They are the original friends of Dorothy. They stood on the frontlines at Stonewall, only to later lose countless friends during the HIV/AIDS pandemic of the 1980s. And while they are disproportionately at risk and suffering from the ongoing viral pandemic, these resilient veterans of the early struggles for LGBTQ+ acceptance and inclusion are once again showing they are up for the fight.
“Older LGBTQ people have been told they are a high-risk group and to shelter in place,” Michael Adams, chief executive officer for SAGE Advocacy Services for LGBT Elders told The Daily Beast. “Many can’t go shopping or get food to eat. It’s a complete vicious circle, which for many people feels inescapable at this point. We used to provide a hot meal every day at our center. Now that isn’t available, and people are understandably afraid to go out and do shopping.”
According to a fact sheet from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), “there are currently 3 million lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Americans 50 years of age and older, with over 1.1 million that are 65 years and older.” HRC notes that LGBTQ+ seniors are more likely to experience health disparities and social isolation in part because of a lifetime of discrimination and exclusion. This in turn can lead to seniors not seeking the care and support they need. A 2018 survey of LGBTQ+ seniors conducted by AARP found 61 percent of respondents feared verbal and physical harassment as well as discrimination in level of services in long-term care facilities due to their orientation. And yet, the HRC also notes that LGBTQ+ seniors are surprisingly resilient.
Ellen Ensig-Brodsky is 87 and lives in New York City. She feels the effects of isolation, but still find ways to remain active and happy.
“If you sit alone in a one-room apartment, it’s isolated,” she told The Daily Beast. “I’m still very active. I live in the center of New York City, down the block from MoMA, Carnegie Hall, and Broadway. I’m used to doing my own thing. This makes me feel isolated in the sense of a lack of activity.”
Despite the being unable to walk about her neighborhood like before social distancing, Ensig-Brodsky still finds ways to keep active and stay happy.
“I prefer being in back in my own apartment. I can dance, listen to music, watch TV. I’m happier here even though I am alone,” she said.
Pat and Paulette Martin first met at SAGE Harlem, and tell The Daily Beast LGBTQ+ seniors are confronting the current crisis tempered by the memories of their early battles against cultural exclusion and isolation.
“Where the older LGBTQ community is not being understood is that we are from a generation where we were attacked for who we were, we didn’t get services or medical care because of our sexuality. You have that experience embedded long before this came along. A lot of people I know feel this.”
Paulette noted specific examples of how LGBTQ+ seniors are currently impacted.
“Older people get very anxious about their medications too. Right now, they can’t go out and pick them up, and are relying on others to deliver them," she said. "This whole situation is taking away a lot of our independence in a lot of areas, and we are frustrated by that. Going for walks was a form of exercise before this, and now some people feel they can’t do that.”
Paulette’s partner Pat preferred to take a more optimistic approach to the current lockdown.
“All is well,” she assured The Daily Beast. “Well, we haven’t murdered each other yet anyway!”