Not all work is paid. In May 2020, months into the COVID-19
shutdown in the Northeast of the United States, I volunteered
to do check-in telephone calls for LGBTQ+ elders in the Boston
area through the LGBT Aging Project at Fenway Health. I had
read an interview with the assistant director of the LGBT Aging
Project saying the organization was looking for volunteers, and
I thought it would be interesting to chat with LGBTQ+ elders
about their lives and the history they have lived through.
All older people are high risk for COVID-19, but queer elders
are more likely to be disconnected from their birth families and
live alone than their straight peers. LGBTQ+ elders are more
likely to be physically and emotionally isolated because of the
scarcity of explicitly LGBTQ+ affirming elder services available.
On my calls I spoke to a jazz singer, a woman taking recorder
lessons on Skype, and a man who had just gotten two kittens.
I spoke to a transgender woman who really enjoyed her gender
transition support group at a Veterans Administration way out
in the suburbs. I spoke to the sister of a man on my list and she
told me her brother preferred living in shelters and addiction
treatment centers instead of living with her. One woman told
me she was really going to miss her adult queer summer camp
this year, but her cabin was having virtual happy hours regularly.
I stumbled through telling one man who only spoke Spanish
that I needed to go call my boss so we could find someone who
could understand him.
One particularly memorable elder I spoke to told me he used to
bring his cat out to the bar Saturday nights in the 1970s! The cat would ride on this shoulder and get all excited as they turned onto the street where the bar was. I feel very lucky to have heard these firsthand snippets of queer history.
It is a lot of hard work to listen to a sad and frightened stranger
tell you their situation over the phone as you take notes. I quickly
discovered I could only call three to five elders a day because the
emotional labor exhausted me otherwise. If someone needed
immediate assistance or a social worker, I called the program
directors’ cell phones.
If you are in the Boston area and would like to volunteer, contact
either the LGBT Aging Project or FriendshipWorks, a partner
organization that finds intergenerational conversation partners
(find info below). If you live elsewhere, reach out to your local
LGBTQ+ resource center or elder resource center to ask if they
need any volunteers to do check in calls.
Emma is in her twenties and lives in Massachusetts.