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Senior Center hosts monthly LGBT discussion

By Leslie Lake for the Norwalk Hour

NORWALK -- Beyond the rainbow flag hanging outside the Norwalk Senior Center dining room doorway, Jacki Alessio, MSW of Triangle Community Center (TCC) set out an array of books with titles such as "Living Two Lives," and "Strong Women: Deep Closets," for the monthly LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender) book discussion group at the center.

"More older adults are coming out than in the past with legislation being passed and not only celebrities but sports figures coming forward and telling their stories," Alessio said. "We're allowing people to feel safe and borrow these books and talk about whatever they'd like to talk about."

Many people are fearful to come out, in part because statistics have shown that just 53 percent of LGBT people are accepted by their families, according to Alessio.

"As they get older they have a one in three chance of living alone as they get older as opposed to the general population in which one in five people are living alone," Alessio said.

Seeing the flag hanging outside the door, one Senior Center member wandered in and launched into her own family's story.

"I have twin daughters that are gay," said the woman, who asked not to reveal her name in order to maintain her daughters' privacy. "They are 50 years old and I knew when they were in high school."

That mother described how her daughter told her about her sexual orientation.

"My one daugher came out at 22," she said. "She asked me if I was sitting down because she had something to tell me. And she said "I'm gay" and I said, "Yeah, so?" I was just waiting for them to tell me even though I had known for so long."

The womens' mother described the secrecy that surrounded her daughters' sexual orientation.

"For 12 years we lived in Missouri and my mouth was absolutely closed," she said. "People didn't talk about this years ago."

Alessio, a social worker, nodded with recognition and cited suicide statistics for people who feel isolated and may not be able to speak to family or friends.

"In the transgender community, for example, between eight and 41 percent, attempt suicide," Alessio said. "Family and friends may not understand so people keep that secret."

"My daughter said to me, 'You don't just wake up one morning and say 'I'm going to be gay.' This is something that you just know. I never had a problem with it, to me it's genetic," the twins' mother said. "Look at Bruce Jenner, the world's greatest athlete, He has known since he was five years old."

Alessio will be conducting the LGBT-Older Adults discussions on the last Tuesday of each month at the Senior Center.

"We started this in May on the last Tuesday of the month," said Alessio. 'We had nine people the first month, last month we had one person and this month unfortunately we're competing with a field trip to Captain's Cove."

Alessio cited a set of LGBT issues that may be specific to older adults.

"We (TCC) will be starting a bereavement group this fall. If you think about bereavement for example, if someone loses their partner, they experience a sense of sadness and loss that they may not have been able to talk to anyone about," Alessio said.

"As adults get older they may worry about who would take care of them if they become ill. There is an organization based in New York, SAGE, has been advocating for the LGBT community for decades."

SAGE (Services for Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders) is a non-profit agency that has been addressing the needs of LGBT elders for over 30 years.

A network of SAGE affiliates, including TCC) have been created across the country to serve LGBT elders at the local level.

According to the SAGE website, "Experts estimate that between 1.75 and 4 million Americans ages 60 and over are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).

Existing research suggests that older LGBT adults are satisfied with their lives but many face discrimination based on their sexual orientation as well as their age."

For information about TCC: http://www.ctgay.org or (203)853-0600.