Abstract: Building Inclusion for LGBT Older Adults: Tensions and Lessons Learned from a Senior Center (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

452P Building Inclusion for LGBT Older Adults: Tensions and Lessons Learned from a Senior Center

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Megan McCoy, PhD, Doctoral Student (May 2021 Graduate), Bryn Mawr College, Philadelphia
Background and Purpose: Researchers are actively exploring how historical institutionalized silences contribute to health disparities for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) older adults. Senior community centers have potential to redress LGBT health disparities by providing access to social capital in the form of programs and activities that can decrease social isolation and lead to health promoting pathways. Yet, little is known about the extent to which senior centers create environments that welcome LGBT older adults. This paper addresses this gap by examining the social context of the senior center to explore how policy converges with organizational practices and the perspectives of senior center participants to construct routine habits and rules — and the implications for the positionality of LGBT older adults.

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.