BY AJ TRAGER
DETROIT- Dozens of LGBT Detroiters attended the Fifth Annual LGBT Older Adult Summit on June 20 at the Michigan State University Detroit Center on Woodward. Executive Director of Affirmations, Darrious Hilmon, gave the keynote address.
The Summit Committee decided to reformat the event by shortening the list of scheduled conversations, narrowing down the program so that attendees had only one track to follow. An informational conversation titled “What Now? Implications of the Supreme Court Marriage Decisions” with law panelists Jane Bassett, Angie Perone and Adrienne Watts followed the keynote address. Conversations after lunch included a workshop titled “Fraud Watch and Networking session” with Lisa Whitmore Davis and a Michigan update workshop led by Jay Kaplan.
Judy Lewis began the morning with a blessing which led directly into Hilmon’s address.
“Making sure that this community has a voice matters to me. I was raised by a phenomenal group of folks and grandparents. I am old enough to have the gift of grandparents who you honored and respected. That intergenerational transfer of knowledge that everyday, when I wake up and I look in the mirror, I see my grandfather’s face,” Hilmon said. “I remember crying as a child because people would say that we were spitting images of each other. But grandaddy was bald and lost his hair. But today at 47, when I’ve experienced so much life and I’ve cut all my hair off, I realize that the things I thought were important as a child change so much once you get some life and experience behind you.”
Hilmon’s brother passed away suddenly at 40. Amongst the group at the summit, he further described his emotional journey from the moment he was told the news to how this experience shaped who he is today.
“After my brother’s death, living my life fearlessly — without guilt or shame — became incredibly, increasingly more important to me. Even when I tried to deny it, something in my spirit refused to let me continue to live the way I had lived before the day he left this earth,” Hilmon expressed.
Directly following his address, Hilmon responded to questions and concerns posed by the audience regarding the future of Affirmations; what it was like to move back to Detroit after living in Chicago; how Affirmations is going to address the polarization of the LGBT community in Detroit versus the LGBT community located closer to Ferndale; and how the center will work to bridge the gap between services provided for the two metro Detroit communities.
“I believe that changing the world is an individual process, which makes it a marathon and not a sprint,” Hilmon said.
In the next weeks and months to come, Affirmations will launch new programs in both Detroit and Ferndale that include creating a more sustainable structure addressing the needs of trans women of color and youth of color along with professional staff developments and youth programming. Hilmon believes that because of America’s history, Affirmations must always, no matter what the issue, look through the lens of race.
“We cannot say we are Metro Detroit’s community center if we are not engaging Metro Detroit,” he said.
Aging services are known for being hostile to the aging LGBT community, resulting in fear, avoidance and too often older LGBT adults falling back into the closet, Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) reports. LGBT seniors face more barriers due to the lack of provider knowledge and training, inequitable policies and lack of resources. The Older Adult Summit was designed to provide LGBT seniors, caregivers and families the available resources that can help members grow, adapt and remain motivated.
“We are facing a number of challenges, but, despite setbacks, we should all be very proud of where we are today and excited about where we are headed,” the committee wrote in their welcome letter.
Michael Bartus, founding member of the LGBT Older Adult Summit, was awarded the first ever LGBT Older Adult Summit Lifetime Achievement Award by Chair of the Summit Committee, Cornelius Wilson, and Jay Kaplan, LGBT special projects staff attorney for the ACLU. Bartus has been an activist for more than 50 years and has worked for the state office on aging, is emeritus commissioner working with the office of aging services and has been an advocate for the LGBT community focusing on aging issues.