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New group advocates for elder gays

When gay people get old, they're often more isolated than heterosexuals. They tend to have fewer children and often are alienated from their families. If they go into senior care facilities, they can be victims of prejudice from staff and residents, increasing their isolation and harming their quality of life.

To counter these problems, Rogue Valley LGBT Elders is forming a chapter of SAGE (Services and Advocacy for LGBT Elders), with the goals of training staffs of long-term care organizations to be sensitive to the needs of gays and guard against prejudice, bullying and isolation caused by staff or residents, says Julian Spalding of Talent, board president of Lotus Rising Project.

To promote the movement, recruit volunteers and help spread awareness to other organizations, the Elders will give a free, public talk and show the movie "GenSilent" at Ashland Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 22.

The movie's title means that the generation that fought for gay rights often is forced back into the closet in order to have tolerable lives in long-term care, says Spalding. The basic issues are shown in the film's trailer on YouTube.

The film emphasizes that gays from the baby boomer generation want to live integrated with straights, says Fanda Bender of Talent, a retired psychologist and organizer of the effort.

"The film is a grass-roots community effort, seeking to find out what the community wants" in regard to LGBT aging issues, says Bender.

"We want to educate the community about the issues LGBT elders face," says Spalding, adding that there will be sign-up sheets for volunteers who want to get involved in future meetings and for moving forward on working with long-term care directors to get training for staffs. LGBT elders also may sign up for services, he said.

Spalding and Bender are working with the SAGE chapter in metro Portland — where it has meshed with area aging groups and is "quite sophisticated" on gay aging issues, while in this area the effort is just beginning.

"We have no program here," he said.

Citing numbers from the national SAGE organization, Spalding notes that half of LGBT elders live alone and half don't trust the medical system because of their gender orientation.

Bullying of LGBT elders, Spalding says, can include snide comments, shunning them, or approaching them with offers of forgiveness or disparaging quotes from the Bible.

"It's intense," he adds, "because you're living with them and you can't get away."

The 2011 film was shown at Asante's Smullin Center to 130 members of local nonprofits and agencies who deal with aging. It was sponsored by the Rogue Valley Council of Governments and the American Association of Retired People of Oregon.

"It's an opportunity to understand all the barriers ... the fear and discrimination, the lack of awareness," said Banadana Shrestha of AARP of Oregon. "We use GenSilent as a tool to help (long-term care facilities and other aging organizations) to be open and welcoming."

There are no studies documenting the extent of prejudice and bullying in long-term settings, she adds, "but what we hear anecdotally from the community is that it is a problem, a challenging issue."

Dave Toler of Rogue Valley Council of Governments, a member of Lotus Rising, said, "We want the community to buy into this project, inform their constituent groups about the movie and support forming an ongoing organization to raise awareness in organizations and the general public."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Fanda Bender talks in her Talent home on Oct. 2. Bender is helping create a chapter of Services and Advocacy for LGBT Elders in the Rogue Valley. Julia Moore / Mail Tribune - Julia Moore