By Michael Todd, Santa Cruz Sentinel
POSTED: 05/12/18, 6:28 PM PDT
SOQUEL >> Jeaneane and Bev Bishop-York, both in their 70s, were married in October, just more than a year after they met at a gathering by Diversity Center of Santa Cruz County.
Unlike many LGBTQ older adults, who according to an NPR report are more likely to age alone, Jeaneane and Bev are dedicated to staying social by participating in events such as the Diversity Center’s 60-Plus Senior Program luncheon Saturday.
Jeaneane, with her own adult children, had not dated in 30 years when she fell in love with Bev. They met Aug. 21, 2016, a date Jeaneane recalls clearly. They started talking and bonded almost instantly.
“But, eventually, at least one of us in any couple will be alone,” Jeaneane said of hers and others’ fragile mortality, a lesson she learned after a bout with stage 4 cancer. When she met her bride-to-be, Jeaneane said she decided to no longer hide her sexuality.
“No one really understood that I was a lesbian,” Jeaneane said. “I decided, ‘I’m going to be myself and do exactly what I want to do.’”
Her story also contrasts with the finding that a third of gay and lesbian Baby Boomers identify discrimination as their greatest concern about aging, according to a 2010 report by Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders.
Such concerns have driven some LGBTQ elders to “recloset,” a term 60-Plus Senior Program Coordinator Steven Matzie used to describe someone once openly gay who returns to a life hiding their sexuality.
He said isolation, a quandary for many older adults, is worse for LGBTQ elders, who are more likely to live alone and experience or feel unwelcome in their community or health care settings, according to the organization.
“This leads to isolation,” Matzie said. “That’s our goal: to combat that social isolation.”
According to SAGE, such isolation can have harmful effects: depression, poverty, re-hospitalization, delayed care-seeking, bad nutrition and premature mortality.
Aging LGBTQ Baby Boomers have earned the nickname GenSilent, Matzie said, because of their reluctance to socialize. He said social gatherings, such as those hosted by 60-Plus Senior Program, are one way to connect those older adults.
“Some folks have gone back in the closet — it’s real,” said Sharon Esther Papo, the Diversity Center executive director.
There were about 45,000 Santa Cruz County residents older than 60 in U.S. Census Bureau data from 2010. Matzie estimates roughly 4,500 are members of the LGBTQ community.
The LGBTQ community tends to get mired in the hollow idea that they can be out and proud most easily while they are young, Matzie said.
“Being 60-plus is not a death sentence,” said Matzie, 53. “We’re all going to get there.”
For Bev Bishop-York, the 60-Plus gatherings resolved a dilemma: “I didn’t know any gay people here.”
And, though she wasn’t looking for it, she found love.
“When I met her, I just wanted to be with her all the time,” Bev said.