Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin (Founders of DOB and Pioneers of Lesbian Movement)

Phyllis Lyons and Del Martin (Founders of DOB and Pioneers of Lesbian Movement
Originally uploaded by sm1raphael.

Growing Old Lesbian

I was asked to write about a subgroup of Lesbians who until relatively recently have been mostly invisible not only to the public in general but also to many younger Lesbians. Lesbians over the age of 65 comprise a misunderstood but important subgroup that should be understood by Lesbians and Gay people as a whole and anyone interested in human diversity or gerontology. The first question I have been asked by people when the topic of old Lesbians comes up is “Don’t Lesbians age the same way as everyone else? and then comes the statement “Why should we pick this group out to discuss or study? I used to get the same response when I taught course content on African American Aging or Mexican American aging.

The answer is that how we are raised and the way we grow up has an impact on how we deal with the reality of aging down the road. Successful aging is highly correlated with ability to adapt and our own perception of reality which in turn is affected and can be influenced by factors i.e. ethnicity, race, gender and also sexual orientation among other factors i.e.class and education. Group members who have been subjected to institutionalized discrimination and prejudice because they belong to a certain group or collective subgroup often are shown to have unequal access to areas important to their well being i.e. access to health care and support systems that may make growing older less difficult. It has been discovered that older Lesbians who “come out” with family and friends early in life have an easier time finding support and solving problems that require emotional and other kinds of support that they might require later in life. Checkout (

If we assume that Lesbians comprise about 5% of the general population which in 2005 is almost 300 million people then that would mean there are about 15 million Lesbians in the United States. See website at ( glbtdemo2.htm). If we use ten per cent of that figure to estimate how many old lesbians there are which is a conservative figure than we come up with a figure of 1.5 million Lesbians over the age of 65 years in the United States. If there are any demographers or statisticians out there I would be interested in the estimates others would have for this same group. My guess is probably not that far off given a few hundred thousand people one way or the other. The point is there are a considerable number of Lesbians over the age of 65 and this group needs to be included in the U.S. census and when researchers are studying or considering old age statistics. We also need to consider that aging is not a static phenomenon therefore we would should know that if history is used as a factor in understanding this group of individuals that millions and millions of us old Lesbians have lived and gone from this planet over the years.

The truth is that many younger lesbians do not think about aging very much in the same way that younger heterosexual persons do not think about aging or old age until it comes suddenly upon them impacting their lives. Since the late eighties a very active group of old lesbians have formed an organization titled Old Lesbians Organizing for Change (OLOC). This organization has as its mission the goal of combating ageism and homophobia within the Gay community itself and also in the larger society at large. To be a member, one has to be a lesbian over the age of 6o, although younger women can join but not vote and act as supporters of the organization rather than members. There also are many groups across the country comprised of older Lesbians or middle aged and older lesbians which meet at Gay Centers and in other settings i.e. people’s homes and public places that will accommodate these groups geared to support older Lesbians by offering a meeting place where the women can socialize, have discussions, and generally have a good time. For more information on groups that serve older lesbians, old and one would have to go to a directory of Lesbians and Gay groups in their city, town or area of the country or peruse the local Lesbian newsletter, newspaper or magazine by contacting Gay Centers and GLBT information and referral networks i.e. a Gay Yellow Pages or Lesbian online sites i.e. Classic Dykes or Lesbian Connection.

In the future, I will approach this topic, the old and older Lesbian from different angles and begin to tell the tale of my involvement with what I would call the movement of active older Lesbians that is a part of Lesbian life that many should know about but are often quite ignorant of or choose not to know because of lack of information or basic ageism, a fear of being around people who identify as old or older. I will also discuss the unmet needs and issues confronting the old and older Lesbian.