As the important contributions of LGBTQ+ individuals are recognized across America in celebration of Pride Month, we reaffirm our commitment to standing in solidarity with LGBTQ+ Americans in the ongoing struggle against bigotry, discrimination and injustice, and uplift important work happening in our corner of the country. In rural east King County, two Veterans, Seniors & Human Services Levy-funded Senior Hubs are creating more inclusive spaces for LGBTQ+ older adults. Over the past year, the GenPride Senior Hub has built a new partnership with the Far East Senior Hub (FESH) to strengthen culturally informed services and programs of the three senior center members of FESH.
A collaboration across senior centers
The GenPride Senior Hub, a senior hub composed of GenPride Seattle and the AgePRIDE Center, provides specialized services for racially, ethnically and gender diverse lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer seniors and shares their expertise to other senior hubs to better serve these and other systemically minoritized communities across King County.
FESH, a senior hub composed of Issaquah Senior Center, Mt. Si Senior Center and Sno-Valley Senior Center serve the most geographically and culturally isolated rural and semi-rural seniors in far east King County. Partnering together to form the Far East Senior Hub allows for increased capacity of senior services in this geographically isolated region and creates coordinated opportunities for all seniors served by the hub members.
Facing unique challenges
Isolation is the most often reported concern for elders, even more so for LGBTQ+ seniors, who face a unique set of challenges such as family isolation, social and cultural prejudices and laws that historically ignored or excluded same-sex partnerships. Utilizing the expertise of both senior hubs, the GenPride Senior Hub and FESH sought to identify ways for LGBTQ+ seniors in east King County to feel welcome when accessing services and creating connections in their local communities.
In November 2020, the first LGBTQ assessment for the FESH was launched, collecting responses on LGBTQ+ awareness from over 50 staff, board members and volunteers. The results of this survey helped to identify FESH’s strengths and customize a virtual training that the GenPride Senior Hub held for FESH staff, board members and volunteers in early 2021.
GenPride Senior Hub’s training, which is available to senior hubs across King County, is aimed to help organizations that seek to provide more welcoming and inclusive environments for LGBTQ+ seniors. The training educates and engages staff in ways to communicate with openness and compassion while expressing willingness to listen and form a respectful relationship with clients. The training includes a history of potential past traumatic events for many LGBTQ+ seniors who may be from a “silent generation” and uncomfortable being out, affirming identify, demonstrating respect and promoting inclusion. Participants learn the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation, talk about pronouns and issues specific to LGBTQ+ seniors and the barriers they may face to step into their authentic selves.
After the initial assessment and training with FESH, the GenPride Senior Hub established an engagement team to directly connect with participants and staff at the FESH hub partner senior centers. GenPride Senior Hub developed an inclusivity packet for rainbow elders as a resource for FESH and other VSHSL-funded senior hubs. The packet includes an easy-to-use check list to help senior centers advance their equity work.
Expanding culturally informed LGBTQ+ services in rural King County
FESH partners have since made strides in making their centers rainbow friendly, such as establishing an LGBTQ+ advisory team, promoting GenPride Senior Hub resources to seniors in their community, sharing LGBTQ+ aging information in center newsletters, creating a gender-neutral bathroom at Sno-Valley Senior Center and hosting a Pride celebration later this month. The City of Issaquah, with support from Issaquah Senior Center, is hosting a Pride celebration on June 24 from 6:30-8pm. The event, which is open to the public, will feature Mitchell Hunter, Training Manager at GenPride Seattle, who will present some historical background, context and framework for the shared lives and experiences of LGBTQ+ adults.
FESH’s work to promote LGBTQ+ inclusivity has already resulted in new connections among seniors at Sno-Valley Senior Center. Three lesbian couples, all members of Sno-Valley Senior Center, did not know each other prior to meeting at a training and now can share connections, support and friendship with each other. Through the senior hub model of connecting senior centers across King County, partnerships like the ones between FESH and GenPride Senior Hub build bridges to accessing critical connections and coordination of services and resources to ensure all older adults can lead healthy and thriving lives.
“Living on the far east side limits the opportunity to connect with the LGBTQ+ community. Collaborations between FESH and GenPride are opening the door to invite LGBTQ+ elders into senior centers. We know they are out there and we want them to know they are welcome. I’m excited to be part of this endeavor and look forward to meeting more LGBTQ+ folks and allies.” C. – FESH LGBTQ Elder
Learn more about the programs and training offered by the GenPride Senior Hub and the FESH hub partners: AgePRIDE Center, GenPride Seattle, Issaquah Senior Center, Mt. Si Senior Center and Sno-Valley Senior Center.