Our LGBT Cultural Imperative – Bringing Dignity To Our Elders

  Photo: Matthew Chayt, left, and his husband, Will Scott, visited Bernard Mayes, right, near his San Francisco retirement home. (Jane Philomen Cleland/Bay Area Reporter)

Photo: Matthew Chayt, left, and his husband, Will Scott, visited Bernard Mayes, right, near his San Francisco retirement home. (Jane Philomen Cleland/Bay Area Reporter)

In most tribes, the elders of the tribe are treated with deference and also with respect.  This group often held the link to the tribe’s past and also provided wisdom and training to the young.  There was an established interconnection between the youth and seniors. This balanced contributed much to the survival and healthiness of the tribe.

Current western culture, especially in the United States, is very youth oriented and has unconsciously or consciously perpetrated ageism. Growing old has been equated with such negativity, that it has created a distaste or invisibility of that population.

The LGBT culture is no different and to some extent extreme in certain circles.  The recent marriage equality wins has unhinged this to some extent as many in the LGBT community can openly live their lives and relationship in the open.  There are fewer underground culture bubbles that exist where there has been a greater emphasis on self worth based on one’s physical sexual attractiveness as measured by others.

The standards of these measurements are set using youth and the perfected body that are promoted in gay male media and entertainment.  Although men, in general, perceive more through visual stimulation, the truth of the matter is that it has segmented out many people, especially the elderly.

It reminds me of the classic science fiction movie, Logan’s Run. The futuristic society depicted in the film was based on youth and pleasure.  Anyone who reaches a certain age are basically eliminated.  The film portrays the fallibility of such a society.

For a growing LGBT senior population, this cultural disparity is reaching a tipping point.  It is the next hurdle to overcome and to provide solutions.  It requires balancing a sexually centered culture and developing a broader spectrum that includes aging.   It is embracing inclusiveness and increasing the inter-generational connections between older and younger individuals.

“According to the World Health Organization (WHO), by 2050, people older than 60 years of age will account for roughly 22 percent of the world’s population, surpassing the number of children under age 15 for the first time in history.” (A Senior’s Role?, Nicole Kidder, August 20, 2013 , Senior Health Weekly)

In San Francisco, where the LGBT senior community population will grow from 20,000 to 30,000 in less than 10 years brings this sobering observation.

“Second, and just as significant, the LGBT community in San Francisco has not advocated for senior
services as any kind of community priority in the past, and certainly not in a sustained way. While some
of the reasons are fairly clear why this was not a community priority – including ageism within the LGBT
community as well as other political issues that dominated the community’s agenda – the fact remains
that the LGBT community in San Francisco has not effectively advocated for senior services” ( LGBT Aging at the
Golden Gate: San Francisco Policy Issues & Recommendations, March 2014)

Making the changes needed requires many of us to change our attitudes and revive our tribal roots. In the LGBT community it requires recognizing that without giving dignity and inclusion to our senior population, our recent strides in equality would be diminished because of our neglect of our elders.




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