Key Takeaways

  • The LGBTQ+ Moveable Senior Center began in 2015 as a pilot partnership of five Connecticut senior centers to reach the LGBTQ+ community and allies.

  • The center's goals include bringing inclusivity and training to Connecticut senior centers and introducing healthy aging services and supports to LGBTQ+ older adults.

  • The program is expanding to 24 senior centers throughout Connecticut, marking an important milestone in the state's journey toward inclusivity and support for LGBTQ+ older adults. 

At a time when every community in Connecticut had a senior center serving as a trusted space for information and support, fear due to a lifetime of discrimination and current lived experiences was preventing many LGBTQ+ older adults from accessing the support they need to thrive. Specifically, people who identify as LGBTQ+ may not access senior centers because they are not familiar with them, because of concerns about being stigmatized or not welcome, or because programs of interest are not being offered.

Enter the LGBTQ+ Moveable Senior Center, an approach proving successful in addressing the alienation and isolation experienced disproportionately among LGBTQ+ older adults.

What is the history of the LGBTQ+ Moveable Senior Center?

Gen Silent, Stu Maddox’s 2010 documentary that tells the stories of three older adults to highlight the struggles of people who identify as LGBTQ+ as they age, many needing to go back into the closet to receive care, had a tremendous impact in Connecticut. It was a galvanizer.

Screenings of the film, followed by panels of older adults sharing their experiences, prompted the formation of a coalition of service providers, Connecticut state agencies, and LGBTQ+ community members who began working to create an open and affirming aging services environment for LGBTQ+ elders in Connecticut. With Connecticut Community Care as the convenor and fiduciary, the group secured funding from the John H. and Ethel G. and Noble Charitable Trust and developed a framework to improve the experience in long term care.

The LGBTQ+ Moveable Senior Center (formerly the LGBT Moveable Senior Center) began in 2015 as a pilot partnership of five senior centers in Greater Hartford to reach the LGBTQ+ community and allies to encourage participation in the many benefits Connecticut senior centers have to offer.

The goals of the LGBTQ+ Moveable Senior Center are to:

  1. Bring inclusivity training and practice to Connecticut senior centers.
  2. Introduce the services and supports for healthy aging available through senior centers to LGBTQ+ older adults—a community that is sometimes reluctant to engage with social service providers.
  3. Provide a cohesive and coordinated statewide calendar of LGBTQ+ Moveable Senior Center events and programs to the community.

Each month, by rotation, a participating senior center hosted a “moveable LGBT Senior Center” half-day or full day of programming. The programs, informed by participants, were different at each center but followed a similar format organized around the theme of “mind, body, and spirit” with relevant LGBTQ+ content.

Programs ranged from themed events (including Pride celebrations), to presentations about health and wellness, fitness classes, arts, movies, discussions, and meals. The term “moveable” refers to the changing location in which the LGBTQ+ Moveable Senior Center events are offered. LGBTQ+ older adults and allies often travel outside of their town of residence to attend LGBTQ+ Moveable Senior Center events and programs. After doing so, many participants returned to their hometown senior center for programs or services.

How did the COVID pandemic impact the Moveable Senior Center?

During the pandemic, the Moveable Senior Center shifted to a virtual program that was not as structured as the original format. It provided a gathering spot, and events were more spontaneous and conversational.

Shifting to a virtual format also allowed the program to seize other opportunities. For example, they partnered with a local state university to implement an online intergenerational program that brought members of the LGBTQ+ community from all ages together for guided conversations. The participants were able to share their stories of their lived experience as LGBTQ+ in different eras and was a powerful experience.

The Moveable Senior Center expansion

Coming out of the pandemic, the Moveable Senior Center is being refreshed and expanded. An advisory body, championed by Woodbury Connecticut Director of Senior Services Loryn Ray, reviewed the structure, training, and support and solicited feedback from senior centers to ensure that it would meet their needs. A Request for Application was issued, and more than 30 senior centers applied to participate. Twenty-four have signed coordination agreements and have gone through the onboarding process. This included:

  • Attendance at training and a live webinar
  • Creation of an inclusion and belonging action plan
  • Prominently displaying the LGBTQ+ Moveable Senior Center decal, marketing and promotional materials
  • Planning and scheduling a minimum of one or two LGBTQ+ Moveable Senior Center programs during June 2023-June 2024.
  • Promoting programs of the LGBTQ+ Moveable Senior Center from other sites and welcoming participants from other municipalities or organizations
  • Using CT Healthy Living Collective centralized and secure online registration and survey tools.

"The expansion of the program to 24 senior centers throughout Connecticut marks an important milestone in our collective journey towards inclusivity and support for LGBTQ+ older adults," said Loryn Ray, Director of Senior Services in Woodbury and chairperson of the LGBTQ+ Moveable Senior Center expansion project.

By fostering an environment of acceptance, knowledge, and accessibility, the LGBTQ+ Moveable Senior Center Program aims to improve the overall well-being and quality of life for LGBTQ+ seniors in our towns and across our state."

The CT Healthy Living Collective worked with SAGECare to curate training. It included three recorded modules—Supporting LGBTQ+ Older Adults; Transgender Aging; and Presenting and Responding to Bullying—and a live webinar providing opportunities to ask questions.

Rebecca Joyce, Windsor CT Senior Center Director, one of the newer additions, shared how excited her staff were to be part of the Moveable Senior Center because of the opportunity for training and to become more inclusive. They have been able to get the community involved, are developing their inclusion and belonging statement, and have added the Moveable Senior Center logo and other symbols of inclusion to let LGBTQ+ older adults know they are welcome at the center.

Who coordinates the Moveable Senior Center?

The CT Healthy Living Collective (CHLC), a network of organizations and individuals with a vision that Connecticut residents have easy access to effective programs and services that promote healthy aging and enhance social connections, is the coordinating agency working in collaboration with senior centers.

The CHLC approach combines the strengths of trusted local community organizations and entities such as senior centers, YMCAs, community centers, and faith organizations (the community network) with a centralized quality and contracting infrastructure to deliver high quality, evidence-based and evidence-informed programs. It also provides a centralized promotion and registration platform so older adults can find and access programs across the state. CHLC advisors include dedicated representatives from state, regional, and local agencies, academic institutions, senior centers, health care, and more. The Collective is an initiative of Connecticut Community Care

Sherry Ostrout, lead for the CHLC, explained why they embraced this role.

"This initiative represents a significant step forward in fostering an intentionally inclusive and supportive environment for LGBTQ+ older adults,” Ostrout said. “By providing training to senior center personnel, introducing essential services to LGBTQ+ participants, and offering a centralized calendar of events, we aim to empower and uplift LGBTQ+ older adults, ensuring they feel valued, respected, and connected."

What’s next for the Moveable Senior Center?

The Moveable Senior Center is building a full and robust schedule of programs and events across the state beginning with several PRIDE events. As senior centers continue their training and establish inclusion statements, more programs will be added to the central calendar.

The LGBTQ+ Moveable Senior Center Program has received overwhelming support and positive feedback from the LGBTQ+ community. As one participant said,

The welcome and outreach from senior centers to LGBT people has been wonderful. I have enjoyed the variety of programming, have learned many new things, have made new friends, and have a greater understanding of what the area senior centers offer in services and support."  

The Moveable Senior Center and all of the participating senior centers are committed to the goal of ensuring LGBTQ+ older adults feel welcome and a sense of belonging so that they can fully engage in all of the benefits senior centers have to offer, not just on event days, but every day.

As their slogan says, the CT LGBT Moveable Senior Center encourages everyone to “Come out and connect!”

Still not a member of the National Institute for Senior Centers? Join today, membership is free.

If your center has engaged in a recent study or assessment or is trying out some new programming approaches, we’d love to hear about it. And if you haven't already, we'd encourage you to join the National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC). Free to all senior centers (and their personnel), NISC supports senior centers with best practices and innovations in programming, as well as networking and training opportunities. Ask for help, leverage NISC resources, or share your successes like the Stoughton Area Senior Center. Find out how you can become a NISC Affiliate today.