Pride – Both a Celebration and a Commitment
Senior Services for South Sound is committed to offering programs and services to all seniors. We recognize that our community is diverse, representing a richness of racial, cultural and linguistic backgrounds, of sexual orientations and gender identities. And we also recognize that we still have much work to do to improve the diversity, equity and inclusion of our clients, staff and Board.
This June, as we celebrate Pride Month, we welcome the opportunity to reflect on where our organization has been and where we are going in our relationship with the LGBTQ+ community. In the following personal history, Board member and local activist Anna Schlecht looks at what Pride means, to her personally and to us as an organization.
Pride means different things to different people. For most folks of all ages, it’s a celebration of the LGBTQ community with parades, rainbow flags and festivals. For others it’s a call to action given how much there is yet to do, especially on transgender rights. And for older LGBTQ, it will sometimes include reflecting on the bad old days of legalized discrimination.
Here in Olympia, there were no gay organizations until the 1973 founding of the Gay Resource Center at Evergreen, and there were zero gay bars until 1991. In the late 1970s, the lesbian community began to organize for mutual support and survival in a sometimes hostile community. Our first meeting was to be held at the old Senior Center, then located across the street from the current Center. Just like any other group, we filled out a form to rent the room. But unlike other groups, we were barred from entry on the night of our meeting by the Senior Services Executive Director who called us "beasts” that he could not allow into the building. Instead, we went to the nearby Intermezzo Café that welcomed us and supported our efforts to address housing, health care and other unmet community needs.
Much later, in 2010 the next Executive Director welcomed a start-up organization called the LGBTQ Elder Project, providing space for our meetings and events. This embrace of LGBTQ seniors was a welcome change from the past. However, social change moves slowly. Sadly, one of our members, an elder transgender woman who volunteered with Meals on Wheels, was harassed by other volunteers to the point that she quit. One step forward, two steps back.
Senior Services is neither better nor worse than many other local organizations. Our society at large still struggles to respect and include LGBTQ folks, as well as people of color, immigrants and others who face ongoing discrimination. Today, we find ourselves hopeful for a better future where all LGBTQ seniors are welcome, and that we continue to attract and retain LGBTQ staff and volunteers. This means honoring Pride, and it also means taking an honest look at how far we still have to go.
For the past couple years, Senior Services has been addressing issues of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). For us, this means we must acknowledge there is a continuum, with celebration at one end and an ongoing commitment to doing better at the other. We will celebrate Pride 2023, and at the same time we will rededicate ourselves to making our entire organization – services, staff, volunteers and our centers – welcoming for our LGBTQ community. In that spirit, we wish you all a Happy Pride!
- Anna Schlecht