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By Kathleen LaTosch
There’s no doubt that Michigan has suffered in recent years with a slow, downhill slide when it comes to protecting the rights of LGBT people. That’s why this presidential election was so important. Michigan LGBT people really need help at the federal level to ensure any level of local protection. It’s not coming from inside the state borders on most counts. But there are some glimmers of hope.
Perhaps the most optimistic area is in relation to our LGBT older adults. In just two years, an array of groups, programs, services and even conferences have popped up to support LGBT elders in our community. We have three, long-lasting LGBT older adult social groups hosted weekly at Affirmations; the Detroit Elder Project at KICK, the LGBT Older Adult Coalition, and Gay Elders of Southeast Michigan (the pre-cursor to a new SAGE affiliate in Michigan).
While they all possess some distinctive qualities, they also all collaborate effectively, coming together to plan what’s become an annual LGBT Older Adult Summit. The third is planned for this coming June and headed up by KICK’s Cornelius Wilson. And that’s not all they’ve done collectively, they’ve also:
. Successfully encouraged more than 1,000 Michigan LGBT older adults to participate in a statewide needs assessment. In partnership with the State of Michigan, this was a first in the country and will form the basis for determining future programs and services.
. Hosted two summits to gather face-to-face input from more than 100 LGBT older adults and published reports comparing and contrasting racial and residential differences among the area’s LGBT older adult community.
. Begun to explore housing and residential options for Southeast Michigan’s LGBT older adults.
Individually, they’ve all had amazing successes. Gay Elders of Southeast Michigan now offers educational programming and workshops on financial, legal and healthcare issues affecting LGBT elders. Their last legal workshop attracted nearly 100 people and their recent Sunday social attracted more than 50.
KICK hosted a first-in-the-nation African American LGBT Elder Summit. The organization gained national attention for not only bringing light to the issues, but also reflecting back to the field some of the important challenges and barriers faced by African American LGBT elders. Out of the summit grew a permanent discussion and work group, The Detroit Elder Project.
The LGBT Older Adult Coalition has provided training to more than 164 aging care workers at 24 different agencies. It launched a website with information and resources and has been working to impact policy on a state level, including advocating for deeper investment in LGBT issues among the Area Agencies on Aging across the state. During 2013, it plans to explore housing options for LGBT elders in Michigan.
None of these efforts could have been successful without tremendous support from a number of sources. Michigan Office of Services to the Aging led the effort to create and offer the statewide LGBT Needs Assessment, encouraging involvement from all of our LGBT elder groups. The Area Agency on Aging 1-B is now the second such agency in the country to have created a full-time LGBT-aging specialist position. The HOPE Fund continues to support all of this work through grant funding.
Indeed, there are sometimes brilliant rays of sunshine that pour down through grey skies and this one is only getting brighter.