The “Golden Years” can be challenging. You may find yourself free from the daily grind of work and parenting, but you’re likely also dealing with increased financial pressure and health problems.
But if you are a member of the LGBT community, these challenges, particularly isolation, can be magnified.
There is a place where seniors from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities in Napa can get together regularly for socializing and mutual support.
“After working with LGBT youth for many years, I realized you can feel vulnerable at any age,” director and facilitator Ian Stanley Posadas said. “We didn’t want this to be just a sad support group; it’s a place for LGBT seniors to come and share their experiences and have lively discussions in a welcoming environment.”
The group, called the LGBT Connection, meets the first Tuesday of every month from 10:15 a.m.-noon. Since its founding in 2012, it has grown to about 20 members.
Ann Schwartz, 76, said isolation was one of things that brought her and her wife to the group.
“I moved back to Napa in 1971. And since then, people we knew socially have died or moved away, or just sort of dropped out. This group was a way to reach out and see who was around in Napa,” she said.
“At one time, 25 years ago or so, the LGBT community in Napa was fairly large and vibrant,” she said, “But it has dwindled away to not very many people. So we were looking for a group of like-minded people, and I have to say, we certainly found it.”
Michael Muir, 65, has been a member since the group’s inception.
“I met Ian at a community forum and I was really impressed with how big the umbrella of his vision was,” Muir said. “He wanted a place that was inclusive of every conceivable shade of the rainbow, and involve us all.
Muir said he used to live in Berkeley and was involved in the Pacific Center for Human Growth, an LGBT community center.
“I felt we needed a place like this here,” he said. “Ian told me he was going to start a senior group in Napa and I told him I wasn’t sure if I was a senior citizen yet — We just decided if you thought you were a senior that was good enough.”
Muir said he hadn’t planned to stick with the group for long, “but now I look forward to it every month. I’ve made friends there and I really feel like I’m a part of something.”
Krystalargo de Lindachrist, 81, joined the group about six months ago.
“I had been searching for several years and I picked up a flyer talking about this senior group,” she said. “I am a bisexual and it’s a very difficult thing to find people who are bisexual because they are tremendously hidden within the population, both females and males.”
De Lindachrist said she moved to Napa about eight years ago “and I needed a place where I could really be me. So this group has filled a huge hole in my social existence and emotional health. But I still haven’t run into anyone who identifies themselves as bisexual.”
Discrimination is still a very real thing, even in Napa, according to Stanley Posadas.
“Imagine if you worry whether the person you are sharing a house with, or renting from, is going to be OK with your identity,” he said.
And having a place to discuss their identity openly is particularly hard for older people.
“Our seniors grew up in a time when homosexuality was a crime and considered a mental illness,” he said. “So, sometimes our seniors are dealing with people in terms of their finances, or medical care, or housing, and those old practices of keeping a part of yourself private for safety’s sake come back.”
“I think the whole ‘coming out’ business takes some doing in our age group … One of the parts of this group that is so good is you can talk to other people who are LGBT who are willing to listen,” she said. “And when you are talking and sharing with other LGBT people, you don’t have to translate. There are words we can say and everyone at the table understands. So I don’t have to filter what I have to say and everyone can share their life experiences without worrying about it.”
That reaction is typical of people in the group, Stanley Posadas said.
“LGBT people in general, seniors in particular, are more disconnected from the mainstream but also from each other,” he said. “This group is the antidote for that. We had a senior living at the Veterans home that said he would rather die alone than have it be known he was gay. We’ve had folks in nursing homes who were gay; children would visit and then the nursing staff would say anti-gay things when they left. Here, you can feel safe, no one is going to make you feel uncomfortable. Even if you’re not out of the closet, this is a safe place for you.”
The group is dedicated to confidentiality, so they can discuss their feelings, challenges and identity openly.
“We aren’t afraid to lay our cards on the table here,” said Muir.
“What gets talked about here, doesn’t go anywhere,” agreed Schwartz. “If you don’t want anyone to know you’re doing this, you don’t have to worry about that.”
Because isolation and loneliness are such a big issue for LGBT seniors, members say, they wish they could meet even more often than they do. Besides talking about serious issues, they try to have fun too.
“Our group is lively and fun,” Stanley Posadas said, “We watch films, have snacks and refreshments, and if people want to meet outside the group during the week, we welcome that.”
Members of the LGBT community in Napa are welcome to join and can get more information by calling Stanley Posadas at 251-9432, or visiting their website: LGBTQconnection.org.
“Even if you’re not out of the closet, this is a safe place for you,” Stanley Posadas said.
Members agree that it’s a safe and welcoming environment. “Come out, come out, wherever you are,” said Muir with a laugh.