Friday, February 18, 2011

Olympia GLBT Eldercare Project Launched

Olympia GLBT ElderCare Project Launched

By Janine Gates

When Anna Schlect and her partner needed to take care of her partner’s mother, the issue of aging and GLBT elder issues were brought home to her. She decided that Olympia needed to recognize this issue and help GLBT elders.

As a result, the Olympia Eldercare Project is a pending “SAGE” affiliate. Founded in 1978, SAGE is the world’s oldest and largest non-profit agency addressing the needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) elders with about 15 affiliates nationwide.

The next meeting of the emerging local group is Tuesday, February 22, 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. in the Evergreen Plaza Building, 711 Capital Way South, second floor conference room, Olympia. An hour-long film “Gen Silent” will be shown during the meeting.

The group’s strategy is to tap local experts in eldercare who are GLBT and/or GLBT friendly and will work on education, fundraising, networking and outreach, referrals, research, and ultimately, explore local housing options.

Speaking to those gathered at the recent launching of the group, Schlect described the need for this new organization:

“Success in gay rights will be when our friends and neighbors recognize our daily presence throughout the community, including our work in senior services and housing. We have something important to offer, because across the board, senior service organizations are facing an "elder boom" that will overwhelm the existing network of services.

“As a society, we need to develop new models of care and housing for our elders. That's the value that GLBT organizations bring - if necessity is the mother of all invention, then discrimination is the Auntie of a heck of a lot of innovation. GLBT people know how to build resources out of adversity. We did it with HIV/AIDS, and we did it to build equal rights laws across the nation and employment policies in private sector. Working together, we can build the new models of care, housing and building community. That is what we in SAGE are passionately interested in doing,” says Schlect.

The key issue is education for local providers about GLBT issues, one-on-one mentoring of elders, and uncovering natural allies the GLBT community may not even know about.

“Where can I live? Where can my friend live? What are my resources? Those are our immediate goals,” says Schlect.

Beth Johnson and her partner are ambassadors of the group, serving as part of the networking committee.

“What are we going to do when we need care?” Johnson says, about her and her partner. About the group, Johnson says, “We don’t want to create a parallel network - our needs are the same as anyone else’s.”

The group hopes to be a clearinghouse for information and walk family members through the eldercare process. Group members are currently researching what people’s local experiences are - not to create a "bad" list - but to see where more work is needed to build relationships.

Partnering With Other Local Organizations

Kelly Cavenah is the local franchise owner and operater of Home Instead, a private care giving registry. She met Schlect at a Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) meeting about four or five years ago. They started talking about an eldercare project and held a panel discussion last year to talk about elder needs.

“There are people who are GLBT friendly and others who have not yet looked into their hearts about it yet,” says Kelly Cavanah.

Senior Services of South Sound is also a community partner with the group. Patrick Coolen, deputy director of Senior Services says, “We look for this to be a growing program in the community. Senior Services has always been committed to offering service to seniors without discrimination.”

Dawn Gilliam, Inclusion Coordinator at Senior Services, has a GLBT clientele. She is responsible for support services, community inclusion and activities for the 26 seniors currently in the program, which is partially funded with a grant from the Thurston County Developmental Disability.

Gilliam says, “I love my job - it’s the best job in the world because I get to help people - I do something meaningful every day.” Gilliam says she has worked really hard to get the lingo right so it’s not a label.

“It’s better to say, for example, a senior with a developmental disability rather than a developmentally disabled senior. The way we say things is important.”

Gilliam says one GLBT client of hers passed away recently. Openly gay and alone, Gilliam helped him get the dentistry care he needed prior to heart surgery and through a lot of red tape and paperwork. Not only that, she personally transported him to and from appointments and the hospital.

“He was one of those people who slipped through the cracks. Although he had been part of this community for years, he had no idea of the gay community. His life would have been so much different if he had had more support.”

About the GLBT Eldercare Project group, Gilliam says, “I’m excited this program has started. We need it so bad. It’s not easy to find the resources.”

Tony Sermonti, chair of Capital City Pride, recently presented Senior Services and Home Instead with awards, thanking them for their efforts in support of GLBT elders in the Thurston County area through programs and services.

Capital City Pride, an event that has grown to over 10,000 people, will be a two day festival this year, June 11-12.

“Gen Silent”

The unique demographics of GLBT elders make them highly vulnerable to slipping through the cracks. Social security and veterans make up the largest revenue stream for elders, and yet, due to discriminatory laws, many same-sex couples cannot draw upon their partner’s pensions and benefits. Members of the GLBT community also typically do not have children, and do not have a good relationship with their family of origin.

“Baby boomers now outnumber their children. Children get you to appointments and are your advocate. This is one way to look at it as a family issue. We need to accept and embrace youth, and continue to strengthen our relationship with GLBT youth,” said Schlect.

A growing number of films highlight senior issues, including “Gen Silent” by producer Stu Maddux. Released last year, the film follows five households as they face eldercare issues. The group played the powerful film trailer during a recent meeting.

“You just know when they don’t want you there,” says a GLBT elder in the film about a nursing home. The film features GLBT elders, some of whom have been out of the closet for years and are forced to go back into the closet when faced with the fate of entering an unwelcoming nursing home for care.

“We want this film to change hearts and minds…we need to treat all our elders with respect and dignity,” said Cavenah.

Schlect said it was a matter of discussion whether or not to extend the local organization’s reach beyond Thurston County.

“Our goal is to do what we do well. We can’t go beyond Thurston County right now, but we hope to in the future. Our philosophy is to slowly and methodically build relationships. My ultimate goal is to create GLBT friendly housing and have it serve as a model for how it can and should be across the county. We have to work smart and slow - we’re committed.” In New York, SAGE is responsible for creating hundreds of housing units for the GLBT community.

The group is looking for funding and is grateful that the Olympia Rainbow Center, a local 501 c3, gave the group a small start-up grant. Checks to support the group's efforts can be made out to the Olympia Rainbow Center and mailed to: Olympia Rainbow Center, PO Box 7221, Olympia, WA 98507-7221. Be sure to put "GLBT Eldercare Project" in the memo section of your check. Donations are tax-deductible.

For more information: Anna Schlect,, 943-7469 or Kelly Cavenah,, 570-0049.

Regarding parking for the February 22 meeting: The guest parking entrance is located on the south side of the building. Look for a red clearance beam. Park in an unreserved spot. If no spots are available, there is parking available along Capitol Way as well as behind the building. Do not park in a reserved spot or you will be towed.

Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE): 305 Seventh Avenue, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10001, (212) 741-2247 or

National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, a project of SAGE:

To view the film trailer for “Gen Silent,” go to:

Senior Services for South Sound: 222 Columbia St. NW, Olympia, Washington 98501, 586-6181 or

Olympia Rainbow Center:

Other upcoming local GLBT events:

Pride honors Stonewall Youth
Thursday, Feb 24, 5:30 p.m.,
UCAN Community Room/CoLab, 317 4th Ave. East, downtown Olympia
Free parking after 5 p.m. Light appetizers and refreshments

Please join us! As a part of Pride's 20th Anniversary series of community events, we honor Stonewall Youth as an integral part of our community and 20 years of partnership between Stonewall and Capital City Pride.

Pride Annual Sunday Brunch & Dessert Auction
Sunday, Feb 27, noon - 2 p.m.
Ramblin Jack's event room
520 4th Ave. East, downtown Olympia

Complimentary champagne & orange juice and a special menu from 'Jacks. This annual, casual and very fun event features desserts! Local celebrity auctioneer Carol Watson will emcee. Bring your friends! Win fabulous things! Support the 20th Anniversary of Capital City Pride! For more information, contact Anna Schlect at 943-7469.

There are lots of other Pride events coming up! Pride Idol shows take place the second Saturday of every month. So You Think You Can Drag is in March @ Jake's on 4th Ave. Go to for more information.

Editor's Note/Full Disclosure: Janine Gates is proud to be a GLBT friendly caregiver for seniors and works as an independent contractor through Senior Services for South Sound.

Lots of fun and dancing at 2009's Capital City Pride in downtown Olympia.