Southeastern North Carolina’s fastest-growing age demographic is seventy-five- to eighty-four-year-olds. And between 2000 and 2010, the number of same-sex couples cohabitating in New Hanover County more than doubled. Which is why this evening, the Frank Harr Foundation, a Wilmington-based human rights nonprofit, is launching its local affiliate of a national foundation called SAGE—which stands for Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders. This affiliation will connect the Cape Fear Region with a nationwide network of resources to help raise awareness of the challenges and needs facing gay and lesbian seniors.
LGBT people are less likely to have children to support them as they age, and more likely to age as singles, live alone and be prematurely institutionalized. This is according to Tab Ballis, a clinical social worker and faculty member of UNCW’s School of Social Work who sits on the board of the Frank Harr Foundation. Ballis says that despite all this, gay seniors are five times less likely to access senior services.
"Unfortunately, what SAGE has found is that some of these LGBT seniors have so many obstacles in accessing services that they will in fact go back into the closet in order to avoid some of the discrimination they fear in the healthcare system. "
Ballis says SAGE will offer local businesses and community centers the training and consultation services needed to help them become more culturally competent when serving LGBT elders. Ballis adds that this is particularly crucial for the Cape Fear Region.
"Lesbian, gay, transsexual and transgender folks are retiring here, they’re vacationing here; they’re bringing their businesses here. And so, the reality is, change is happening, and we have three choices in that process of change. We can be ahead of the curve, we can be with the curve, or we can be behind the curve. "
Ballis says SAGE is partnering with the Lower Cape Fear Hospice, the Area Agency on Aging, UNCW and the New Hanover County Senior Resource Center.
*Tonight's launch takes place at Wilmington's City Council Chambers at 5:30. For more information, contact the Frank Harr Foundation.
SAGE Wilmington is also distributing an online survey to research the specific issues facing local LGBT seniors.