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Washington Blade: LGBTQ News, Politics, LGBTQ Rights, Gay News: Long-term care facility encourages LGBTQ acceptance, inclusion

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A five-second scene in “Gen Silent, the LGBT Aging Documentary” shows an oval-faced man in a chestnut brown turtleneck perched in front of a table a few shades darker. On top of the table is a collection of vibrantly painted vases sitting behind two framed pictures — one is retro-toned and shows a deep-hued man wearing thick-lensed aviators resting his head on his palm; the other, black-and-white, of a fair skinned man in a suit with a blank stare. 

“If I wasn’t the only person responsible for Alexander, I would’ve ended my life,” said the man in the chestnut brown turtleneck. 

“Gen Silent,” a documentary about LGBTQ adults in senior care facilities who go back into the closet to avoid a hostile care system, was screened at Insight Memory Care Center on April 26. The center, which provides memory and cognitive care for families living with dementia, slated the documentary as part of its training for professional caregivers and their families.

Insight Memory was founded in 1984 by a palliative care nurse who wanted to address the dearth of resources and support available for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. Over the past decades, the center grew from its location in a church basement to a 15,000-square-foot property in Fairfax that serves thousands of people in and outside the state.

“We have participants who live in California and Connecticut, and [as far as] China,” said Carrie Idol-Richards, the center’s director of communications. Idol-Richards has been with the organization for 13 years. 

Insight Memory offers a variety of programs that focus on support and care education. The center has a respite setup and serves individuals living with dementia and their caregivers. While none of the center’s participants live there, they have access to a plethora of programs including early stage connection programs and adult day programs. 

Both programs involve recreational therapy that focuses on participants’ emotional, social, physical, psychological, and spiritual well being. Some of the activities include discussion groups in which participants can socialize in a safe, non-judgmental setting, according to the center’s website. On the entertainment side, participants can join drum circles and music class. 

Participants’ caregivers are also considered in programming, and the center provides monthly support groups where they can share tips, concerns and successes. 

“Our programs [have proven to be] a success amongst our participants,” said Melissa Long, the center’s director of education and support. “According to our annual family survey, we had 100% satisfaction in the day center. [Additionally], we raised $650,000 in donations.”

Long, who only joined the center a year ago, centers her work around creating an inclusive environment for the center. Thus, her role is anchored in programming that makes participants from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds feel comfortable and seen.

“I was brought in to increase our diversity efforts,” she said. “Our goal is to improve [participants’] quality of life,” she said. 

Hence, the “Gen Silent” documentary screening. 

The documentary was first screened as part of the center’s leadership training to increase staff’s awareness of LGBTQ issues and how creating a safe environment for queer folks can manifest in a care center. Thereafter, screening events were hosted for professional caregivers and their family.

“The goal is to train people to be more accepting,” said Long. 

The documentary was released in 2010 and it traces the stories of six LGBTQ seniors in the Boston area who narrate their experience deciding whether to go back in the closet so they can survive living in long-term care facilities. Some of the seniors discuss living in stealth and, in some situations, withstanding homophobic Christian indoctrination from caregivers who want to convert them. 

“Gen Silent’s”  title references this generation of older people who “fought the hardest to come out” but “go back in to survive.”

“A lot of people believe you live happily ever after, and that’s just a myth,” said the oval-faced man in the documentary. 

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Washington Blade: LGBTQ News, Politics, LGBTQ Rights, Gay News