Growing old LGBTQ in the Berkshires: Barriers are many, residents say

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PITTSFIELD — A lack of public transportation and access to primary care physicians make growing old in the Berkshires a challenge. For LGBTQ residents, even more so.

On Tuesday, more than a dozen residents attended a Massachusetts Commission on LGBT Aging listening session at the Berkshire Athenaeum to talk about issues they have faced.

"Isolation, we know, is a really significant and toxic experience for folks," said Lisa Krinsky, director of the LGBT Aging Project at the Fenway Institute. "Most of us came from Eastern Massachusetts to attend the listening session. I think we all left with much more of an appreciation for the kind of transportation issues in the Berkshires."

The Commission on LGBT Aging has been traveling the state to hear from residents about barriers they face. The Pittsfield event was hosted by state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, vice chairwoman of the Legislature's Joint Committee on Elder Affairs.

Kenneth Mercure, a facilitator for the Rainbow Seniors, which serves lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender seniors in the county, said the group considers the bus schedule when planning social events around the county. Still, not all events can fall when buses are running, and some members have spent up to $50 on an Uber to get to their programming.

"So, transportation is huge," Mercure said.

Krinsky said that the commission will take information learned at the listening sessions and try to incorporate solutions into its work. For example, the group might explore ways to connect seniors in areas that might not be particularly LGBTQ-friendly, she said.

"The other thing I really took away is access to medical care," Krinsky said of problems identified at the forum.

One man said that it took him two months to access information about AIDS groups or receive care for HIV upon moving to the Berkshires. When researching the state's website, trying to locate information about local resources, there were none listed.

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Eventually, the man landed with care at Berkshire Health Systems, but it was a challenge to navigate the system early on, he said.

When individuals have to wait a long time to find care, they might just take whatever doctor becomes available and they aren't able to be selective about those who make them feel the most comfortable, Krinsky said.

Members of the commission also talked about how to respond to discrimination, if it arises.

Two women also shared stories about how they have been intentionally misgendered, both being called "sir," at different county businesses.

Misgendering can be considered illegal gender stereotyping, said Chris Erchull, an attorney for GLAD, a national organization that provides legal services and advocacy for the LGBTQ community.

"When you experience discrimination, please reach out," he said.

One of the women, Abby Turner, said she wants to "grow old and die" in the Berkshires, but without access to LGBTQ-friendly and competent services, it might not be possible.

"I don't like to think of this place as the boonies," she said. "I like to think of it as a place that is sophisticated and knowledgeable."

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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