The Massachusetts Commission on LGBT Aging visited Berkshire County for the first time this week.
Lisa Krinsky is the director of the LGBT Aging Project, a part of the Fenway Institute at Fenway Health in Boston. She spoke with WAMC at the Berkshire Athenaeum in downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
“Today we are hosting a listening session," said Krinsky. "This is the Massachusetts LGBT Aging Commission. We’re the only statewide commission for LGBT older adults in the country, and for the past number of years we’ve been working on efforts within the state network to make sure that lives are fulfilling and meaningful for LGBT older adults.”
Alongside politicians, the commission consists of representatives from groups like GLAAD, MassEquality, AARP, and the Home Care Aid Council. Krinsky says the listening sessions help inform statewide policy on LGBTQ issues.
“The state now requires that everybody who works with the state network of elder care will be required to take LGBT cultural competency training, and that we think is important because it builds the foundation for providers to be thoughtful about how they work with LGBT older adults – and we make sure that it happens across the state, so it doesn’t depend on which zip code you live in,” she told WAMC.
The event drew a handful of LGBTQ Berkshire residents.
“I’m a member of the Seniors Rainbow group, which is a group of gay seniors that meet three times a month," said Michael, 76, a Pittsfield native who didn’t want to give his full name. He described the topics that brought him to the session.
“Any kind of prejudice that might be found in nursing homes or senior housing," said Michael. "I’ve heard some stories that it can be difficult because a lot of older people still have the vestiges of prejudice from the 50’s and 60’s.”
“I’m hoping to find out that the state – or the commonwealth, I should say – is up to date on how to give comfort and security to all of its citizens, regardless of race, rank, and serial number," said George, who is 77 and a fellow member of the Rainbow Seniors group. “It’s necessary that we all be secure in our places, and in our treatments in hospitals and old age places, and I think that we have enough violence to last us for quite a while, and it would be nice to get rid of that violence – morally, physically, and ethically.”
He described the commission’s visit as overdue.
“This commission comes out of something that Governor Deval Patrick signed in 2013, so we’re finally getting something out in the Western Massachusetts, where they’re getting interested in us also as opposed to just saying in the Boston area," said George. "Because we know that there’s a distance between – it’s a philosophic difference – between the east and the west of Massachusetts.”
Democratic State Senator Pat Jehlen of the Second Middlesex district – representing the residents of Medford, Somerville, Winchester, and Cambridge – co-chairs the commission with State Representative Ruth Balser, also a Democrat, of the 12th Middlesex district. Jehlen co-hosted the listening session with Pittsfield State Representative and fellow Democrat Tricia Farley-Bouvier, who is also a vice chair of the joint committee on elder affairs. She said that while much of what she heard in the session mirrored conversations statewide, she found three issues that emerged “remarkable.”
“The lack of transportation, the lack of healthcare providers, and that people were surprised that the culture was not as welcome of LGBTQ people as they expected given its reputation in the Berkshires as being a very progressive community,” said Jehlen.
The last listening session in Western Massachusetts was several years ago in Holyoke.
“I personally was really struck with the concerns about transportation, and how important that is not just for people in this community but for everybody in the Berkshires, and so I’m much more sympathetic now to people’s concerns about providing adequate transportation, for the RTAs, and for train service, and for whatever people need to get from one community to another,” the state senator told WAMC.
When established, the commission estimated that there some 65,000 older LGBTQ adults in the state.