Older LGBTQ+ people have generally lived lifetimes coping with a variety of adversities specific to their community: discrimination, stigma, violence and disease. The Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA) is hoping to address some of these systemic issues with its new LGBTQ+ Advisory Council.
According to the press release announcing the council’s establishment, its mission is “to enrich the lives of older LGBTQ+ Philadelphians by establishing a robust connection between PCA and this underserved community. The council will undertake a multi-faceted approach to fulfill its mission, which includes serving as a resource for disseminating important information and resources provided by PCA.”
PCA is a publicly funded agency that provides, or facilitates access to, a myriad of programs and advocacy efforts for older Philadelphians. This includes information about the city’s many senior centers, employment services and job training, legal aid, protective services against elder abuse, information about transportation assistance, insurance and benefits counseling, home meal delivery, and many other services.
While PCA provides valuable services and assistance, the agency feels that LGBTQ+ elders have not been adequately serviced, being either unaware of what PCA offers, or uncomfortable dealing with a mainstream agency.
In the past, social service agencies did not prioritize the needs of the LGBTQ+ community. And so, the community itself stepped up to try to fill the gap in services. Health care has long been a concern for the community, even before HIV/AIDS. When the epidemic began devastating the community, several LGBTQ-specific agencies arose to meet that need. Even today, with AIDS no longer an automatic death sentence, agencies such as the Mazzoni Center are geared to the specific needs of LGBTQ+ people. Other programs, such as the William Way LGBT Community Center’s Elder Initiative and SAGE, are geared to provide assistance to LGBTQ+ older adults.
One of the major issues facing LGBTQ+ elders is a heightened risk of social isolation and loneliness. Be it because they’ve spent their lives closeted, or because they’ve outlived their spouses, or because they feel disconnected from a community that once provided them with support and now feels does not welcome them. Another contributing factor for many LGBTQ+ elders is that, as they age, some may find themselves estranged from biological family members. This isolation can lead to adverse health outcomes and a diminished quality of life.
PCA plans to collaborate with local LGBTQ+ organizations within the aging network, wherein the council can act as a voice for the community, effectively communicating their needs, challenges and aspirations. This communication partnership hopes to facilitate a deeper understanding of the unique circumstances faced by LGBTQ+ older adults, to pave the way for more targeted and impactful support.
In a press release, Linda Marucci, a counselor at PCA’s Southwest Senior Center and facilitator of the LGBTQ+ Council, said, “The launch of the LGBTQ+ Advisory Council marks a significant step forward in PCA’s ongoing commitment to building a more inclusive and supportive environment for LGBTQ+ older adults. By strengthening connections with partners, sharing resources and amplifying the voices of this vibrant community, PCA aims to ensure that every individual can age with dignity, respect and a sense of belonging.”
The council’s inaugural meeting will be held on Sept. 27 at PCA’s Center City headquarters. Subsequently, the council will meet quarterly to discuss updates, issues and strategies.
Some of the organizations that will be represented on the council are the Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs, William Way LGBT Community Center, SAGE, Community Legal Services, and William Way’s Elder Initiative. Some of the community leaders tentatively scheduled to attend the inaugural council meeting include Gigi Nikpour and Thom Duffy (Mayor’s Commission), Ed Miller (William Way), Terri Clark (SAGE) and Heshie Zinman (Elder Initiative).
“We envision the LGBTQ+ Advisory Council as one encompassing a multitude of voices, woven together by diversity and united in purpose,” Marucci said in a written statement. “Our hope is to create a council that reflects the richness of experiences, perspectives and identities within the LGBTQ+ community. By embracing this diversity, we not only strengthen our connection with the community but also ensure that every color, every shade contributes to the vibrant portrait of support and advocacy we are painting together.”
The council’s inaugural meeting will be held at 3 p.m. Sept. 27 at PCA’s offices, 642 Broad St. Those wishing to get involved should contact Linda Marucci directly at [email protected].