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Aging & Society

Looking Back – and Forward – with Pride

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In June, people around the world gather together for Pride festivals and parades, celebrating the LGBTQ community and civil rights progress around LGBTQ issues.

Pride is held that month every year to commemorate the Stonewall uprising, which took place in New York City in June 1969. The uprising began after police harassed and roughed up a group of LGBT people at the Stonewall Inn, a bar in Greenwich Village. The riots that followed over the next six days are considered an important catalyst in the modern LGBTQ rights movement.

This year is an especially important year: it’s the 50th anniversary of the uprising. Looking back over the last half-century, important strides have been made. Since 2011, lesbians, gays, and bisexuals have been allowed to openly serve in the military (although, recently, transgender people were banned from enlisting unless willing to serve as their biological sex). And today, LGBTQ people can legally marry.

 “On this 50th anniversary of Stonewall, we celebrate the fact that, in many places across the country, LGBTQ people are able to be out,” says Aaron Tax, who is director of advocacy with Sage, a national advocacy and services organization that has been looking out for LGBTQ elders since 1978. Still, adds Tax, there’s work to be done. And older LGBTQ people – the very people who were present at the Stonewall Inn – may still face discrimination as they age.

“This is very much the first generation to be out. But as they enter new situations in their lives, they’re going to be more vulnerable,” says Tax. Some may have a caregiver in their home, while others may move into institutions where they rely on strangers. There’s a risk, says Tax, if they don’t feel safe, that they will “err on the side of the caution, going back into the closet.”

This June, while Pride celebrations are honoring the LGBTQ community, Tax encourages people to take a stand for equality, in the hopes that, in the future, older adults can feel safe and accepted regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. He shared a few easy things that people can do to make a difference for LGBTQ elders throughout the year. 

  1. Volunteer at your local LGBTQ community center. The aging LGBTQ community faces some tough challenges, says Tax. “They’re twice as likely to be single. Four times less likely to have kids. They’re often disconnected from their families of origin because maybe their family disowned them when they came out. They experience higher rates of poverty.” All of those factors can create some significant hurdles in healthy aging. Through various non-profit organizations, people can volunteer to visit with them, bring them meals, help with chores, drive them to doctor’s appointments, and more.
  2. Encourage testing for sexually transmitted infections (STI), including HIV. Tax says that nearly half of people living with HIV are older than 50. Many of them, he says, don’t even know it. He encourages people of all ages to be tested for HIV – as well as other STIs – and to be open about it. “You can make a real difference getting tested and encouraging others to be tested,” he says. “Be public about it. Post it on social media. Address the stigma."
  3. Be an ally. If you hear someone making a derogatory remark, speak up. Be an advocate and friend, and stand up for equality whenever you can. “Every civil rights movement has always depended on the support of allies, and that’s certainly important even today,” says Tax.  

June is a time to reflect with pride on how far we’ve come, while taking stock of the distance we still need to go. What else can you do to help?

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