by Jerry W. Brown, Senior Director, Covia Affordable Communities – a Front Porch Partner
I have a great passion for the work we all do serving aging adults in the many settings available to them through our LeadingAge California association. On a more personal level, as a gay man, I have a greater passion for advocating for LGBTQ+ seniors as I and they age. In my role as Senior Director of Covia Affordable Communities, one of my responsibilities is to serve on the Human Rights Campaign and SAGE, advocate of the Long-Term Care Equality Index.
A recent AARP study found that more than 60 percent of LGBTQ+ older adults surveyed were “concerned” about how they would be treated in a long-term care setting. Many of today’s LGBTQ+ older adults who have faced prejudice in their lives have chosen to remain closeted to service providers. Their reasons being the fear of eviction, limited care, verbal and physical harassment. This leads to service providers not realizing they have LGBTQ+ older adults in their communities. The AARP survey found that 82 percent of respondents would be more confident “if” long-term care communities were more “intentional” in affirming LGBTQ+ adults.
The LEI will “encourage and help long-term care communities adopt policies and best practices that provide culturally competent and responsive care to the LGBTQ+ older adult.” The LEI provides resources and technical assistance to bring these policies and practices to life.
The first step in the LEI is to sign the Commitment to Caring Pledge at www.thelei.org. LeadingAge California and LeadingAge National have both signed the pledge. All of Covia LifePlan and Covia Affordable Communities have signed the pledge.
In 2006 LeadingAge held their Annual Meeting in San Francisco. The theme of the meeting was “Tell Your Story.” At that time I was very active on the conference education committee that planned the educational sessions and was seeking to get more LGBTQ+ history and sensitivity education into the annual meeting. The subject matter was controversial at the time, but San Francisco’s reputation as a friendly city to LGBTQ+ people and their rights was the perfect setting to introduce LeadingAge members to this national topic. You may recall that in 2004 Governor Gavin Newsom (then-Mayor of San Francisco) held the first same-sex wedding in 2004. It took until 2015 for the U.S. Supreme Court to make same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.
At that time I was CEO of Bethany Center Senior Housing (BCSH) in San Francisco, and we had just completed a nine-story mural on the building representing the diverse people who lived within the walls of this HUD-funded Section 8 subsidy building that included enhanced services such as a Resident Service Coordinator and community arts programming. Within that mural was a resident who had been the Minister of Music for Bethany UMC, our sponsor and a longtime advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. LeadingAge chose the mural as the brochure cover for the 2006 Annual Meeting and offered tours of the mural, bringing hundreds of members to the site and lots of media to BCSH and LGBTQ+ aging.
Several San Francisco LeadingAge members, including CEO Kevin Gerber of Covia (recently retired) came together to brainstorm on how we could promote the needs of LGBTQ+ older adults in our communities to the greater membership. We chose to create what became the first “Inclusion Reception.” While LGBTQ+ education was our first priority, we wanted to include all under represented communities of race, ethnicity, abilities, gender, and equity.
We engaged our friends in the leadership of the San Francisco GLBT History Museum, at the time located one block from Moscone Center where the Annual Meeting was located, and fundraised to have a reception that was sponsored by San Francisco member communities at the museum. LeadingAge Vice President of Branding Sharon Sullivan was “all in” and helped promote the first event. Critical to the success of that first reception, in addition to member-sponsored free alcohol, food and docent led tours was LeadingAge CEO at the time Larry Minnix, bringing to the event the entire LeadingAge Board of Directors.
The door had opened.
Of the 250 people who attended that first Inclusion Reception, most said they knew nothing of the discrimination LGBTQ+ people had experienced and continued to experience. Most were not aware of a LGBTQ+ person in their communities or in their personal lives. The reception and education was well received. We are now entering our 15th year of The Inclusion Reception and have a LGBTQ+ Network/list serve for resources on serving and advocating for LGBTQ+ older adults. (CommunityLeadingAge.org)
There has been progress over the last 15 years nationwide and within our state association membership, and our LGBTQ+ residents, staff, community program participants and vendors/contractors. It is very exciting to see the LeadingAge California Board of Directors, under the guidance of CEO Jeannee Parker Martin,create “The Equity Cabinet” and to know that LGBTQ+issues will be part of their work.
There have been welcomed shifts and changes in social values and norms toward LGBTQ+people here and abroad. There are still many challenges that are strikingly similar across all marginalized groups in access to care and services, finding affordable housing and equitable policies at both the state and national levels.
The journey to create awareness, educate and grow inclusivity continues. You can help make the changes needed today by signing The LEI pledge and attending the 15th Annual Inclusion Reception at the LeadingAge Annual Meeting in Atlanta in Fall 2021.