Adam Heller presented testimony on April 25th at the council hearing on the DC Office on Aging. Adam volunteers with Center Aging, a program of the DC Center, by hosting the weekly Center Aging Coffee Drop in. Adam is pictured in the far left on the photo above. The testimony is included below:
My name is Adam Heller. I’m here as a concerned DC resident and as a representative of The DC Center for the LGBT Community to help elaborate on the need to have DC City-sponsored affinity programming for LGBT older adults.
It’s been a privilege and incredible education to volunteer at The DC Center where, for the past three years, I have helped run the community center’s program for older adults – the vast majority of whom are in their 70s and 80s. In that time I’ve gotten to know women and men who have brought laughter and joy to each other, create meaningful friendships, and been able to safely and comfortably share their rich lives including past experiences and traumas, current troubles, as well as their hopes for the future. It’s at these weekly coffee klatches and monthly potluck get-togethers at The DC Center where lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender older adults have not only felt a sense of comradery, but an added source of strength in their weekly routine. Currently, we are the only ongoing public event for LGBT seniors in the city. The DC Center’s older adult program is meant to combat the social isolation experienced by a disproportionate number of LGBT senior residents relative to the rest of the older adult population. As a DC Center intern noted at a Budget Oversight Hearing one year ago, “one study found that 65% of gay and lesbian seniors surveyed reported living alone — nearly twice the rate of all seniors.”
When I initially found out LGBT older adult DC residents did not have their own city-sponsored affinity program like a congregate/group meal program for their community I was a bit sad. I was also unaware of the disproportionate social isolation of LGBT older adults relative to their non-LGBT neighbors who often have spouses, and children, and other family who can help them as they become septuagenarians. Today, LGBT families of all types are growing, however, the research still shows that 90 percent of gay and lesbian seniors don’t have children, which stands out when compared to the 20 percent of all seniors who don’t.
Later on, I was surprised to learn that city-funded affinity programming does exist for low-income older adults of other minority groups who greatly benefit socially and financially from congregate meal programs. As you probably know, there are congregate meal programs each for older adult DC residents who are Asian & Pacific Islander, Latino, or Deaf/HOH, but there isn’t one for specifically for LGBT seniors. I thought this was merely an accidental omission for a large city with a record 10% out of the closet LGBT population to not offer programming that would match those of other groups. It gave me the chutzpah to come here today to share with you that there are other passionate DC residents like me who are motivated to help create such a program, but we need your help to do so.
Upon inquiry with the city as to why LGBT older adults don’t have their own programming, they have been encouraged to partake in one of the other offered congregate meals, which are unfortunately neither specifically for LGBT seniors nor ensure an LGBT cultural competent environment. As our LGBT citizens further age and join senior living facilities and communities, often times they are forced back into the closet for fear of the same archaic prejudices from their peers they faced throughout their lives. This is why they need their own program.
And if I may tug on your heartstrings for a moment longer: I am speaking specifically of the current generation of LGBT older adults, the same ones who were part of the first generation of Americans who came out of the closet en mass fifty years ago. For a generation of women and men whose LGBT friends dropped dead weekly in the 80s and 90s whilst largely having felt the cold shun from family, I hope we can do our part to provide a space where those who need community can find it without worry of prejudice or cost. The DC Center is happy to do its part to make this happen!