PHILADELPHIA, PA – Following a three-year planning phase funded through a grant by the Repositioning Fund, the LGBT Elder Initiative at the William Way Community Center is now the Delaware Valley’s central hub for front line services for LGBT older Americans. Following a first-ever, historic merger of two Philadelphia LGBT organizations, the Elder Initiative at William Way is now the largest clearinghouse for LGBT elder services in the greater Philadelphia-metro area providing critical access to care and support for a generation of LGBT pioneers who helped pave the way for equality.
“At a critical time when LGBT Americans across the country are facing a dual health and political crisis, the devastating effects on older LGBT Americans is profound and unique,”said Chris Bartlett, Executive Director of the William Way LGBT Community Center. “In the later years of life, those pioneers who helped pave the way for LGBT equality are now facing the brunt of the physical, mental and emotional impact of the COVID-19 health pandemic at the same time LGBT rights are under attack from a discriminatory Trump Administration.”
HIV positive LGBT older adults, as well as those living with other chronic health conditions, are at an exponentially higher risk of facing more serious illness from COVID-19. And if the health concerns about the COVID virus isn’t enough, LGBT older adults are likely to experience mental and emotional stress due to higher rates of isolation than the average senior population. Faced with bearing the brunt of continued discrimination at too many mainstream senior service organizations and entities, LGBT older adults are often left isolated and alone at a time when COVID-19 has already caused skyrocketing rates of isolation and loneliness among the general population to the point where they are now considered critical public health concerns.
“Now more than ever, under-served LGBT older adults in the Delaware Valley region are in desperate need of support through direct services, advocacy, social engagement and health care. The Elder Initiative at William Way will provide the greatest level of LGBT elder services ever seen in our area’s history,” said Heshie Zinman, Chair of the LGBT Elder Initiative.
COVID-19 has further driven the social and health disparities that already affected the LGBT older adult community, where the numerous physical and mental health risks associated with loneliness have been worsened by months of self-isolation. LGBT older adults also experience higher rates of disability than their non-LGBT peers, as well as disproportionately high rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer, increasing the severity and potential fatality of COVID-19 infection. Many LGBT people delay seeking medical care due to past discrimination in healthcare settings and may not have sought care until COVID-19 presented serious health complications. Data on sexual orientation and gender identity in COVID-19 cases is just beginning to be collected, meaning the full impact of the virus on the LGBT elder community may not be fully apparent for many months.
“As Philadelphia’s central hub for LGBT older adult services, the Elder Initiative at William Way provides critical access and referrals to front line care by championing a new model of service delivery. LGBT elders in our area now have a ‘one-stop shop’ designed specifically to provide wrap-around support for their needs,” concluded Bartlett.