While it is important for seniors to social distance during COVID-19, the prolonged isolation can lead to depression. (Photo Credit: De Visu via Adobe Stock)

According to a Gallup Poll previously published in qnotes, Charlotte Metro had an LGBTQ population of approximately 90,000 during the last decade. Considering the rate of growth since that time, it is likely that tally has increased to somewhere around 104,000. Applying the same informational chart used for the community as a whole, the current over-65 LGBTQ population in the Queen City probably numbers around 12,000.

It’s true — seniors in general face a variety of challenges. While there are issues shared across the entire spectrum of the 65+ community, there are some that are unique to LGBTQ seniors.

A report carried by PR Newswire confirms key barriers to accessing the individualized care LGBTQ seniors need range from prohibitive costs to poorly designed or discriminatory services. Additionally, many participants experience poor quality care, discrimination from service providers, homophobia, transphobia, racism and a lack of specialist HIV care. 

Among the most-requested services to meet LGBTQ seniors’ special needs: wellness programs, adult education, in-home support, recreation and transportation.  

A recent study by the Department of Aging and Adult Services (DAAS) indicates LGBTQ seniors are four times less likely to access aging services. Reasons include:

One in five feel unsafe and/or unwelcome

Nearly half have mobility limitations

One in four report difficulty accessing transportation

One in six report lower quality social activities.

Over the past year LGBTQ seniors have additionally felt some of life’s less-pleasant experiences amplified because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The isolation, definitely,” says Susan Owens, a 67-year old single lesbian who lives in the Charlotte Metro area. “I moved to the region about 10 years ago for work,” she recalls, “I liked it here so I decided to call it my retirement home, but I really don’t know that many people and I don’t have a huge support network. With everyone in pandemic shutdown mode, things have become exceptionally quiet.”

Owens also confirms that getting around for things like shopping and doctor’s visits has also become more of a challenge.

State reports indicate the over-65 population of North Carolina make up only 20 percent of recorded COVID-19 cases statewide. However, older folks also make up 80 percent of deaths relating to COVID-19. 

While seniors are more likely to social distance and quarantine, resulting in prolonged isolation, they possess the highest risk of fatal interaction with the virus because of lowered immune systems. The reports back up some of Owens’ assertions: Isolation and subsequent loneliness are some of the most harmful aspects of COVID-19 for those that have not been infected or for the infected that survive, and they can lead to depression.

Multiple groups have taken necessary precautions during this time and have barred in-person contact, but now that vaccines are more widely available, some organizations are beginning to re-imagine user-friendliness and outreach coordination in an effort to provide solutions to some of the challenges the LGBTQ population has faced and will continue to deal with.

An example of this is SAGE. 

SAGE is a national organization that focuses on the aging LGBTQ community, within which exists SAGECare. This portion of SAGE is responsible for training staff and clients in assisted living communities, long term care facilities and any other persons that may be involved in elder care.

Tim R. Johnston, Senior Director of National Projects at SAGECare, is responsible for overseeing the treatment of individuals who live outside areas with sizable LGBTQ communities. 

Of the isolation that these elders are dealing with, Johnston says, “Those who are uncomfortable with the LGBT community, especially with transgender people, are often thinking about our community in the abstract. But when they meet a transgender or gender non-conforming person, they realize that they are just human beings. Of course, each interaction, whether it be political, social or personal, requires a different approach.”

While Charlotte remains without a chapter of SAGE, there is the SAGE Central chapter in Raleigh (lgbtcenterofraleigh.com) and the Cape Fear Coast chapter in Wilmington (frankharrfoundation.org). Residents across the state and nationwide are encouraged to take advantage of national programs, like SAGEConnect, even if there is no SAGE chapter in your area. This program allows for elders to speak with volunteers over the phone about whatever they enjoy. It’s available to any senior LGBT people across the country who would like to participate. For more information, go to sageusa.org/sageconnect.

In addition to SAGE, there are other various types of organizations and groups offering solutions for seniors to take advantage of, such as:

Charlotte Primetimers
This organization is a nonpolitical group aimed at the older gay and bi male population of the Charlotte metro area, although members of all ages from 21 and up are encouraged to join to take part in social and educational activities. At this time events are being held virtually, however, plans are in the works to host an event with a speaker during April; and later in the month, April 24, an area walk will take place followed by dinner at a predetermined restaurant. 

LGBTQ Elders
This Charlotte based organization focuses on the 55-and-up set and invites everyone to participate in improving quality of life, equity and affirmation for all members of the LGBTQ community. Through education, advocacy and the creation of inclusive engagement opportunities Elders strives to create social networks and make a positive impact with all pursuits.

WISE Project 
Chapel Hill-based but aimed at the entire state, the WISE Project aims to connect the LGBTQ community across cultural, racial and generational backgrounds. They offer community receptions, peer support and friendship outreach.

Guilford Green Center
Since the Center’s reopening in March of this year, there have been less in-person Gay and Gray events. However, organizers have been able to implement a new activity called “Walk and Talk.” This event, which takes place on a recurring basis, allow participants to social distance while being out in nature and spending face-to-face time with friends and acquaintances.

And in case you’re looking for an LGBTQ-friendly community, there is one such facility in Charlotte. Aldersgate has a stellar track record in reaching out to the LGBTQ community.

Located on the grounds of what was once known as The Methodist Home, Aldersgate is an all-inclusive, multi-cultural welcoming facility with employees who are given sensitivity training aimed specifically at directly benefiting the LGBTQ community.

“We want everyone who is interested in making their home here to feel welcome,” Brooks Shelley, director of marketing and engagement at Aldersgate, told qnotes in a previously published interview.

“Gay, lesbian, straight, trans, Christian, Muslim. Everyone is welcome here.”

Located at Shamrock Drive and Eastway Drive in East Charlotte, it’s practically a small town within a larger city, boasting individual houses, apartments, dining facilities, movie theaters, coffee shops and more.

 “You can choose to come here at any point on the continuum,” he offers.

“We have residents who are perfectly healthy individuals, some actually still choosing to work, who live in the various cottage, ranch style and apartment homes we have.”

“We also have assisted living facilities, skilled nursing care and memory care.”

You can learn more about the community at aldersgateccrc.com.

qnotes is part of six major media companies and other local institutions reporting on and engaging the community around the problems and solutions as they relate to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a project of the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative, which is supported by the Local Media Project, an initiative launched by the Solutions Journalism Network with support from the Knight Foundation to strengthen and reinvigorate local media ecosystems. See all of our reporting at charlottejournalism.org.

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