The AgePRIDE Center: Creating Space for Social Connection during COVID and Beyond
In a virtual room, people are sharing pleasant events, talking about the frustrations of their video freezing mid-sneeze, and laughing together. This is the Memory Loss Support and Social Group held at the AgePRIDE Center for LGBTQ+ people living with memory loss without a care partner.
“It has been really great during this time of isolation—this group has really provided some connection for me and ideas and perspectives,” one member says. “Just to connect, even virtually, in a time when we can’t connect in person has been important.”
Meanwhile, in an assisted living building, someone writes a letter—a Legacy Letter—reflecting on their life. Soon they will be exchanging their letter with another person from a different generation. AgePRIDE Legacy Letter program writers have gone on to share their letters with family and friends, now having a new way to tell their stories and connect with their loved ones.
On yet another day, across town, the AgePRIDE Center and GenPride Seattle staff work with a senior center on how they are creating inclusive spaces for LGBTQ+ members and staff. As they start their work, one senior center staff member says, “I believe we have more LGBTQ+ participants than we know of, or who are comfortable being out at the center. We are pretty much at baseline zero, but we all know the need and desire is there to serve our LGBTQ+ community.”
Across each of these moments, there is a common theme, which has been amplified during COVID-19: Creating space for social connection. Even before COVID-19, finding spaces and community where older LGBTQ+ adults had support was not easy, due to the biases they encountered based on gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, age, disabilities and/or race. Through COVID-19, the isolation that many older LGBTQ+ people already faced has increased significantly, often separating them from their personal support networks.
More likely to live alone, older LGBTQ+ people often rely on people outside of their home for caregiving support, which has been dangerous to navigate during this time of COVID. Yet, despite the challenges that this community faces now and historically, older LGBTQ+ adults have always known how to build community. Based on decades of research, Professor Karen Fredriksen Goldsen founded the AgePRIDE Center and GenPride, our community partner, to provide a space to link lives and to develop and evaluate ways to best support the distinct needs in these communities, simultaneously generating new information that benefits all older adults and their families.
Building social connection is a key goal of the AgePRIDE Center, a division of the Goldsen Institute at the UW School of Social Work. The AgePRIDE Center was created to reach and serve LGBTQ+ people 50 and older, their care partners and families, and other underserved communities. The Center focuses its work in three areas: programming, education, and training.
AgePRIDE programming aims to create spaces for LGBTQ+ people and allies to strengthen connections and support their wellbeing. Our programs range from technology classes on social media to our intergenerational Legacy Letters program to our caregiver support groups.
As the AgePRIDE Center is housed within the UW School of Social Work, we also believe in spreading awareness and education on issues faced as we age, holding talks about health and wellness. In addition to our presentations, we work with organizations, providing training and assessments to support the creation of inclusive programs and services for older LGBTQ+ people.
The AgePRIDE Center is committed to dismantling health disparities, social isolation, and discrimination, resulting in strengthened health, wellbeing, and community. We strive to connect people and their stories to shape spaces where older LGBTQ+ adults can live with pride, dignity, and wellbeing. While this past year has brought much loss, suffering, and isolation for many, the AgePRIDE Center is here to help people heal, connect with others, and find a path forward.
Contributor Alisa Tirado Strayer manages the AgePRIDE Center at the Goldsen Institute in the University of Washington School of Social Work. For more information about the AgePRIDE Center and the Goldsen Institute, call 206-543-2449, e-mail AgePrideCenter@uw.edu, or visit goldseninstitute.org/agepridecenter. To receive information on upcoming programs and events, sign up for the AgePRIDE e-mail list.
This article originally appeared in the June 2021 issue of AgeWise King County.