Brighter days: LGBTQ seniors find support through Rainbow Collective

To be older and alone is a challenge. For LGBTQ seniors, who are far more likely to be childless and estranged from family, the experience can be even more challenging. “LGBTQ seniors are more likely to be socially isolated in their later years just because of the nature of society,” Thomas Kingery, a social worker for the senior services agency Avenidas, said. “The younger people — they can get married now; they’re adopting children. But older people grew up in an environment where it was illegal to be gay, or you were considered insane, so that created a mindset that they had to hide and isolate. When they get older, they may not have that family support to fall back on.” Kingery, himself a gay man, is working to combat that isolation by building a support network among the local LGBTQ community known as the Avenidas Rainbow Collective. The collective launched in January 2020 as part of a two-year pilot program funded with $300,000 from Santa Clara County to expand caregiver support, health education, socialization and other specific services needed by the Peninsula’s senior LGBTQ community. So far — despite rolling out two months before socially distanced protocols became the norm — the collective has successfully hosted a variety of programs that have helped people connect with one another, including pre-pandemic coffee meet-ups, gay and lesbian and inter-generational discussion groups, walking groups, a virtual LGBTQ “empowerment and connections” conference, an ugly sweater holiday party and a pen-pals program.