Center builds community among LGBTQ+ elders

Alicia Colombo

By Bill Conallen


Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) older adults face many unique challenges. Many have faced discrimination, and have responded to such adversity by building movements to advocate for equal rights, developing their own support systems and communities. Some of the challenges that LGBT+ older adults have been confronted with include homophobia; ageism; the absence of an informal caregiver system; and social isolation. This leaves these older adults without the access to the services and programs they need to stay safe, healthy and engaged.

To address these multiple concerns, the Elder Initiative at the William Way Community Center provides services, education, and advocacy for LGBTQ+ older adults. Elder centric programs include managing access to housing and health care, facilitating support groups, cross-generational mentorship programming, and diversity and inclusion training.

“The issues facing LGBTQ+ older adults are often the same as those facing the general population, just some times magnified. Housing is a huge issue. We know there is a shortage of affordable elder housing, and an even greater shortage of LGBTQ-friendly affordable senior housing,” said William Way’s LGBT Elder Initiative Director of Programs & Outreach David Griffith. “Generations of discrimination have limited the opportunities for building families, meaning there are less often spouses and adult children providing social support and caregiving for LGBTQ+ adults. Programs offered through community centers are especially important.”

The Elder Initiative’s programming focuses on community education, social support, resource navigation, and advocacy for LGBTQ+ older adults in Greater Philadelphia. The center hosts monthly health workshops in collaboration with Jefferson Health as part of a series called “The Doctor Is In” and works with Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA) to deliver the chronic disease self-management curriculum to the LGBTQ+ community. William Way also hosts a monthly peer discussion group, “Thrivers,” for long-term survivors of HIV and a men’s social group, “Mornings Out,” that meets every Tuesday morning.

Locally, the center has established partnerships with aging services and healthcare organizations that help to get vital information and resources out while also advancing the cultural sensitivity of these partner agencies through diversity and inclusion training. This includes a strong emphasis on advocacy at the state level in Pennsylvania to develop an inclusive approach to the delivery of aging services in the Commonwealth, with staff serving on several committees and workgroups to adopt policies and procedures to better meet the needs of LGBTQ+ older Pennsylvanians.

“Representation matters. Organizations should make an effort to include LGBTQ+ people on their boards, advisory committees, volunteer groups, etc. This helps to ensure that LGBTQ+ people have a seat at the table when organizational decisions are made,” said Griffith. “Our hope is to ensure that every staff person, volunteer, and person utilizing services is fully aware of our LGBTQ-inclusive policies and our commitment to supporting LGBTQ+ employees and clients.”

The past few years have posed challenges due to the pandemic’s impact on the center’s ability to bring members of the community together and provide resources. According to Griffith, isolation is an issue that significantly affect older members of the LGBTQ+ community. Programs run through the Elder Initiative are attempting to address this issue and connect older adults with the resources and connections they need to thrive.

“Part of person-centered care is really taking a complete look at all the identities and needs that a person has – and then supporting and validating them by providing services in a competent and efficient manner, taking a comprehensive approach that focuses on community,” said Griffith.

For more information on the Elder Initiative at the William Way LGBT Community Center, call 215-720-9415 or go to WayGay.org.


Bill Conallen is the public relations specialist at Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.

Categories: LGBTQ+ Milestones eNews

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