Inclusive aging resources

Local agencies work to promote awareness among older LGBT adults

A rainbow flag flies as people connect with the LGBT community at a Pride Month 5k at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. The LGBT and Aging Initiative seeks to connect older LGBT adults with supportive resources in their communities, with the goal of increasing access to care and reducing isolation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Fowler)

MARQUETTE — The Upper Peninsula Commission for Area Progress, or UPCAP, Area Agency on Aging, is working in conjunction with U.P. Rainbow Pride and the SAIL Disability Network of the U.P. to improve access to inclusive resources for older adults who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender, or LGBT.

The agencies are spreading awareness of local LGBT-friendly resources as part of a statewide LGBT and Aging Initiative for 2017-2018.

“We find that many LGBT older adults do not feel comfortable sharing their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and reach out for support only when they are enduring a health crisis,” said Terry Irving of UPCAP’s Area Agency on Aging in a release about the initiative. “Not feeling accepted by your local community or personal healthcare provider increases the isolation experienced in LGBT seniors, leaving them at risk for serious health concerns.”

The statewide initiative was launched by SAGE Metro Detroit, a Michigan affiliate of Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders, in partnership with the ACLU of Michigan, after the agencies received a grant of approximately $400,000 from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund to fund the initiative, according to a release.

The goal of the initiative is to help improve health and well-being in older LGBT adults by connecting them with local LGBT-friendly resources and promoting awareness of these resources in the community, officials said.

The Upper Peninsula Commission for Area Progress office, located at 2501 14th Ave S in Escanaba. UPCAP’s Area Agency on Aging is working in conjunction with U.P. Rainbow Pride and the SAIL Disability Network of the U.P and to connect older adults who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender, or LGBT, with inclusive community resources as part of a 2017-2018 LGBT and Aging Initiative. (Courtesy photo)

“We are in the process of developing an LGBT resource guide that we can use to make referrals to individuals in the LGBT community,” Irving said.

Irving said this guide, which is tentatively slated to be released early 2019, will help to promote awareness of LGBT-inclusive agencies, businesses, and organizations amongst older LGBT individuals.

“I think a lot of times, especially here in the U.P., a lot of adults that are elderly that are LGBT are afraid to speak out or let people know,” Irving said. “And with this book and the resources that are available, they’ll be able to access services and feel comfortable doing it, and not feel afraid to let the agency know what they need and they are LGBT.”

The agencies are working together to contact organizations and businesses across the Upper Peninsula to build the guide, Irving said.

“What we’re doing is sending letters out to different organizations and different businesses that have been identified as LGBT friendly, asking them if we can include in resource guide,” Irving said, noting that once businesses respond to affirm that they are LGBT-friendly, they will be included in the guide.

They are also educating area agencies and providers on how to be supportive and inclusive to older LGBT adults, Irving said.

“We’re working with existing providers in the U.P., those that work with the elderly and educating them on the LGBT community,” she said. “And also asking them to update their policies and procedures within their organizations to include sexual identity and change their wording to include individuals that are in the LGBT community.”

UPCAP’s Area Agency on Aging, SAIL and U.P. Rainbow Pride on the have already been working together for over a year with the grant already, developing the guide and working to ensure their own services and policies are known as LGBT inclusive.

“SAIL has been working alongside UPCAP and U.P. Rainbow Pride for over a year with this grant already,” Peurakoski said in an email. “We’ve been active in ensuring our policies are LGBT friendly and welcoming and the SAIL staff are aware and have participated in SAGE Metro Detroit’s training to learn more about the consumer with a disability who is also LGBT.”

SAIL has been working to spread the word that their own services are inclusive to all adults who live with disabilities, she said.

“ANY adult who identifies as living with a disability, regardless of sexual orientation, is welcomed in our doors for services, support, information and resources,” Peurakoski said in an email. “The challenge is making sure that they are aware of our open door policy and that we do not discriminate. You are safe with SAIL and we hope that older LGBT adults feel they can come to us for the independent living resources they are looking for and if we can’t help them, then we will refer them to another organization that has better tools to assist them. We are peers in their journey.”

Improving peer support and combating isolation in older LGBT adults is a major goal of the project, the release states.

“All people must benefit from better access to health care and resources that assist them in their goals for independence,” Peurakoski said in an email. “It is not any different for a person that identifies as LGBT, we all need support and good health to pursue our goals.”

Overall, officials encourage LGBT adults to engage with the resources in their community.

“Today is the day to reach out to us; we encourage LGBT older adults to pick up the phone and call us to start a conversation,” said David Shew, Co-Chair of U.P. Rainbow Pride in the press release.

Those needing services can call SAIL at 906-228-5744, UPCAP at 906-786-4701 or email U.P. Rainbow Pride at uprainbowpride@ gmail.com.

For businesses, agencies or organizations who wish to be included in the guide, email uprainbowpride@ gmail.com or dial 211.

For more information on this initiative, visit lgbtseniorsmi.com.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal.net.