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By Blog Master
Posted: 05/25/2021
The Value of Creating a Welcoming Presence at Villages
By Shad Cruz, MSW, MSG

Forty years ago, five cases of Pneumocystis pneumonia, a rare opportunistic infection, were diagnosed in Los Angeles signaling the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the Gay community. When COVID-19 began to engulf large cities across the US just over a year ago, many older LGBT people experienced it as an echo of the uncertainty, fear, and trauma they felt 40 years ago. They expressed sentiments like, “I’m looking in the newspaper to see how many friends have died again” and “I can’t go through all this loss another time.”

Historically, LGBT people often had to leave their families of origin due to the prejudice and stigma they encountered at home. They were attracted to cities like Los Angeles, where they could find safety, acceptance, and friendship in the larger LGBT communities. Over time, these relationships evolved into “families of choice” that replaced their lost families of birth. Then, in the 80s, the decimation of the HIV/AIDS crisis fractured these created families and left many isolated. The few survivors were left deep in mourning at the loss of so many of their friends and loved ones, and reluctant to create new social bonds.

Over the last 30 years, the LGBT community has become increasingly integrated in the larger culture. While this is a welcome change, it has also resulted in the loss of many LGBT-exclusive spaces. This loss has had a heavy impact on older Gay people, as these were often the only places they felt comfortable being themselves. Ironically, integration has, in effect, left many older LGBT people feeling further isolated. 

As might be expected, research has shown that older LGBT people only feel free sharing their “invisible minority status” in places they know will be safe. Yet this aspect of their identity can create unique challenges and even disparities in health outcomes. Organizations such as health care providers and social service agencies help LGBT people know they are safe by developing a “welcoming presence.” This can be as simple as a rainbow logo on a brochure saying “All Are Welcome Here” or adding gender pronouns on email signatures. Additionally, these signs can also help people coming from other minority populations feel more comfortable and open to sharing their experience. 

Villages have a direct benefit to offer this population since they specialize in reducing social isolation among older adults. In turn, Villages are able to increase their membership and diversity by including people with a variety of backgrounds and lived experiences. But without a deliberate sign of welcome, LGBT people may not recognize this valuable opportunity and pass it by. In this way, a small gesture could have a major impact for a historically oppressed population and the Village movement. 

Katie Brandon, Executive Director of our Pasadena Village understands the importance of promoting a diverse and inclusive membership. “Everyone's experiences shape how they age, and at Pasadena Village, we know that LGBT adults both contribute so much to the cultural fabric of our community, but now are more likely to be experiencing feelings of isolation. We value inclusivity and strive to bring older adults of all backgrounds and orientations together, giving them the opportunity to support each other and form meaningful relationships with those they might not have otherwise met."

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