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The Face of LGBT Aging

From Stonewall to retirement: Rainbow Elders of the Niagara Frontier

Based on estimates from US Census data obtained in 2000 for the Western New York region, there are 25,407 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals aged 55 years or more who call our region home. With the aging of the “baby boomer” generation, the percentage of seniors in the national population is expected to swell, and the national population of LGBT people over age 65 may grow to 4.7 million in coming years.

However, LGBT seniors are demographically invisible to most mainstream service providers to the aging, and to the LGBT community as a whole.

A study conducted in Chicago found that LGBT seniors feel either invisible or unwanted within the LGBT community and suggested that the LGBT community needs to become more aware and to value the life experiences and collective wisdom of its elders. LGBT elders deserve the same respect and care that all other people do. However, because many LGBT elders were previously labeled as illegal, immoral, or mentally ill, and because so little research exists today, LGBT seniors are often forced back into the closet or are forced to remain there.

As they come to rely more on healthcare providers and caregivers for their needs, this makes LGBT seniors especially vulnerable. A few statistics highlight the needs of the LGBT elder community: LGBT seniors are five times less likely to access services than the mainstream senior population; 62 percent have no partner or live alone; 80 percent have no children; most lack traditional family support. Only 13 percent of long-term care facilities report sensitivity to sexual orientation included in their cultural competency or provider care training.

But the tide is turning for this often-invisible population in Western New York. This August will be the five-year anniversary of the Rainbow Elders of the Niagara Frontier, a group founded by Madeline Davis and Danny Winter. It is a social group for men, women, and transgender individuals that focuses on LGBT issues as they impact persons over the age of 50. All ages are welcome, and the group does have some younger attendees who are working to provide support for LGBT seniors in the community.

“In 2004, Madeline Davis and I decided to found the Rainbow Elders because we realized the regrettable lack of senior services available to the older gay community,” Danny Winter says.

The goal, says Madeline Davis, was “to provide camaraderie and fun in a relaxed environment, as well as an opportunity to meet new people and make connections within our community.”

The group meets on the second Sunday of every month, 3-5pm, on the fifth floor of the Evergreen Center located at 206 South Elmwood Avenue. They start with a short business meeting and then members and guests present informational programs, which range from “wonderful to fabulous,” according to Winter. Past presentations include:a demonstration of tai chi, flower arrangement and gardening tips, and local political campaign activities. “Then comes the coup des grace: food, wonderful food,” says Davis. “There are wonderful cooks in the group and no one goes away hungry.”

For more information on LGBT aging and the services that exist, visit or contact the Pride Center’s aging services specialist, Lindsay, or the SAGE-WNY program at 852-PRIDE.

bryan whitley-grassi

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