On Dec. 16, Pride Action Tank, OUTreach and Equality Illinois hosted a virtual "breakfast" to discuss issues facing LGBTQ+ seniors and persons with HIV/AIDS as well as legislative policies created to address them.
"Advocating for Change" featured a panel focusing on LGBTQ+ seniors, two short stories from two community members and a discussion about the statewide Getting to Zero initiative, which is aimed at ultimately eliminating new HIV transmissions in Illinois.
The first panel included state Rep. Lakesia Collins; state Sen. Karina Villa; and Mary Anderson, AARP director of outreach and advocacy for northern Illinois. It focused primarily on forthcoming legislation addressing inequity in the queer aging community and how the rest of the LGBTQ+ community can support the proposed bill heading into the 2022 legislative session.
Mikel Ziridirector of public policy at Equality Illinois and the panel's moderatorexplained that the legislation, which will be introduced in January, will do three things: create a three-year LGBTQ+ aging commission, which will conduct reviews of existing programs and services for seniors; provide comprehensive inclusivity training for healthcare workers at care facilities; and collect data on the experiences and needs of the LGBTQ+ aging community and whether those needs are being met.
The bill is based on the data collected from the AARP and SAGE's joint study, "Disrupting Disparities: Challenges and Solutions for 50+ LGBTQ Illinoisans," which examines the economic, health and caregiving disparities LGBTQ+ seniors face.
"It's about making sure that [the bill] is something that is tailored to [LGBTQ seniors'] needs, so that they have a voice," said Collins, who along with Villa, is a House sponsor. However, she also emphasized that this legislation is "not just about giving them a voice, but also putting fire on the nursing homes industry, [which] lacks in so many different areas."
In addition, Aaron Tax, director of advocacy for SAGE, explained the new updates to the 1965 Older Americans Act (OAA). This law primarily works for the organization and delivery of services for the senior community, such as providing transportation assistance and funding program such as Meals on Wheels.
The 2020 reauthorization of OAA focuses on creating new programs to collect data on the needs of LGBTQ+ seniors and data on whether those needs are being met. It also increases outreach and education.
The panel session concluded with Collins and Villa encouraging people from the community to share their stories and help humanize the bill's importance to pressure lawmakers.
"When we show up in numbers, we always win," Collins said.
Following the panel, Leigh Payne recounted her experiences with the healthcare system and homelessness as a Black lesbian living in Chicago. Her story was followed by one from Larry Lesperance. He vividly described how he and his friends used fake names at gay clubs during the heyday of the HIV/AIDS crisis to avoid discrimination.
The second panel focused on Getting to Zero, a statewide initiative to end the HIV epidemic in Illinois by 2030.
The panelists included Rick Guasco, art director at Positively Aware, a news source about HIV treatment and advocacy; Joe Knell, from Chicago's AIDS Survivors Syndrome group; and Timothy Jackson, director of government relations for AFC.
Each person emphasized different ways to eradicate the virus, namely by addressing the community's most vulnerable's needs, destigmatizing the virus and improving access to inclusive resources for survivors.
"I think stigma affects everybody, regardless of their HIV status," Guasco said. "Stigma prevents people from getting tested, to finding out their status, to finding out how healthy they are. Stigma prevents people from getting treatment and stigmatized people are isolated.'
To learn more about Disrupting Disparities, read Windy City Times' summarization of the report: www.windycitytimes.com/lgbt/New-study-reveals-disparities-for-LGBTQ-seniors/71477.html .