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Connection, socialization: Pacific Pride Foundation's Lavender Elders program is designed to bring older LGBTQ-plus folks together 


While there are many options for the LGBTQ-plus community to get together during Pride Month in June and throughout the year, it can be challenging for older community members to have that experience.

"Things like going to a Pride festival might not be accessible to someone who is older," said Jenise Trinidad Coates, Pacific Pride Foundation programs manager. "The Lavender Elders program works to fill those gaps."

click to enlarge LAVENDER ELDERS Pacific Pride Foundation is expanding its in-person Lavender Elders program, for LGBTQ-plus folks ages 50 and older, into North Santa Barbara County communities. - COURTESY PHOTO BY LILY CHUBB
  • Courtesy Photo By Lily Chubb
  • LAVENDER ELDERS Pacific Pride Foundation is expanding its in-person Lavender Elders program, for LGBTQ-plus folks ages 50 and older, into North Santa Barbara County communities.

Pacific Pride Foundation's Lavender Elders program is meant to help bring Santa Barbara County LGBTQ-plus folks ages 50 and older together. On the first and third Thursday of every month, Pacific Pride Foundation (PPF) hosts Zoom meetings where people can be with other members of the community, said Trinidad Coates, who uses they/them pronouns. The program offers in-person events in Santa Barbara, and PPF is currently trying to expand in-person events to Santa Maria, Lompoc, and other North County communities.

"The way it works in Santa Barbara for in-person is that everyone is able to meet for lunch and that is kind of just an opportunity to really socialize and network and get out and be with other people," they said. "The Santa Maria portion that I'm hoping to get off the ground and up and running is that in-person portion."

Through outreach efforts and attending community events, PPF has been working on letting North County residents know that the organization offers its services countywide, including the Lavender Elders program.

"Because we're coming in kind of newer, most folks assume that we're Santa Barbara-based only, when really we're countywide," Trinidad Coates said. "As of right now, folks are very surprised to hear we have a presence and programs in Santa Maria and Lompoc."

The Lavender Elders program works in two facets: to provide social opportunities for older folks and to connect LGBTQ-plus individuals to their community, they said.

"Folks who are older tend to not have as much social activities to participate in," Trinidad Coates said. "As we get older, we are missing the component of seeing people at school or work. Part of the program is that social and fellowship aspect for folks since most of our group is older. These are folks who are already retired who need a bit of social [activity] in life."

By 2030, it's estimated there will be 7 million LGBTQ-plus people living in the U.S. who are 50 and older, according to LGBTQ-plus media advocacy organization GLAAD, but they face unique challenges compared to their non LGBTQ-plus peers.

According to GLAAD, older LGBTQ-plus people are twice as likely to be single and live alone, and four times less likely to have children, making social isolation a significant challenge.

"Fear of, and experience with, discrimination and a lack of cultural competency in health care, housing, and other vital services make LGBTQ people less likely to seek out critical care and services as they age," according to GLAAD.

In 2018, AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons) found that 34 percent of LGBTQ-plus older people—and 54 percent of transgender older people—reported being worried about having to hide their identity to access housing for older people, according to GLAAD. In addition, limited available research on older adults with HIV show that the AIDs epidemic has disproportionately affected older LGBTQ-plus people.

According to the National Institutes of Health, having pride in one's identity and connection to one's community is associated with more positive outcomes for older LGBTQ-plus folks, including higher quality of life and lower internalized homophobia.

"Community is the most important thing, and that's what this group is able to foster for people who may not have any other way of connecting with their community," Trinidad Coates said about the Lavender Elders program, "and that's why this program is super important and near and dear to my heart."

The program not only offers a social outlet, but a support network for those who are coming out later in life and learning about their identity, they added.

"When someone goes through the process of coming out ... if it happens at a young age, you have the support of your peers, you might have family support and access to a lot of events you can attend to really ... foster that relationship with yourself and that you've had with the queer community," Trinidad Coates said. "If someone is coming out as an older adult, some of those opportunities may not be accessible."

The online portion of the Lavender Elders program works to make sure that those with health or transportation setbacks can still tap into a community, and PPF offers transportation through ride shares and partnerships to get people to in-person events, they said.

Alongside getting North County in-person events off the ground, Trinidad-Coates added that PPF would like to expand to take Lavender Elders program members on different outings, like going to museums, and including more social activities.

"I would love for this to be the program people talk about when they find out mom came out of the closet 20 years after their divorce, to meet other people, go out, be social, and hang out with their community," Trinidad Coates said. "Some folks don't come out until much later in life, and they really missed out on the experience of having that queer fellowship, and that's what the Lavender Elders program is able to provide." Δ

Reach Staff Writer Taylor O'Connor, from New Times' sister paper the Sun, at [email protected].


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