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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Older gays gather, leave stigma at the door

RALEIGH -- It's often not easy being gay and gray.
National and state polling shows that older people continue to hold more negative views about homosexuality than people under 30. That's one reason gay people from the baby boom era and older are often still haunted by memories of times when most were afraid to declare their identities.
The Gay and Gray Initiative of the LGBT Center of Raleigh aims to help this often isolated older generation with a range of issues, including fostering a more active social life. Les Geller, 65, a Raleigh architect who is treasurer of the nonprofit group - the acronym stands for "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered" - says there's demand for help in crisis situations and in finding gathering places that are free of bias.
"They don't have the same family support structure," Geller said of older gays. "In a lot of cases they've been ostracized by their families."
Gay and Gray is kicking off its efforts with a social event Sunday at the Four Points by Sheraton hotel at Southpoint in Durham. There will be music and food, a cash bar, a small cover charge and, organizers hope, a chance for people over 50 to get out of the house and gather socially.
On April 1, Gay and Gray is sponsoring a Galaxy Cinema screening of the film "Gen Silent," a documentary about lesbian and gay older people who fear abuse in long-term care centers, nursing homes and other institutional settings. The film's director, Stu Maddux, is coming from California for a question-and-answer session at the fundraiser.
Lorraine Johnson, 48, a principal of Triangle Financial Advisors, is co-chair of the center. She's worried about the number of gay people in long-term care who, even at the end of their lives, do not tell people they see every day about their sexuality - meaning no pictures or visits from partners and no joining in conversations about children and grandkids.
"You have a whole generation that wouldn't come out when they were independent," Johnson said. "Why would they do it when they are dependent?"
Friends become family
Losing a partner and entering long-term care can be devastating for gay people who have based their social lives on close associations that are not necessarily family-centered.
"In the majority of gay and lesbian relationships, your friends become your family," Geller said.
The LGBT Center has a small office on Cabarrus Street to carry out its mission of strengthening the gay community through social and educational activities, helping build a network of support services, and advocating for the area lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual people.
The group has gained support from sponsors as diverse as Duke Medicine and Char-Grill restaurants. Through the office and from callers they hear wrenching reports such as that of a woman whose doctor wouldn't perform a pap smear because she thought she could contract AIDS from her lesbian patient.
"Anyone who thinks homophobia is dead has another think coming," Johnson said.


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