Guest author Eleanor Nancarrow is a senior at University of Maryland Baltimore County and intern with AARP Maryland.
National Honor Our LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender) Elders Day, May 16, is an opportunity to recognize and pay tribute to earlier generations whose activism and bravery have created a path for younger community members to envision a future free from discrimination and stigmatization.
Silas White, the co-founder of the Pride Center of Maryland and an esteemed leader in Baltimore’s LGBT community, says “our elders are quite literally living pieces of history.” After all, he notes, it has been a mere six years since the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage as a constitutional right and roughly 50 years since the American Psychiatric Association amended that homosexuality no longer is considered a “mental disorder.”
THE HISTORY OF NATIONAL HONOR OUR LGBT ELDERS DAY
Established by Baltimore’s Chase Brexton Health Services in 2015, National Honor Our LGBT Elders Day encourages individuals from different age cohorts to reflect on how their support networks and mentors in the community have positively shaped their experiences, dignity, and journeys. As many LGBT people have been alienated from their biological families, elders often fill the roles of grandparent and parent for younger individuals. These relationships between cohorts serve a significant purpose in providing mutual support and encouraging mental well-being.
White says many LGBT individuals over the age of 50 have spent years if not decades having to hide from the prejudiced eyes of society to engage in what most would consider normal aspects of living—marrying lovers, joining the military, finding and holding jobs, buying homes, and walking with their heads held high.
Additional unique challenges arise with age. As LGBT individuals grapple with losses in their social networks (friends, peers , and loved ones), questions of who will provide care, and all too often unwelcoming assisted and long-term care spaces that cause people to retreat into the closet. It is difficult growing old, White notes, but it is even harder for LGBT elders who often feel invisible within the youth-obsessed culture.
PIVOTING DURING THE PANDEMIC
As the Honor Our LGBT Elders Day celebration went virtual last year due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Monte Ephraim, the director of the Elder Pride program at Chase-Brexton Health Services, and colleagues were forced to shift the daylong event, usually held at various locations around Baltimore City, to broadcasting via online streaming and social media platforms. Unsure of how successful the day would be in such circumstances, Ephraim, colleagues, and local participants were shocked to discover the event had gained not only attention on a national scale but was celebrated on social media by mega Hollywood celebrities Billy Porter and Lily Tomlin. More than 25,000 people from around the country and the world liked, commented, and shared on the event’s official Facebook page and Twitter feed.
HONOR THE ELDER IN YOUR LIFE
This year, individuals are invited to create personal stories either written or through video recording to discuss an LGBT elder who has affected their life in both a positive and pivotal way. Each story can be shared either privately or through the National Honor Our LGBT Elders Day website and social media pages. Visit https://www.lgbteldersday.com/share-your-story, follow the hashtag #LGBTEldersDay, and enjoy the celebration online at https://www.facebook.com/LGBTEldersDay.