How Lavender Seniors of the East Bay Keeps LGBTQ Elders Connected

Photo courtesy of Lavender Seniors of the East Bay

In 1994, twenty seniors in the SF East Bay Area—troubled by the lack of resources and legal protections available to LGBTQ elders—held the first meeting of what would soon become grantee partner Lavender Seniors of the East Bay. Their mission to create lasting community change for LGBTQ elders is more important now than ever. 

In 2018, Horizons Foundation’s LGBTQ Community Needs Assessment found that—despite the leaps and bounds we’ve recently made in terms of LGBTQ rights—many LGBTQ seniors in the Bay Area share concerns over access to adequate medical and home care services due to discrimination. These seniors are also subject to a significant lack of providers and services targeted to their unique needs as the “gay and grey,” as Lavender Seniors jokingly calls themselves. 

LGBTQ+ seniors came of age at a time when it was criminal and considered mentally ill and deviant to be LGBTQ+ [...] Thus, for most LGBTQ+ persons, the only way to survive was to be ‘closeted,’ to hide their sexual orientation and gender identity from family, employers, neighbors, and officials, and attempt to ‘pass’ as heterosexual. Because of remaining hidden, many older LGBTQ+ seniors still feel at risk.

Lavender Seniors

Among the myriad ways Lavender Seniors works to ensure a high quality of life among LGBTQ elders is community building. Especially because Lavender Seniors operates out of Oakland and provides services in less urban counties like Alameda and Contra Costa, this community building is absolutely essential. Many LGBTQ seniors are likely to avoid supportive services out of fear of being outed. This is why the Lavender Seniors’ events calendar is full of events; ranging from group therapy to support groups to luncheons, there is no shortage of ways in which Lavender Seniors encourages community involvement and interaction.   

Earlier this year, Lavender Seniors received a Community Issues grant from Horizons Foundation to support their work advocating for LGBTQ seniors and educating their care providers. With the East Bay being very geographically dispersed and many seniors living far from their family and friends, Lavender Seniors plans to use this grant to target people living alone and in residential care facilities. Because many of these seniors are either lacking the technology to connect with their friends and family members or unsure of how to use such electronic devices, Lavender Seniors provides training and resources to these community members. They also provide lessons to care facilities on how to be more inclusive and culturally supportive. 

This essential training sits alongside many other initiatives of Lavender Seniors. In addition to their educational and community support, the organization provides LGBTQ elders with a list of vetted healthcare and service providers through their Emblem LGBTQ Certification Project. They have also undertaken the Our Scrolls Project—a touring display of the lives of eight LGBTQ seniors designed to increase the visibility of older LGBTQ adults. 

As Lavender Seniors nears its 30-year anniversary, its mission remains vital to the overall health and wellbeing of the LGBTQ community in the east SF Bay Area. Aging is a road fraught with challenge and fear, and the road for LGBTQ seniors is often much harder. Lavender Seniors faces this problem head-on with one overarching idea: We’re here, we’re queer, and as we age we deserve the same respectful and high-quality health and human services as everyone else.