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January 30, 2013

Hear Me Out:
Reaching out to the table over there

BY
GREG R. BAIRD

Many people wonder and have asked me what do I do when I am not lecturing around the country. Well truth be told, I am catching up on emails, doing interviews, getting caught up on the latest news with the LGBTQ community, filming people & events and of course, writing and sharing my stories. I get inspired to share my stories by many personal events that have occurred in my life or while I am on the road lecturing. Currently, I am in the beginning stages of putting a book together on the many interesting events that have happened in my lifetime.

I meet some wonderful people from all over the nation. In this particular article you are about to read, I was inspired by a total stranger I met locally in Chicago.

In my neighborhood of East Lakeview, I have many choices of where to get a good cup of coffee. It can be challenge depending on what time of the day you walk in to get yourself a table, plop down with your laptop and other personal items. Since it is within walking distance, I often visit Caribou Coffee on Broadway, just down the street from me. Many know of this place nicknamed, Cruise-a-Bou, or Gay-a-Bou as the gay men flock there to get their java and eye candy fix. . When there is a moment of reflection or a nice looking guy walks in, the blood shot eyes that have been peering on the computer screen slowly rise up and check out what the world is doing.

It was a busy day when I came in not too long ago. After some looking around, I was not able to get a table by myself. After I ordered my coffee, mug of java in my hand, I cruised... .I mean; I looked around to see if any spots were open. A guy, whom I have seen before, glanced up at a table and offered to share the seat across from him with me. After some brief introductions, I set my lap top up and got my creative thoughts in order. A few minutes passed and the guy who was sharing my table with me started telling me how he got fired that day from his part time job and how the trade (men) was not good in the coffee shop that day.

Fifteen minutes and half of cup of coffee remaining in my cup later he pointed to a long table behind me and said, "I hope I'll never be one of those guys and sit at that table!" I turned around to see what he was pointing at and he then said leaning forward with a whisper, "That's the old table." The area he was referring to is a few tables near one section of Caribou that is always busy with senior gay men who are socializing, sharing stories, coming, and going all day long.

This comment of his bothered me as it was not inclusive. It appeared he had a fear of growing older, as a more mature gay man. As a LGBTQ community as a whole we are very youth oriented. We need to make more of an effort to embrace our maturing community. There is a wealth of history within our senior LGBT community. Get to know your history and share it! Take time and sit down to tell your story of who you are. This helps strengthen your spirit and community. When it comes to inclusion and friendship, why in the world are we setting up boundaries when it is us, in our own community that is trying to break down those walls? For many of the seniors, they have seen the changes within the LGBT movement and to be honest, if we are not sharing and telling our own LGBT history, no one will. What everyone needs to understand is that many of these folks have been activists and advocates all of their lives.

Reaching out to the table over there
According to a report by Services & Advocacy for Gay & Lesbian, Bisexual & transgender Elders (SAGE), there are approximately 1.5 million LGBT adults age 65 and older in the United States with 40,000-60,000 of them in Chicago. That number is expected to double to nearly 3 million by 2030. This age group often deals with the social stigma, prejudice, ageism and unique barriers on a daily basis. Not only with those issues come the financial barriers if two LGBT people are partnered. You can't be legally married in most states and you are barred from a majority of rights the straight and married community enjoys.

When I am out and about at a bar or club the majority of people are young. I see many of them hanging on for dear life trying not age and often go to extreme lengths to hang on to that golden ticket called youth. Getting older or hanging around an older LGBT person is often "not cool". I am not saying everyone follows this path of treating our seniors like this, but there are so many that do.

In our fight for equal rights for all, friendship and unconditional love should never have any restrictions. Get to know your neighbors if you have LGBT seniors near you. Take the time to know them within your office, community and when you are out and about. Your quality of life and theirs will be more beautiful. And as far as "that table over there" is concerned, embrace your growing maturity and the history of sharing your stories together. Growing older and having those life experiences are breathtaking.

On The Web: www.sageusa.org

 
photo
Morgan Stanley
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