For Sam Powell, 71, coming out at age 67 presented its own unique challenges. To face them, he turned to Prime Timers Charlotte, a local chapter of an international organization providing support for “slightly older gay and bisexual men.”
The local chapter celebrated its 20th anniversary on April 20, with a dinner, entertainment and special guest speaker, Prime Timers World Wide President Rob Howard.
Prime Timers Charlotte is one of several organizations and initiatives across the state working to bridge social connections and support networks for an aging LGBT community. Powell says the group has offered him support and networking when he needed it the most. Ten months ago, Powell underwent open heart surgery.
“These guys were there pretty much around the clock for days and days and days supporting me,” he says.
Other members of the group have benefited from similar support, even though a majority don’t face the same issues of exclusion or rejection from family they once did.
“Things have changed mostly in a good way,” he says. “Most of the guys feel very comfortable with the way their family reacts to them, but it is true that we often don’t live where our birth families live and we’re looking for other ways of support.”
Even in the face of positive societal changes, though, groups like Prime Timers provide an aging LGBT population the opportunity to stand together in times of need.
“I think everybody my age or probably even 50 or up is always concerned about having somebody around if something medical happens,” he says. “Even if you have family that are accepting and nearby, it’s not always true that they can be there when you need them. That’s why Prime Timers has been so wonderful for me and others who have been through some tragic events in the last few years.”
Some national groups have taken up the cause for LGBT elders — particularly Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), as well as the AARP. Most conversation on local levels in places like Charlotte and Raleigh remain limited.
The LGBT Center of Raleigh has for several years run a successful Gay & Gray Initiative, organized to meet the social, health and other needs of more mature LGBT community members there. The Raleigh initiative holds several social events, panel discussions and other seminars to assist LGBT elders. Their most recent seminar in February focused on Medicare.
In Charlotte, the LGBT Community Center is just now re-launching efforts to address the growing needs. Several years ago, the center held some Gay & Gray activities. Now, they are back and under the leadership of Ashley Young, the director of operations at Rosedale Infectious Diseases. The center’s new Gay & Gray: Lunch & Learn series met for the first time in April and will continue meeting on the first Thursdays of each month.
Young says she’s seen an uptick in the number of older LGBT community members needing services at her work. Collaborating with the Charlotte center, she hopes to bring the conversation to a wider audience. Outreach, she says, is the first step.
“The goal of the center is just to get a more diverse population in there,” Young says. “We have a really young crowd that comes in and we want to make sure it is a comfortable environment for everybody.”
Young says a variety of topics are important to older members of the LGBT community. Bringing them together once a month will help with resources, information and referrals.
“We have an aging population that has different needs,” Young says. “We do have an aging population that needs housing and has extra healthcare needs. We also have an aging population that is getting older and just needs a comfortable place to be. We need to attack both sides of it.”
Powell, too, feels more conversation and attention need to be turned toward the issue. Housing and retirement care is of particular concern to many.
“I’m not afraid of it, but I do hear those concerns,” Powell says. “I would say there is not enough of that kind of discussion going on both locally and the country as a whole. I know our world wide group encourages that, but sometimes it is very difficult to figure out who it is you should be talking to.”
Young and others at the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte plan on changing that, step by step.
Young says the first Lunch & Learn attracted five people. She hopes to grow the group with activities like documentary screenings or diverse speakers. While they are growing, resources will still be offered. Even a small start, Young says, is step in the right direction.
“Even if we just start the conversation in a small group, they can begin getting resources,” she says. “Sometimes, it’s just being able to get out there and find a social group.” : :