Rainbow Elders have a place for everyone

  • Rainbow Elders gathered at an annual picnic for LGBT seniors this summer. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO—

Staff Writer
Published: 8/5/2018 7:44:12 PM

GREENFIELD — For gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender elders, growing old can be a time of loneliness and isolation. This is especially true for those without family or who feel uncomfortable in social settings.

“People need a place where they can go, if they don’t feel they’re part of the regular norm,” said Leea Pronovost.

Rainbow Elders of LifePath (formerly the Franklin County Home Care Corp.) was formed by and for LGBT elders to create social connections for gay elders and to educate others, especially health care workers and caregivers.

“Many of us don’t have children and don’t always have a network of support,” said David Gott of Rainbow Elders. Gott is among the members of the Rainbow Elders Steering Committee, which gives presentations on LGBTIQA concerns. The steering committee tries to raise awareness and compassion among those who work with the elderly.

LGBTQIA stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (born with both male and female chromosomes), queer or questioning and asexual or “ally.”

Four times a year, Rainbow Elders holds social events that include an annual winter breakfast, an intergenerational dinner in April with the LGBT community at Greenfield Community College, a July picnic and an educational forum in October. Past programs have dealt with legal and financial issues, housing, transportation and diversity of sexual expression.

Rainbow Elders and the South County Senior Center have teamed up to start a monthly lunch club for elders in the LGBT community. At least 350 elders are on the Rainbow Elders mailing list, according to LifePath Director of Community Services Lynne Feldman.

Rainbow Elders was started about six years ago, according to Gott. He pointed out, however, that there have been many informal networks that have been active for years.

“We find LGBT elders who are isolated and need the support of our picnics and dinners,” said Donna Liebl, another steering committee member.

When asked why gay elders would need a support group, steering committee members Liebl, Gott, Pronovost and J.R. Raphael remarked that over-60 age groups became popular at a time when being gay or lesbian was something taboo. And, as Liebl says, not being heterosexual is something that “a certain age group feels very comfortable being hostile about.”

“When I first went to my senior center, someone was telling very nasty jokes about LGBT people. That was very upsetting to me,” Liebl said. “It made me feel we need to address senior centers, because it was something that would put off any other LGBT person there. That just made me want to get more involved with LGBT education.”

“With decades of persecution in our life experience, we are hesitant to go into certain environments,” Gott said. “I still am.”

“I think, in a sense, we’ve all experienced a level of PTSD,” Pronovost said. “I run a (transgender) support group online and, as of late, because I’m a public figure online, I get more hate mail than I get people joining the group for support. They’re saying: ‘You guys are messed up. You should just kill yourself’ and stuff like that. It’s anything from ‘Jesus is the only way’ to as much hate as ‘Go and die.’”

“This is the generation that saw the AIDS epidemic — and the neglect that went on around it for years,” Liebl added. “We saw the deaths of many people that we knew. There is a lot of trauma in this group.

“It’s not easy for young people either,” she said, “because they’re feeling this hatred, in these times. There was a hope among the young people that their lives would be a lot different. But, when talking to young people at the GCC dinner, the young people tell their stories, and they still have lots of issues.”

“They asked us how we survived,” Gott said.

“They want to know, from our experience, in this period of backlash, how (we) managed to grow — to be old people — in such a hostile environment,” Liebl said.

“The suicide rate in the LGBT community is astronomical, compared to the general society,” Gott said. “Despite all this, we’re an incredibly resilient group.”

Also, LGBT elders have many support groups they can turn to, according to the group. These include: PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays), OLOC, which stands for “Old Lesbians Organizing for Change” and the Franklin County Area Trans Support group.

For more information, go online to: lifepathma.org/rainbowelders

or email: rainbowelders@lifepathma.org

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