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By Michael J. Mirto
One of the highlights of my days working at Wayne State University where I work securing grant funding and go to on-campus classes in Midtown, Detroit has been the gradual process of befriending Charles Alexander, longtime BTL columnist. (We actually first met when I worked seven years ago for the Affirmations LGBT Center.)
When we first started bumping into one another again Charles, who lives just off campus, would give me a simple wave, a quick head nod hello. Over time this evolved to asking questions, “How’s life?”; then, “How long have you been at the university?” “Are you partnered?” Eventually our small talk moved on to more meaningful personal exchanges.
Recently Charles asked me to write an article for BTL related to the paper’s 20th anniversary. I was hesitant, self-conscious to do so, basically shy in my writing efforts. However, after much reflection it occurred to me that this would be my chance to publicly thank Charles and others in our community who have helped us get to where we are today.
They’ve certainly been supportive of my growth experiences as a gay man. Some thoughts come to mind…
It has been such an exciting year in the LGBT community in terms of marriage equality. While we in Michigan still have work to do on the equality front, there are several exciting anniversaries to celebrate locally. In addition to BTL’s 20th anniversary, this year also marks 30 years of AIDS Partnership Michigan (APM) providing leadership, education, and the provision of effective support services and programs for those infected and/or affected by HIV/AIDS.
Both Affirmations and The HOPE Fund are coming up on landmark anniversaries next year. Affirmations will celebrate 25 years of serving the community and enriching our lives; and The HOPE Fund in the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan is getting ready to complete 20 years of strengthening organizations and funding projects that serve the LGBT community by awarding more than $1.7 million in grants to 128 projects at 45 nonprofit agencies.
Having volunteered and worked for Affirmations during their capital campaign, and volunteering with both APM and The HOPE Fund over the years, I have been fortunate to have benefited from countless mentors and community leaders. I am forever grateful for the knowledge and history to which I have been exposed, and am hopeful that there is a way to introduce more people to the tremendous richness we have in the stories, lessons, and history of our elders.
This brings me to the question, are we are doing enough to celebrate the people who are responsible for creating and building our community over the years? Our LGBT seniors.
I was recently introduced to the Jewish Senior Life’s Eight over Eighty event. Between 300 and 450 attendees annually honor eight extraordinary community individuals over the age of eighty who have practiced Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) throughout their lives. It was so touching to hear the history and life stories of the awardees, and I felt relieved to know that their oral histories were being documented.
Wouldn’t it be great if we had a similar event in the LGBT community?
With the number of LGBT seniors set to rapidly increase in the near future, it seems like a great time to increase our community’s focus on honoring the elders who have made it safer for us to come out, built a network of organizations and resources, and created the foundation for our recent progress toward marriage equality.
Documenting the stories and our collective history seems essential given the richness and diversity of our community and the increasing pace of change toward our struggle for equal rights over the last three generations.
I would invite any ideas/resources from those interested in facilitating some sort of event, reception or award program to benefit perhaps The LGBT Older Adult Coalition or the local SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) chapter that is in formation. In the spirit of collaboration and shared resources, perhaps a partnership could be formed with an existing community event.
Thanks in advance for entertaining this idea and special thanks to senior citizen Charles for prompting me to speak up. A few decades hence, Michael J. Mirto will himself be a senior. Fortunately, I have had several excellent LGBT role models.