Report (2011). And while some faith-based communities have a history of LGBT discrimination, many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals have sought out, and been embraced by, welcoming religious and spiritual spaces.
“When we first got together 38 years ago, we had only two friends that were gay,” said Roz (last name withheld by request), age 67. “We read that there was a synagogue in Washington, D.C. that was welcoming, and that group told us that there was a gay Jewish group in Baltimore.”
Roz and her partner Betsy, age 74, belong to an informal Jewish group that meets for religious holidays, such as a Rosh Hashanah dinner, the Hanukkah meal, and a Passover sedar. In the past, gatherings have occurred at Temple Oheb Shalom in Pikesville, where “the Rabbi has been very nice to us,” said Roz.
The group has a mailing list of 40-60 members, mostly middle-aged women, according to Roz. Members are generally Reform or Conservative Jews, although there have been a few Orthodox Jewish participants in the past. Considering Orthodox Judaism’s strong stance against homosexuality, it’s not surprising that, “most people who are very Orthodox are not out to others,” said Roz.
The group is appropriately titled The Rainbow Chavurah (meaning “friendship group”), and it welcomes all Jewish lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals who want to celebrate in an accepting group. One member, Marty, “brought a woman to a function who didn’t know that such a place existed,” said Roz.
For Roz and her partner, the greatest benefit of participation in the group has been, “being able to socialize during holidays that have meaning for us, with people who are just like us.”
For more information, contact Marty at 410-486-4107.
Want to read more? Click Here to download The Aging and Health Report: Disparities and Resilience among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Older Adults.