Agency helps LGBT seniors enjoy their Golden Years in comfort
Mar. 1, 2012
The Ethos Equality Fund launch on February 16 proved to be an unexpectedly good night for the non-profit agency based in Jamaica Plain. Ethos hosted a fundraiser at the Boston Public Library in Copley Square featuring a reception and screening of “Gen Silent,” filmmaker Stu Maddux’s documentary about LGBT seniors in and around Boston for whom the Golden Years are often tarnished by discrimination.
The event pleasantly surprised Dale P. Mitchell, Executive Director of Ethos and co-founder of the LGBT Aging Project.
“We had no idea whether or not we would even raise any money,” Mitchell said. “I felt we’d be lucky if we raised $5,000 because it’s an untested constituency and an untested issue in terms of fundraising. We raised $35,000.”
Ethos primarily serves West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Hyde Park, Mattapan and Roslindale but serves Dorchester residents who attend programs and events which are open and welcoming to all.
The private, not-for-profit organization is dedicated to maintaining the dignity, well-being, and independence of Boston LGBT seniors, aiming to keep them living independently for as long as possible.
In conjunction with the LGBT Aging Project, part of Ethos’s efforts to help seniors socialize is the community café. The organization has two: Café Emmanuel at Emmanuel Church on Newbury St. and Out to Brunch at Roslindale House. Seniors from Boston neighborhoods including Dorchester congregate every Thursday (Emmanuel Café) and on the first Saturday of the month (Out to Brunch). As a direct result of the $35,000 raised at the Feb. 16 reception, Out to Brunch’s frequency has increased to twice a month; it had been cut due to previous budgetary limitations.
There are no specific LGBT senior centers in Massachusetts. Nationally, there is only — the SAGE center in New York City, which opened just last month. But, the Ethos meal sites have become “de facto senior centers,” places where seniors can socialize and feel comfortable without having to hide their sexual orientation or be wary of discrimination.
“Well, we’re the first,” Mitchell said. “We’re no longer the only, which is the most gratifying thing of all.”
Other aging agencies such as the Sharon Adult Center, North Shore Elder Services in Salem, South Shore Elder Services in Braintree, Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services and All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Braintree have created LGBT-friendly meal sites, such as the community cafes, and dinner programs.
“There are a lot of other aging service agencies in Boston as well and as the fund becomes more successful and is able to raise more money, we’ll make the funds available to them as well,” Mitchell said.
“I think we have something that, as my staff says, has legs,” he laughed.
What problems are LGBT seniors facing?
“Part of it is just their life history,” Mitchell noted. An 80-year-old woman, for example, who lived in New York City when the Stonewall riots broke out, experienced a “pre-civil rights reality, which was a very dark period with lots of repression, a lot of discrimination.”
Those in the military would be dishonorably discharged, those seeking mental health help would be declared mentally ill and possibly given electric shock treatments and, in some extreme cases, LGBTs would be incarcerated or given a lobotomy.
Driven to mistrust, LGBT seniors have difficulty allowing strangers into their homes, sometimes the only place where the proverbial closet does not exist and they can be themselves. Mitchell and his team are dedicated to providing LGBT seniors with safe, comfortable services in and out of the home.
“Every mainstream [aging agency] has a burden to carry in that they’ve got to tell the LGBT community we’re different,” he said. “We won’t just tolerate you, we’ll affirm you.”
For more information, visit ethocare.org.