Seattle Parks and Recreation’s “Rainbow Recreation” Program: Serving Seattle’s LGBTQ+ Older Adults

By Cheryl Brown | Posted on June 18, 2019

Seattle Rainbow Recreation 410

Seattle Parks and Recreation has a track record of working collaboratively with the community to make Seattle a more inclusive place to live. We continually strive to fulfill the departments vision for healthy people, healthy environment and strong communities for all. According to the National Health and Aging Sexuality and Gender Study, 2.7 million adults aged 50 and older self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender in the U.S., including 2.2 million adults 65 and older. By the year 2060, the number of LGBTQ+ older adults will increase to more than 5 million.

Here in Seattle/King County, LGBTQ+ older adults are more apt to live alone, are in great need of affordable housing, and have higher rates of physical and mental health disparities. Over two-thirds have experienced victimization and discrimination based upon their sexual orientation or gender identity. In Addition, LGBTQ+ older adults are underserved. Perhaps the greatest risk is related to isolation, which is so detrimental to the physical and mental health of all older adults. 

Seeing the need for programming for LGBTQ+ older adults, staff engaged in several workshops to learn more about the needs of the LGBTQ+ community and how Seattle Parks and Recreation can provide greater access to programming while strengthening the LGBTQ+ community. To this end, Seattle Parks and Recreation outlined a new program- Rainbow Recreation- that truly reflects Seattle Parks and Recreation’s values of inclusion and access for all to meet the vision for healthy people and strong communities. Rainbow Recreation is focused on developing recreational programs for LGBTQ+ mid-life and older adults to experience a safe environment, a sense of belonging and acceptance, and an opportunity to thrive in our city as they age.

Launched in 2017, Rainbow Recreation is part of the city’s Lifelong Recreation unit (programs for ages 50+) and began through a partnership with Generations Aging with Pride (GenPride), authors of the Aging with Pride Study, to offer several resource fairs.. The goal of the events was to gather information about the needs of the LBGTQ+ community, as well as offer information about other programs and services from other local agencies and businesses in the community. Over 100 older adults participated and provided input on the needs, services and recreational opportunities beneficial to the LGBTQ+ community.

The program began with an offering of six fitness classes, one writing class, a few community trips, and several Lifelong Learning classes. Most of the engagement opportunities took place in Seattle’s’ Capitol Hill neighborhood, which historically is the area with the highest number of LBGTQ+ residents. Although participation in the programs was minimal to start, program enrollment now averages 18 participants in various activities and continues to grow, now spanning to several other neighborhoods.

The Lifelong Recreation staff is fulfilling the vision of creating strong communities.  At a recent Rainbow Recreation Mardi Gras event, a participant approached a staff member and said, “I want to thank you for having this event. I don’t know anyone like me, and this gave me a chance to make some new friends.”

The connections that were made and the positive emotions expressed by those who attended reminded me of why we do this work in the recreation profession - it was powerful.

In 2020, Seattle Parks and Recreation will launch several educational sessions for the recreation staff on making our community centers more welcoming to LGBTQ+ participants. We will also offer a Lifelong learning event for all older adults giving them the opportunity to share and learn from others about the challenges of the LGBTQ+ community. You can find our quarterly listing for  programming in our Lifelong Recreation or Rainbow Recreation program flyer.

The Rainbow Recreation programs are welcoming to all!

Cheryl Brown is the Lifelong Rainbow Recreation Coordinator for Seattle Parks and Recreation.