Caregivers Come Together in Minnesota's Only LGBTQ Support Group
Minnesota’s only support group for LGBTQ caregivers has launched.
Through the LGBTQ Caregiver Support Group, those providing care for older adults can come together to share their feelings, thoughts and the challenges they face in their caregiving journey in a safe, confidential, LGBTQ-specific space. About 30 people attended a kick-off brunch for the LGBTQ Caregiver Support Group in February. Monthly meetings will begin in March and will be led by co-facilitators June Remus and Susan Raffo.
The support group is the result of months of work by the Wilder Foundation’s LGBTQ Caregiver Support Initiative. I have been working on the LGBTQ Caregiver Support Initiative for a year, along with the Wilder Foundation and many community members across Minnesota who are or have been caregivers to their friends, partners, neighbors, and coworkers, biological and chosen families. It has been a heart-wrenching, eye-opening, and trail-blazing experience.
The LGBTQ Caregiver Initiative began in April 2013, when the Wilder Foundation connected with a local LGBTQ caregiver through Wilder’s online forum CaregivingNOW. The caregiver, a lesbian woman caring for her long-time partner who had Alzheimer’s disease, was interested in doing more to support and connect with other people caring for a partner, friend, or family member.
LGBTQ people are twice as likely to be caregiving as the general public.
Wilder was aware of a gap in services for LGBTQ people who are caregiving for an older adult and had been looking for ways to help meet the need. A 2012 Twin Cities LGBT Aging Needs Assessment Survey Report by the PFund Foundation found that LGBTQ people are twice as likely to be caregiving as the general public. The study also indicated that while in general LGBTQ people simply want long-term care services that are welcoming to their community, when it comes to support groups they want an LGBTQ-specific space.
Wilder determined early on that in order to meet the needs of the entire LGBTQ community, we would need to build a multicultural, intergenerational, cross-class space from the outset. From there, the conversation grew from two people, to three, and continued to increase with each new person being asked to reach out to their friends and family in the LGBTQ community. In spring 2014, the group decided it was time to formally host a series of Community Design Sessions.
A Coming Out Moment
Over six months, we hosted eight design sessions, each time with new community leaders present, and new caregivers excited to find us. We also had one-on-one conversations with leaders from LGBTQ organizations, leaders from the faith communities and caregivers who were willing to share their stories with us.
I’ll always remember the first community design session that I attended. I felt like I had a coming out moment for myself. In that meeting, I realized that I had been a caregiver and just never knew it. When I was caregiving, I just thought it was natural for me to assume that role because the people I was caregiving for were my friends, my girlfriend, my chosen family and at times, my biological family members.
As stated by Wilder’s Caregiver Awareness Campaign, a caregiver is anyone actively taking care of an adult with a chronic illness or disability, or a frail elder. Family members and friends who provide care often think of themselves as daughters, husbands, partners, and friends—not caregivers.
I’ve learned through being a part of this effort that caregiving can drain people emotionally. They are so invested in—and busy with—caregiving that what they really need and yearn for is someone to connect with, to have someone that can empathize with them, and to find a community where advice, experiences, and stories can be shared.
Breaking New Ground
The LGBTQ Caregiver Support Group is the first step in meeting that need. Our small but committed group plans to host a series of Kitchen Table Conversations in 2015, engaging with our LGBTQ community, in more conversations about aging and caregiving. We plan on hosting dinners in different neighborhoods across the Twin Cities. In the future, the group also wants to address aging policy issues affecting LGBTQ people and to gather or create resources that could help those in the caregiving role.
Xay Yang is a Master in Social Work student at the University of Minnesota and has been working with Wilder Foundation as a fellow since June 2014. She has been organizing in the LGBTQ community for the last seven years.
A version of this blog was previously published in Lavender Magazine.