This article is part of News is Out’s Caring for Community series, which is focused on the challenges and triumphs of giving and receiving care in the LGBTQ+ community. These stories have been created through a strategic partnership between AARP and News is Out.
The sages John Lennon and Paul McCartney asked and answered the great question: Does it worry you to be alone? No, because you get by with a little help from your friends. But that thought is incomplete: your friends might need a little help from you as well. That, at its core, is what caregiving and care receiving are all about. A caregiver recognizes a need and steps up to fill it. Over the course of our lives, it’s the rare person who has not been both the provider and recipient of care.
The residents at the John C. Anderson LGBT-Friendly Senior Apartments–which include early LGBTQ+ activists who helped change society in the 1960s and ‘70s–are examples of the yin-and-yang of giving and receiving care. As much as residents of our LGBTQ+ senior community are thankful for all the help they receive, especially during the pandemic, we also care about and for each other. That can be as simple as holding a door open for someone with an arm full of groceries or checking up on the neighbor who hasn’t been seen at their usual haunts.
During the pandemic, care for the JCAA residents came forth from a range of civic, social and religious organizations and their volunteers, as well as kind-hearted individuals. A few examples include the college kids who delivered weekly hot meals. A local LGBTQ+ charity (the same one which helped facilitate the building of JCAA), working in coordination with our local community center, funded regular deliveries of produce, meats, canned goods and other staples. Local businesses showed their caring early in the pandemic when cases of hand sanitizer appeared in the JCAA lobby courtesy of a local watering hole. And activists and allies regularly delivered many and varied food items.
Along with the food, our caregivers ensured we were looked after emotionally as well as physically. Local arts organizations contribute blocks of tickets to shows, events and exhibits regularly. There were continued virtual events organized by residents, including a weekly bingo game. Even the monthly newsletter, put together by residents, is a form of caregiving that keeps us all connected and informed about each other and the latest news.
Beyond the work of volunteers and their organizations are the professional caregivers who help us get by. A prime example of this during the pandemic was Mazzoni Center, which is dedicated to serving the LGBTQ+ community and set up Covid-19 vaccinations for JCAA residents in the building’s community room. As soon as vaccines were available, they worked with the city to set up the on-site vaccine clinic. They used dividers for the nurses and spaced the chairs in the waiting room over 6 feet apart. Everyone was masked and it was all done safely and effectively. The only thing residents had to do was take the elevator downstairs. And the on-site vaccine clinics have continued; residents received their bivalent boosters in late October.
Both the on-site senior supportive services specialist and the building’s property manager go far beyond their professional duties because they care about the residents as people and as valued members of our community. When a resident has to complete official forms relating to their residence, the property manager doesn’t just hand out a form. He helps the tenant understand it and even completes it with them. Our supportive services professional not only coordinates the many volunteer activities and community events for JCAA residents, but he’s also a caring friend any of us can talk with at any time.
At JCAA, residents are thankful for and benefit from the care they receive and give every day. Whether supporting our physical or emotional needs, caregivers help dissipate the isolation and loneliness all too many seniors experience. It’s through these and so many more caring efforts that we are empowered not just to survive but to thrive and care for each other. We do, indeed, get by with a little help from our friends.
Elizabeth Coffey Williams is a resident of the John C. Anderson LGBT-Friendly Apartments. She currently co-facilitates the TransWay support group at the William Way LGBT Community Center and is a board member of the Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund. As one of the original Johns Hopkins group, Elizabeth completed her transition and gender confirmation 50 years ago in 1972. Unlike many of her peers, who were urged to “assimilate,” she remained a defiantly out and proud trans woman.