LGBT seniors fund to launch

February 3, 2012
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(Image Courtesy MAD STU Media) Partners Alexandre Rheaume (left) and Lawrence Johnson in the film “Gen Silent.”

Ethos, the Jamaica Plain-based senior care organization, is launching a groundbreaking fund to assist the neglected population of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender elders.

The Ethos Equality Fund will be formally announced at a Feb. 16 event at the Boston Public Library in Copley Square, along with the screening of a documentary film that features Ethos’s work.

“We’re way far ahead of everybody else,” said Ethos Executive Director Dale Mitchell, noting that the nonprofit is already known for its spin-off organization the LGBT Aging Project. “We really want to be a change agent here.”

Ethos’s mission is to help frail elders live at home rather than move into nursing homes. It is a mainstream organization, but is increasingly known for LGBT-specific programs that may not be covered by its funding sources, which are largely public. The Equality Fund aims to fund LGBT programs at Ethos and kick-start new ones at other organizations.

Mitchell, who is gay, said that when he arrived at Ethos 15 years ago, he raised the question of LGBT programs. “People kind of looked at me like, ‘What are you talking about?’” he recalled. “I realized that was a sign of a significant problem.”

Many LGBT seniors have lived under “extreme repression” and mistrust institutions that have discriminated against them, Mitchell said. That can lead them to avoid seeking available services, or force them back into the closet if they do sign up.

There are also reports of outright discrimination from some service contractors. Mitchell said that years ago, an Ethos client who was straight but had HIV reportedly had a contracted caregiver “pull out her Bible and ask him to beg for forgiveness.” Despite Ethos dealing with the situation, the client refused to return to the program, Mitchell said.

In response to such impacts on LGBT dignity, Ethos started the LGBT Aging Project in 2001. It advocates for the rights of LGBT elders, as well as offering such programs as “community cafés,” or LGBT elder meal sites, around the city—the “first ever space in the city of Boston where [LGBT elders] could come and be themselves,” Mitchell said.

That work is featured in the recent documentary “Gen Silent,” which is being showed at the Equality Fund kickoff. It follows a gay man who is overwhelmed by caring for his dying partner and finds one of Ethos’s community cafés as a refuge.

The Equality Fund would allow for more of that kind of support, and its goals are modest. “Raising $5,000, we would consider a tremendous success,” Mitchell said.

The fund already has an impressive “host committee” that is lending credibility and, in some cases, donations. Mayor Thomas Menino is on the list, as is state health commissioner John Auerbach, a JP resident. Other local names include Krista Kranyak, the owner of the Ten Tables restaurants; state Rep. Liz Malia; and City Councilor Matt O’Malley.

For more information, see ethocare.org or call 617-522-6700. The Equality Fund kickoff with the film screening, followed by a discussion with the director and people featured in it, is Feb. 16, 5:30 p.m. (film at 7 p.m.) at the Boston Public Library in Copley Square.