By ALEX WALTERS
Capital News Service
LANSING — Two new Metro Detroit senior centers are focused on older LGBTQ+ residents, filling what advocates say is a need for services they otherwise may not get.
The staff and programming at the new centers are primarily funded by MiGen, a Ferndale nonprofit that supports older LGBTQ+ people.
Existing community centers are providing physical space.
One of the centers opened earlier this year in Affirmations LGBTQ+ Community Center in Ferndale. Another is set to open at the Corktown Health Center in Detroit by the end of 2024.
Elderly LGBTQ+ people often need support services as they’re more likely to be aging alone or without sufficient social support networks, said Lisa Krinsky, the director of the LGBTQIA+ Aging Project at the Fenway Institute in Boston.
Accessing services can be complicated, however, as individuals’ experiences with stigma and bigotry can create an “anticipation of discrimination” discouraging them from seeking help, she said.
“They could be reluctant and not sure if they can really be out and who they are in those spaces,” Krinsky said. “It’s unclear how they’ll be received by their peer group because their peer group was raised with a lot of stigma around LGBTQ identities.”
Many of the centers’ offerings may appear no different than those available at a traditional senior center, said MiGen executive director Angela Gabridge. But “they’re guaranteed to be welcoming and affirming, which can be a challenge for our folks elsewhere.”
So far, the centers have planned a food box delivery program, health services and assistance with applying for Medicare and food benefits, she said.
“It may seem duplicative, but the truth is a lot of our folks would otherwise go without – and not access services they qualify for – because they’re so afraid of discrimination or having things taken away or being outed to family,” Gabridge said.
They’ve also planned programming specifically catered to an older LGBTQ+ audience.
Thus far, programs include a discussion group about queer issues, a book club focusing on works about the queer experience and a monthly art series featuring work from older queer artists “who often have a difficult time getting the attention of gallery spaces,” Gabridge said.
MiGen previously didn’t offer direct services to individuals. Instead, it trained and educated caregivers at other organizations through a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services.
“Our staff that works out in the community talked about really building relationships” during a MiGen training, said Terry LaFave, the director of long-term care services at the U.P. Area Agency on Aging in Escanaba.
MiGen worked with LaFave’s staff to be more accommodating and to revise the agency’s non-discrimination policy, she said.
Krinsky said she believes a “both or and” approach can best provide care to elderly LGBTQ+ people across the state by establishing designated centers where possible and training staff in other areas.
“There are folks who will go to these LGBTQ+ centers and who will want to go there,” she said. “But, not everyone will because of geography or whatever reason.”
“I really support the idea that the whole network needs to work together on being welcoming and inclusive,” she said.