Michal (“mi-SHAL”) Osier (“OH-sure”), MA, LPC, is the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Senior Advocate at OutReach LGBT Community Center in Madison. Now retired as a therapist, Michal spent most of her career in community mental health. Among her list of LGBT-community contributions is her work as one of the co-founders of LAVENDAR (Lesbians Against Violence EveN if Dykes Are Responsible, a service for battered lesbians), a volunteer with Fair Wisconsin’s Speakers Bureau, and a youth mentor with Proud Theater. At OutReach, she is spearheading the Am I Welcome Here? Project, along with lots of other interesting stuff.
The Am I Welcome Here? Project got its start after Michal had gotten a number of calls from LGBT seniors – and from their adult kids – asking about safe and welcoming places for LGBT seniors to move to, when they could no longer take care of themselves at home. She realized that, other than anecdotal stories, there was no information available to answer this question. More, there was no way to determine whether, and how, a senior residence became informed about the unique needs and concerns of LGBT seniors, nor if, and to what extent, their policies and practices reflected this awareness. These unanswered questions became the springboard for the Am I Welcome Here Project.
On the WORT Access Hour, Michal discusses the Am I Welcome Here? Project. She is joined by Karen Kane, one of OutReach’s volunteers involved with the project, who brings her experience working on a similar initiative during the time she lived in Alaska.
Karen Kane has long been a volunteer with older adults, first advocating for her father as a person with dementia. During her years living in Wasilla, Alaska, Karen served on the board of a senior center, and volunteered with the Long Term Care Ombudsman’s office. Alaska’s Anchorage-based LGBT organization, Identity, recognized the need to assist the LGBT elderly who were living in care facilities without the safety and support to be themselves. Karen, and other Identity members, made visits to these facilities, and also provided information to community members about the fear and loneliness of LGBT residents in assisted living facilities. Since her move back to Madison last year, she has been volunteering with OutReach and with the Alzheimer’s Association.
What topics are covered?
First, there is the “invisible life story” that LGBT seniors bring with them into their later years: the experience, and the long-term effects, of living with an identity that was, until very recently, universally despised and discriminated against. Karen and Michal share some stories to illustrate how LGBT older adults have coped with this reality throughout their lives. They discuss the consequences of a decision to stay closeted and a decision to come out.
They look at the need for those who provide care for elders to become aware of, and knowledgeable about, LGBT cultural competence, in order to understand these seniors’ concerns and strengths. One key factor in aging well is the strength of one’s social connections, and these – our partners, ex-partner-now-friends, and families of choice – are the very connections invisibilized by heteronormativity. Despite all good intentions, discrimination doesn’t necessarily stop at the door of the assisted-living, nursing home, or memory-care facility. Other residents, care staff, and administrative people may all find themselves grappling with unexamined misconceptions – and even judgmental beliefs — about the LGBT seniors in their midst.
They take a few minutes to talk about Michal’s approach to diversity education. In brief: no blame, no shame. We all grow up absorbing the information around us. As children, we have limited ability or experience to discern bias or evaluate belief systems; and as adults, we tend to take our cultural environment’s cues – unless we are asked to consciously assess our assumptions and opinions. One can respect the courage it takes to acknowledge bias in ourselves, and to work to change beliefs that are comfortable for us, perhaps, but hurtful to others.
Michal outlines the three topic areas that make up the training presentations that are the heart of Am I Welcome Here? Project. These are:
- The effects of the discrimination that most LGBT seniors have experienced throughout our lives, and how these invisible, powerful, interconnected barriers have shaped today’s elders’ lives, in a socio-historical presentation titled “The Unique Challenges of Aging for LGBT Elders; How Lifelong Discrimination Impacts LGBT Health, Economic, and Social Issues: Interrelated, Cumulative Harms;”
- An upbeat look at the LGBT lexicon and its meaning, in “The Words We Use, and Why: LGBTQ+ Terminology and Culture;”
- A nuts-and-bolts training in LGBT inclusivity as reflected in an agency’s intake and demographic forms, its training, staffing, programming, marketing, décor, resource materials, and so on.
To close, Karen and Michal look at what’s been accomplished in the Am I Welcome Here? Project, and what the work is that’s still to be done.
Talking about this effort on WORT will help build the conversation.
Contact Michal Osier firstname.lastname@example.org