Methods: Through a conceptual model integrating the critical lens of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of practice with conceptualizations of silence found in feminist theory and Black women’s intellectual history, an embedded single case design (N=1) was engaged to explore converging discourses in a senior center in the Pacific Northwest. Data collection included review of state, county, and organizational policy documents (n=11), organizational outreach documents (n=4), semi-structured interviews with senior center staff (n=4) and participants (n=18), and observations (n=15) of key routine activities. Analysis engaged the sensibility of critical discourse analysis with directed content analysis of documents and observation field notes to detect examples of inclusion or silence derived from best practices for creating inclusive environments for LGBT older adults. Analysis of staff and participant interviews was both deductive and inductive allowing for categories to emerge from the data and in some cases adopted in vivo codes to preserve the language of interview participants.
Findings: Data analysis reveals an underlying tension between legitimization of LGBT identities and silences across policy, practice, and peer discourse. In policy, there is a tension between intentionally LGBT inclusive language and indirect language. In practice, there are tensions between LGBT visibility and invisibility, and mixed messages in intake, outreach, and marketing practices. The role of volunteers at the “Front Desk” emerged as a key practice with relevance for LGBT inclusion. In peer discourse there are tensions in senior center participants’ awareness of and comfort level with LGBT peers, in skill levels to respond to peer homophobia and LGBT identity disclosure, and between receptivity and resistance to programs to learn more about LGBT communities.
Conclusion and Implications: The underlying tension between legitimization of LGBT identities and silence evident across policy, practice, and participant discourse constructs ambiguity regarding LGBT older adults within the senior center. LGBT older adults are subject to obfuscation— a form of symbolic violence— as their identities are not clearly and consistently affirmed. The theory built through this case study is potentially transferrable to other senior centers, and to social services organizations broadly, that are building LGBT inclusion. Examples of how this study is informing practice are discussed and situated in emerging literature on LGBT institutional allyship.