To Serve ALL Seniors
During Senior Center Month in September, we’re highlighting outstanding centers that promote aging well for every person in their communities.
National Senior Center Accreditation, run by NCOA’s National Institute of Senior Centers, encourages community groups to assess areas of senior center operation, develop an action plan, and seek national accreditation. During a recent assessment, the Madison Senior Center in Wisconsin identified groups of older adults who could proactively be included in outreach efforts. One group was lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) older adults.
Education for all stakeholders was a strategy to ensure that LGBT seniors were welcomed and would return happily. We sought to be culturally competent by partnering with LGBT leaders and organizations, and we became known as the LGBT Senior Alliance.
When an inflammatory speaker planned an anti-homosexual rally, supportive signs for “our LGBT friends and neighbors” appeared everywhere, including the Madison Senior Center. Staff reminded a few dissenting participants that the Madison Senior Center was for ALL older people. We also referenced ordinances that forbid discrimination based upon sexual orientation.
We promoted senior center LGBT programs in publications and placed ads in a local LGBT directory and news magazine. We asked rural senior centers to promote our programs, believing that some individuals would feel more comfortable being out in another town. We endorsed our activities “for LGBT seniors, friends, and family,” so no person could be labeled. We escorted LGBT seniors in the PRIDE parade.
One effort was to include nursing home residents in a social event, and notices went to nursing home social workers. When a resident attended and saw the crowd of people, she said with tears, “I didn’t know there were so many of us!”
We were amazed when 45-year-olds attended our “senior” programs, and we learned about age discrimination in the LGBT community. We were amazed when participants and volunteers introduced us to their partners. And we were amazed when some told us about their openly gay children and grandchildren and shared stories about their families.
Our 20-year journey to be LGBT inclusive has brought us state and national recognition. More importantly, everyone comes to the Madison Senior Center with confidence that they are welcome. We proudly serve ALL seniors.