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Human identity is far from simple. We live at various intersections and experience multiplicity and fluidity of identity. This phenomenon continues as we age and as we acquire new experiences that shape the lenses through which we navigate the world. It is important, however, to understand that people are more than the sum of their parts and recognize how the conceptualization of identities has been shaped by interlocking forms of oppression.
The older adult population is booming in the United States, with approximately 3 million adults ages 55 and older. In addition, projections show that the number of adults ages 65 and older will more than double by 2050. A large segment of this population is comprised of Black, Indigenous, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander and LGBTQ+ people. Population health data often relies on white people as the comparative reference group for every health outcome. LGBTQ+ people of color, however, exist at the intersection of many simultaneous identities that are rarely captured in case studies, retention efforts, and program or policy reform.
Maximizing Health Potential
Structural, political and social factors have shaped the long-term financial stability of LGBTQ+ older adults of color and are correlated to poorer health outcomes compared to white, non-LGBTQ+ populations. To maximize health potential, we must deal explicitly with the racial, economic, gender and sexuality disparities facing this population. A key strategy to fully understanding the experiences and perceptions of LGBTQ+ older adults of color regarding their expectations and needs as they age is to welcome and seek out stories from this population that has endured having basic human rights (let alone civil rights) stripped away.
Dominant narratives make social and political determinants of health inequity invisible and instead blame individuals for poor health. More specifically, narratives rooted in white supremacy suggest that oppressed racial groups are responsible for their own health outcomes. Counter-storytelling, a method of telling stories and illustrating narratives of people whose experiences are often neither told nor heard, is useful to challenge and change the dominant narrative. Not only do these stories expose us to disparities, but also we learn of the resilience that this population has acquired and how that resilience can be leveraged to transform the ways society views LGBTQ+ and racial identities to advocate for more inclusive social structures.
As the LGBTQ+ older adult population grows, park and recreation professionals should focus not only on the unique needs and barriers of this population, but also on how their stories and experiences can shape the design, implementation and evaluation of services and programs. LGBTQ+ older adults of color deserve to have the opportunity to tell their own stories and to have their stories told accurately.
The Importance of Storytelling
Park and recreation professionals are optimally positioned as community cornerstones and key catalysts for advancing public health. We can cultivate an environment of healthy, successful aging among LGBTQ+ older adults of color. We must foster a space in which this population can contribute to the inclusive, informed development of programs and services. We also should leverage our position within communities to elevate the stories and experiences of LGBTQ+ older adults of color as a tool to support aging in place with a context of safety, respect and support. We must center these voices in our communities to better understand how we can provide spaces, whether in person or online, to remain actively engaged with social networks. We also must be open to learning from the experiences of these older adults, and center resilience and equity in all opportunities for social, creative, intellectual and recreational activities that provide a sense of vibrancy, stability and fulfillment throughout the life cycle.
We are parks and recreation, and we have a responsibility to showcase the fierce leaders among LGBTQ+ older adults of color and their continued influence in our community. How will you lift up these voices this Pride month?
Tiff Cunin is NRPA’s Senior Program Manager of Health.