LGBTQ Intergenerational Group Seeks to Broaden Diversity, Perspective of Its Participants
Members of the LGBTQ Intergenerational Group that meets at Stockton University’s Manahawkin Instructional Site the second Thursday of every month, from 10 a.m. to noon, are hoping to draw more participants, especially younger individuals. The group, hosted by Stockton’s Center on Successful Aging, is typically attended by three to four couples in their mid-50s to early 70s. While they find comfort in connecting with other like-minded individuals their own age, most of them said they want the group to include a more diverse age range. So far, the group doesn’t consist of enough different generations, which the members believe would help broaden their perspective.
“We know there’s a need in this area (for this type of group) because there’s nothing else here, but we don’t seem to be drawing what we need,” said Gina Maguire, SCOSA program assistant, who noted there are more opportunities in northern Ocean County and beyond.
The current participants, most of whom declined to provide their identities due to fear of discrimination, said they’d like to share some of their wisdom with younger folk about growing up as an LGBTQ individual in a less accepting time.
Group member Earl Lewis, 64, of Little Egg Harbor, who was recently elected as treasurer for the board of trustees at the senior living community where he resides as an openly gay man, said he was fired from his job at a museum in New York in the late 1990s due to his “inappropriate lifestyle.” Since then, he said, he’s decided to live life as “an open book.”
“I think our life experiences have taught us to either guard our private lives, or, in my case, I have kind of an ‘f-you’ attitude,” he said. “If you don’t like who I am, that’s fine; you don’t have to. But you’re going to know me as I truly am. It’s only a part of who I am, but you’re going to know the whole picture.
“You have no idea how painful it is to be fired for something you have no control over and has no bearing on your ability to do your job. So I wasn’t going to waste my time,” he added.
Other attendees of the group, who had faced similar issues at work, said there are big differences in how older gay people handle these issues compared to younger gay people since the culture has become much more accepted by newer generations. But the younger generations didn’t fight the fight, the members said. They don’t share the history.
Ocean County itself has a history of prejudice, one member noted, referring to the “Freeheld” saga, when Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office police lieutenant Laurel Hester was denied by the Ocean County Board of Freeholders the right to transfer her pension benefits to her domestic partner after being diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2005.
The history of gay rights in New Jersey and across the nation is often a hot topic of discussion at the meetings. Last week, the members shared their concerns about the upcoming national election and how it could impact the progress of the LGBTQ community as a whole. While most of the members believe they haven’t faced any oppression in the local region, some of them said they’d be wary of putting up a gay flag on their lawn, especially considering the area’s largely conservative outlook.
But the group isn’t just about sharing war stories or discussing politics. It’s also a great place for LGBTQ individuals to talk about new books and movies surrounding the culture as well as to share educational information.
Edith Giberson, who initially started the group in February as part of her master’s degree program in social work at Monmouth University to help further human rights and social justice in the area, noted there are many gaps in LGBTQ healthcare. For instance, she said, the closest assisted-living facilities geared toward LGBTQ individuals are in Philadelphia and the Bronx.
“There’s a lottery to get in, and it’s really difficult. And neither of them are in New Jersey,” stated Maguire, who noted that, according to a recent Monmouth University study, many doctor’s offices claim not to have any LGBTQ patients or say they simply treat everybody the same.
“But it’s different,” Maguire stated. “It’s not the same. It’s like being colorblind. It doesn’t work like that. People have been treated poorly because they have a partner instead of a husband or wife. There really is a disparity in care.”
Mostly, however, the members of the group are just looking to share a safe place with other LGBTQ individuals. It’s always safer to talk within your own community than to be spouting those thoughts and feelings to a straight audience, one member said. Plus there’s a sense of camaraderie. Some of the members even grab lunch together after the meetings or have met up for other outside occasions.
To make it easier for other people to attend, the group expects to hold Saturday meetings in the winter, when the new Bay Avenue Community Center opens in town. LGBTQ individuals and their families and friends are invited to attend.
For more information about the group, visit stockton.edu.
— Kelley Anne Essinger