Advocacy in Action: LGBT Elders Take Pride!

By James P. Campbell

HIV & Aging Blog Series

Click below to read additional articles in this series from the LGBT Aging Issues Network.

HIV and Aging: Challenges for the Fourth Decade of HIV
By Nathan L. Linsk, guest editor of this series

Success with HIV Provides an Opportunity for Leadership
By Stephen E. Karpiak

Identifying Challenges in HIV/AIDS Prevention and Management at the Sixth Annual National Conference on HIV/AIDS and Aging
By James P. Campbell

Research Note: Health Disparities Among LGBT Older Adults Living With HIV 
By Karen I. Fredriksen-Goldsen and Charles A. Emlet

Research Note: Older Adults Living With HIV/AIDS in Ontario, Canada
By David J. Brennan and Charles A. Emlet

Research Note: New Boston Study on HIV/AIDS Packed with Over-50 Info
By James Campbell

Aging and HIV: An Overview of Neurocognitive Concerns
By Kevin J. Kukoleck

HIV and Aging Resources 
By Ken South, Hope Barrett, Katja Heinemann and Naomi Schegloff

What if after more than 30 years of Pride parades, you looked around and realized that all the faces around you belonged to folks younger than 30?  Where were the old friendsthe now graying veterans of the first parades?

In the winter of 2008 a small group of nonprofits that serve the growing number of LGBT elders began the LGBT Senior Pride Coalition. They were the LGBT Aging Project, which operates seven meal sites for LGBT elders, Stonewall Life Long Learning Institute, the education and support organization New England Association on HIV Over Fifty (NEAHOF), Prime Timers, Inc., a membership organization of gay and transgender men of Boston, and Older Lesbian Energy, a no longer active membership organization.

Active members of these organizations realized that some old friends, neighbors and community leaders were becoming too frail for long marches, some felt the youth-oriented activities surrounding Pride offered nothing for them and some needed care. The five founding organizations were already providing services to many LGBT elders, but the Pride Coalition wanted to build on existing relationships to re-engage older members of the community in the joyful celebration they launched almost 40 years earlier.

The NEAHOF has looked at all possible means of community outreach and ways of collaborating with sister agencies. Fully engaging seniors in Pride activities, even planning new Pride Week activities, seemed like an ideal way to complement the educational, healthcare, nutrition services and care circles that form the backbone of local agency activity.  

Our first stop was the Boston Pride Committee, to figure out costs and logistics. Getting a bunch of older adults to participate fully in the parade would take some doing. The parade route is almost 2 miles long, with Beacon Hill smack in the middle. And June weather is always unpredictableit could be 90 or 40 degrees—and we’d have to plan for rain. 

After wrangling a discount on the registration fee for both parade and festival sites from the Pride committee, we moved on to transportation. Some older community members could walk; many could not. With some help from Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s office, we were able to secure the donation of two Old Town Trolleys with chairlifts.

The NEAHOF and its four partners in the Coalition began to work with its members, clients and allied service organizations to build support for the idea that the organizations would participate in the annual parade as a single marching unit, complete with two donated trolleys. The organizations would together man a large festival booth on City Hall Plaza and at the end of the parade. This allowed all five organizations to reach a broad audience of parade-goers in a festive atmosphere.

Over the four years of Coalition participation, the response to elders in the parade and festival tent has been stunning. Crowds cheer the older adult marchers and trolleys and gather information about member organizations from volunteers at the tent. Even on two of the four years when it rained, the weather didn’t dampen enthusiasm for the elder LGBT contingent.

In 2010, the Massachusetts Association of Older Americans, an influential lobbying organization, joined the Coalition, broadening our reach beyond the LGBT community. This past June, the Senior Pride Coalition added a senior dance to Coalition-sponsored activities for Pride Week. Attended by several hundred, the dance offered another popular activity geared to elders.

Offering education, support and care to older people living with HIV, their families and caretakers is essential to maintaining an active, healthy community. The NEAHOF has found work with the Senior Pride Coalition builds on its mission in critical ways. The Coalition has solidified working relationships among provider agencies and, most important, has increased visibility for all service providers in the broader community.

James P. Campbell is president and CEO of the New England Association On HIV Over Fifty (NEAHOF). 

This article is brought to you by the editorial board of ASA’s LGBT Aging Issues Network (LAIN).