Group hopes to attract both young and old with event aimed at drawing attention to challenges faced by growing population of LGBT seniors
M.M. ADJARIAN | Contributing Writer
Dallas Pride 2012 will mark a kind of coming-of-age for the LGBT community in Big D.
It’s the first year that LGBT elders will have a chance to gather together at an event — christened “Gray Pride” — to pay tribute to their pioneering efforts on behalf of the LGBT community over the last 40 years and more.
Gray Pride came into being through the collaborative efforts of Oliver Blumer of the Transgender Education Network of Texas, the Rev. Shelley Hamilton of the Cathedral of Hope, and Kee Holt of Resource Center Dallas and the GLBT Aging Interest Network.
“What we’ve begun to do in partnership is to begin to try and draw all the different components of the [LGBT] community together to figure out how to build our own retirement centers, assisted-living places and long-term care centers,” explains Hamilton, congregational care pastor at CoH.
A major flashpoint for these individuals came earlier this year after the Dallas premiere of Stu Maddux’s award-winning documentary, Gen Silent. The film explores the unique — and often devastating — problems LGBT people face as they reach old age.
“Take [the case of] an individual who biologically identifies as male but appears to someone’s perception as female,” says Blumer, who serves as vice-chair of TENT. “Maybe they’ve had a stroke and maybe they have no advocates and now someone comes in to give them care and finds out that maybe all of their anatomy doesn’t align with how the person [outwardly] expresses themselves. [The sick person] could get discriminated against.”
Even if an LGBT elder manages to maintain reasonably good health in old age, though, he or she still has to contend with other social and economic challenges.
“Many older people [are alone because] their longtime partners or family members have died,” says Hamilton. “And so they become isolated. [Moreover,] many LGBT people only have Social Security — they don’t have insurance such as Medicare or whatever supplements, if any, they’re able to afford.”
This issue is taking on especial importance in light of the fact that, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, 11,000 Americans are now turning 65 every day. Aging is the next great epidemic that will affect everyone, both gay and straight; and for LGBT people in particular, mobilizing resources to build an infrastructure to support elders is critical.
Fostering awareness among younger generations is also important. Gray Pride can progress into the future and help others only if the young understand that the movement is also for them, Blumer says. One day, they, too, will be old and in need of care.
“We want to appeal to [young] people’s hearts,” says Blumer. “They may have aging parents, or aging aunts and uncles, or grandparents. [We need to] get them to put the faces of loved ones on other elderly people and give them the outreach skills they can use to understand how they can give back to the community.”
Dallas Gray Pride is one of a growing number of coalitions around the country that is working to implement programs to help LGBT elders. One in particular, the Boston LGBT Aging Project, was featured in Gen Silent.
Because it is still in its infancy, festivities at this year’s Dallas Pride celebration will consist of a single party, from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14, at the Interfaith Peace Chapel.
“We’ll have a variety of music,” Hamilton says. “And there will be food and beverages. If people want to dance, [they can]. Or they [can just] chitchat and float among the crowd — it’s all about having fun.”
Gray Pride is an event intended to honor community elders and help them combat the loneliness that is too often a part of their lives. But it’s also for anyone and everyone with attachments to the elderly, especially those who are confined to wheelchairs or homebound because they lack transportation.
“[We need to] reach out [to the elderly] and tell them they can get dressed up and come,” Blumer says.
Plans are also in the works for other Gray Pride events at other times of the year. And next year, organizers hope to be able to have a full presence at the 2013 Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade.
Travis Lee Moore, special events manager for the Cathedral of Hope, says, “Gray Pride will come out next year like gangbusters!”
Hamilton adds: “We can’t allow people’s fears and prejudices to continue to oppress us and seriously harm the ability of our warriors and our foreparents.
[LGBT elders] deserve all the dignity and respect that we can possibly acquire for them.”
A gray old time
Dallas Gray Pride will be from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14, at the Interfaith Peace Chapel, 5910 Cedar Springs. For more info, email Oliver Blumer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 7, 2012.