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Carolina Aging Alliance creates community for older LGBTQ+ adults

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Photo Courtesy of Sharon Kilpatrick.

The Carolina Aging Alliance — a Raleigh-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit that was originally founded as the Gay & Gray Initiative in 2011 — provides resources, holds events and creates a community for LGBTQ+ adults over 50.

Sharon Kilpatrick, the Triangle interim director for the organization, said it began as a social group, and was connected to the LGBT Center of Raleigh. She said it was a safe place for older adults to socialize and interact.

The program became affiliated with Advocacy & Services for LGBTQ+ Elders (SAGE) USA and was renamed as SAGE Raleigh in 2014, which later became the Carolina Aging Alliance in 2022.

Kilpatrick said the organization works to make sure the older members of the LGBTQ+ community are supported, acknowledged and receiving appropriate services.

“Because while we have all the same needs and problems that any older adult has, our community has some unique situations that we need to have addressed," she said. 

Older members of the LGBTQ+ community face a unique set of challenges that can include discrimination, generational divides, a lack of legal protections and social isolation, according to the American Psychological Association.

Karen Stegman, Chapel Hill mayor pro tem, said that because same-sex marriage was legalized relatively recently, many aging adults never married their partners, so they do not have the legal or inheritance protections that other couples and families have.

“So there's really very specific challenges and needs based on the discrimination that exists in our country, in our state,” she said.

Kilpatrick said the organization is volunteer-based and includes a board of directors, as well as regional planning teams located in the Triangle and Triad areas. She said statewide, Carolina Aging Alliance serves between 2,500 and 3,000 people.

Kilpatrick said the organization hosts training programs, travel events, picnics, socials, Pride events and voter education support. Celebrating Out and Proud, an event celebrating National Coming Out Day, will be held on Oct. 24 from 6-8 p.m. at the Seymour Center, and co-hosted by the Orange County Department on Aging.

Shenae McPherson, administrator for the Orange County Department on Aging’s Volunteer Connect 55+ division said the Carolina Aging Alliance has made a concentrated effort to ensure that it is supporting the older LGBTQ+ adults in Orange County. 

McPherson said the focus of Coming Out and Proud is to recognize that coming out is not a one-day process. 

“It's not a one-time event, but we want to make sure and we feel it's vital to provide a time and a safe space where we can acknowledge the journeys of our LGBTQ+ community members, and we want to bring together all members of the community, all ages, and celebrate and have a good time," she said. 

Local performers are also invited to share their talents during the evening to celebrate the community and the process of coming out, McPherson said. 

She said some community members share their stories through song, dance or standing up and speaking to the audience. 

“So we give people every opportunity to do that, because we want to make sure that the more that we speak about it, the more empowered people can become,” McPherson said.

Stegman said social isolation is a very real issue, especially for aging LGBTQ+ community members. She said it is an important part of healthy aging to have spaces where people are welcome, celebrated and can find community.

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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