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Gay and Gray initiative connects LGBT senior citizens

	Tim Williams and Dave Durham of Chapel Hill enjoyed the “Gay and Gray” event at the Seymour Center on Homestead Road.

Tim Williams and Dave Durham of Chapel Hill enjoyed the “Gay and Gray” event at the Seymour Center on Homestead Road.

Out of the 536 Orange County same-sex couples in the 2010 U.S. Census, it’s hard to say how many include elderly partners. But for local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender seniors seeking support, or just a place to socialize, the “Gay and Gray” program may bring new visibility to this segment of the LGBT community.

At the first meeting of Orange County’s “Gay and Gray” initiative Thursday evening, LGBT senior citizens gathered to discuss how to organize and meet their community’s needs at the Seymour Center in Chapel Hill.

The event, part of the Orange County Department on Aging’s five-year plan, was organized after community input meetings revealed a need for local support of the elderly LGBT community.

Department director Janice Tyler said the Seymour Center wanted to provide an opportunity for seniors to get together and make the event what they wanted.

“We wanted to make sure they know (the Seymour Center) is a safe and welcoming environment,” Tyler said.

Partners Kath McCarron, 68, and Marsha Guskey, 63, who recently moved to Hillsborough, said they were excited about the event.

“This is a big deal to us,” McCarron said. “The older you get, the harder it is to make really good friends.”

“I hope it continues and more people can come to it,” Guskey said.

Getting the word out and reaching other members of the aging LGBT community was one topic discussed by the group. Communication among members is a challenge because some seniors who would like to be involved might not own or know how to use a computer.

Health care was also a major issue discussed, and those at the event said they were interested in compiling resources for seniors looking for LGBT-friendly healthcare providers. Many attendees said they would appreciate events such as a seminar on the legal aspects of being an LGBT senior in North Carolina, particularly in light of the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage, known as Amendment One.

Another event proposed was a community screening of the film “Gen Silent.” The documentary chronicles the lives of senior citizens who face discrimination and other problems in long-term healthcare facilities because of their sexual orientation.

Several attendees had stories of friends who had faced similar discrimination.

In addition to exploring problems LGBT seniors might face in Orange County, many said they look forward to having the group as a place to meet others like them.

“It’s good for people to get together,” Phelps Gates, 73, said.

Les Geller, founder of the “Gay and Gray Initiative” at the LGBT Center of Raleigh, was in attendance to make suggestions on how to organize the community. And Charlotte Terwilliger and Jennifer Link, long-term care ombudsmen from the Triangle J Area Agency on Aging, attended the meeting to get a better idea of how to best serve the elderly LGBT community.

Tyler and Mary Fraser, director of Aging Transitions with the Department on Aging, said they look forward to assisting the group by providing space to meet and help with programming.

“We’re here to serve everybody,” Tyler said. “This is everybody’s center.”

“We want to make that known,” Fraser added.

The group’s next meeting will be held Thursday, July 11 at the Seymour Center.

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