In Support of Coming Out: Support Groups for Older Adults
October 2015 | Meghan Garvey, LMSW
As the modern civil rights movement progresses, we can see pieces of heterosexism and cisgenderism chipping away from our society with increasing speed. With these promising cultural shifts in play, many older adults are finding it more approachable to come out and experience the benefits of openly living as LGBTQ.
Coming out later in life presents unique challenges to LGBTQ older adults. In addition to the standard transitions that accompany the aging process, folks coming out later in life are faced with an additional set of concerns. How do I get used to being a new me in public? How do I tell people who have known me for years? How will I cope if my relationships change? Will the challenges be worth living as my authentic self? Coming out support groups can provide the kind of peer connection essential to navigating the often overwhelming and isolating experience of coming out later in life.
On September 27th, I had the honor of facilitating such a support group for folks coming out in later life at a local church in St. Louis. With a small but mighty group of four participants, I started the session by asking each group member to identify what they hoped to take from the group. I was armed with an arsenal of discussion topics and resource referrals in case discussion was slow to start. As we went around the room, I should not have been surprised to hear the group voice strong collective interest in simply hearing the stories of their fellow group members to help them better their understanding of the coming out process for themselves. As we entered into this conversation, it was wonderful to see the connection building between these church acquaintances who were given space to openly share the unique challenges and joys of coming out later in life. Being able to have their thoughts truly heard and validated by peers going through similar experiences appeared to spark a unique sense of empowerment that can only come from one's peers who really "get it." Though we struggled to end on time and likely could have continued this discussion for quite awhile longer, it was great to see these folks come away with the increased sense of connection and energy needed to continue fighting to be one's true self.
If you are involved with an organization that serves older adults, I would highly recommend the development of a confidential peer support group for folks coming out later in life. Having such a group could not only foster a critical sense of understanding and security for group attendees. It could help other folks to identify that coming out is something that is real, normal and possible at any stage of life. Making a coming out group available could provide a powerful tool needed to help LGBTQ older adults experience the authentic sense of self we all need and deserve in our lives.
For more information on coming out in later life, please visit the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging website: https://www.lgbtagingcenter.org/resources/resources.cfm?s=31
Meghan Garvey, LMSW - is a past intern at SAGE of PROMO Fund and volunteer where she has led support groups inclulding Grief Support and Coming Out in Later Life.