The year was 2007 and I had adjusted to living in my new home near The Villages, Florida. I was 46 years old. I'd bought a home with my parents, who are snowbirds, three years prior. We loved it and I lived in Florida year round, keeping up the property and continuing my work.
In 2004 when I first settled there I of course worked to make friends. My community was nice, but much smaller and, I was much younger than most of my neighbors. Still, that didn't matter to me and I found a local, gay affirmative church. I began attending community events and met some of my neighbors. I had an 80 year old friend across my street and I'd met a 75 year old widower down the street who lived with his sweet little Yorkie. I'd take Lucy and Ruby, my two dogs at the time, down quite often to hang out with them. I also had a fun friend I met when we each passed each other in our golf carts riding our dogs around. I'll never forget the big, colorful plastic parrot she had hanging on her cart and her two, big black senior dogs who got motivated when Lucy would start barking at them.
At the same time, I'd also made new friendships at a local MCC church, including the pastor. I ran a coaching workshop at the church and tried to involve myself in other volunteer initiatives at the church. I met another member and ended up becoming a volunteer at her senior dog rescue. I was in heaven, the shelter focused on one of my favorite breeds: miniature pinschers! My favorite thing was to just go and hold the dogs!
I also became very involved in the Orlando business community, networking both personally and professionally. I joined a women's business club and co-led a gay women's business networking group. I also volunteered for local gay groups working towards issues like anti-discrimination and later on, gay marriage. I marched one year in Orlando's pride parade and I rented business vendor booths at Daytona Beach Pride, St. Pete Pride (twice) and Tampa's Gay Wedding Expo. I will never forget - sadly now - attending socials and an HRC fundraiser at Pulse Nightclub.
While my community had 3500 homes, we didn't have a visible LGBT presence. Given the Villages at this time had at least 50,000 homes (I think there is about 120,000 now - and growing), I looked towards the Villages to try and find some 'rainbow family' and, alas I found a group called - you guessed it - Rainbow Family. At the time they were a new organization started by what would become two friends, Wendy and Peggy.
The rest is, as they say, history. I've since relocated back to Maryland, but Peggy and Wendy continue to enjoy their retirement in Florida. I hadn't thought of them in awhile until a post popped up on my Facebook feed tonight: a newspaper article celebrating their work building quite the vibrant LGBTQ community right in the heart of the conservative-leaning Villages/Central Florida community. What they've done is truly amazing, for many reasons.
Maintaining positive social ties in today's fast paced world is challenging for all of us but even more so for older men and women. Wendy and Peggy really tapped into a need, both for themselves and for all of the LGBTQ retirees and seniors in their area who didn't know they 'were everywhere'. I can't begin to imagine how healing they and their group has been for the Villages LGBT community.
I specialize in counseling and coaching gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans or LGBTQ seniors 50 and up who struggle with the emotional stresses brought on by being a senior in today's world. We live in a culture that devalues our elders. Yes, aging is a natural life stage but, for LGBTQ's, our journey can be unique in that we are more often lacking in family to support us. Most of us didn't have children and many of us faced ostracizing or other types of exclusion from our families.
There is also plenty of evidence that LGBT seniors are vulnerable to being discriminated against and many sadly 'go back into the closet' to avoid being treated unfairly.
Are you struggling with the changes and challenges of aging? Don't go it alone. I can help. Please reach out to me, it will do you a world of good.