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Having a PRIDE for all those we support

June is recognized as national PRIDE month, a time dedicated to uplifting voices of the LGBTQ+ community which for too long were silenced. It is a time of celebration of LGBTQ+ culture and recognition of accomplishments of LGBTQ+ individuals such as Gilbert Baker, an American artist, gay rights activist, and U.S. Army veteran, who designed the now famous rainbow LGBT flag in 1978.

At the Office for Aging Services, we understand that unconscious, implicit, and institutional bias continues to effect LGBTQ individuals in ways many people never have to think about. In our rural community, there are very few resources specifically aimed at assisting LGBTQ+ seniors or LGBTQ+ caregivers so we periodically reach out to the Pride Center of WNY to keep up with emerging needs and training. We want older adults and caregivers who identify as LGBTQ+ to feel welcome and supported when they call or visit our offices.

We understand that many older adults who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community experience a higher level of health disparities due to lifelong discrimination and oppression. Disparities run the gamut beginning with access to care and include higher rates of substance abuse and misuse, higher rates of mental health conditions especially anxiety and depression, higher rates of social isolation, higher rates of sexually transmitted infections, and cervical cancer.

The Office for Aging Services is committed to ensuring that LGBTQ+ older adults and caregivers receive the services and supports they need to age in place or help a loved one age in place in our community. Locally NY Connects is the place to call about all available community based services and supports at 716-753-4582 or e-mail at CCNYC@chqgov.com. The Pride Center of WNY at (716) 852-7743 may have additional resources for LGBTQ+ individuals.

Since 2010, the Administration for Community Living (ACL), which oversees our office at the federal level, has supported Sage’s National Resource Center on LGBT Aging. This is the country’s first and only technical assistance resource center aimed at improving the quality of services and supports offered to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults. You can visit the site at www.lgbtagingcenter.org/resources/index.cfm. ACL is also taking steps to increase data and research on the unique needs of and approaches to serving members of the LGBTQ+ community.

SAGE, which is a national advocacy and service organization that’s been looking out for LGBT elders since 1978, also hosts an LGBTQ+ Elder hotline for people to call (877) 360-LGBT(5428) or visit https://www.sageusa.org/. This free Hotline for LGBTQ+ elders or their caregivers has friendly responders who are certified in crisis management and offer support without judgment 24/7. They provide counseling and emotional support, as well as connection to community resources, and all calls are confidential. For Chautauqua specific community resources and referrals, contact our local NY Connects helpline. A recent article from The American Society on Aging explores overcoming barriers to care for LGBT seniors with Alzheimer’s and dementia. The link to this article is https://www.lgbtagingcenter.org/resources/pdfs/Generations%20Overcoming%20Barriers%20for%20LGBT%20Elders%20with%20Alzheimer’s.pdf

Our mission at the Chautauqua County Office for Aging Services includes providing equal access to programs and services and to targeting services toward the people who demonstrate the “greatest social need” as described in the Older Americans Act. Certainly many LGBTQ+ older adults who have been socially isolated and marginalized meet that “greatest need” criteria. We hope no matter how you identify you will feel comfortable calling or visiting the Office for Aging Services so we can assist with all your community living needs. Happy PRIDE Month!

Dr. Mary Ann Spanos is Director of the Chautauqua County Office for Aging Services.

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