This exhibit is about bravery.
These are your neighbors, your friends, your relatives, your colleagues, your patients.
You see them -- and others like them -- every day.
They are older women.
They are part of the LGBTQ community.
And they are brave.
The women you see on these walls grew up when coming out meant risking their health, their jobs, their housing, their families, their friends. To stay safe, many stayed silent for years. Stereotypes and stigma filled the vacuum of silence.
They’ve been whispered about, shouted at, insulted, rejected, isolated.
But here they are, strong and brave.
Look into their eyes.
There are approximately 2.4 million LGBTQ older adults living in the U.S. right now. The women you see here are taking a risk to break the silence -- to be seen as they really are. To show you that being openly LGBTQ is profoundly human and courageous. They are unraveling the stigma that was formed without knowing them. They are building a kinder world: a world where being LGBTQ is safe and accepted.
Things have improved, but undercurrents of misunderstandings, assumptions, and discrimination still exist. Seventy-six percent of LGBTQ older adults fear having adequate support as they age. Thousands still experience discrimination, harassment, and abuse when seeking or living in senior housing. Even today, there are no consistent federal anti-discrimination protections for people who are LGBTQ. Without such protections, half of all LGBTQ older adults in the U.S. live in a state where they can be legally denied access to housing and public accommodations. Things are even worse if you are trans or your skin is not white.
We all play a role in building a kinder world for everyone.
LGBTQ people are part of the fabric of our communities. Let’s make them feel welcome. You will learn so much.
I’m an associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine and on the National Board of Directors at GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality. I came out to myself when I was 16 and didn’t tell my family and friends until I was 28. It’s still hard.
I interviewed nearly three dozen older LGBTQ women (59-85 years old) during the first year of COVID-19 to understand their health needs and the challenges as they age. Since 2014, I’ve been dedicated to advancing health equity for older LGBTQ communities.
As I was taking these pictures, one of the participants met me outside with a sheet of paper that she had hanging in her office. “This reminds me of what you’re doing,” she said. The sign read: “The bravest choice you can make is to be yourself.” I did this exhibit because I wanted more people to meet these women. To look in their eyes. To be in the same room and wonder, how many other older adults we know might be silent about this fundamental part of their lives?
Why do we make it so difficult for people to be who they really are?
And how can we make it better -- safer -- for them to speak out, and be heard?
Thank you to Dr. Tess Jones at the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado for believing in this vision and supporting its execution. Thank you so much to David Weil, also at the Center for Bioethics and Humanities, for your tremendous help editing the images and everything related to the production process. Thank you to Pattie Renourard in Portland, Oregon, for talking through this idea and for helping me over the last few years give voice to these stories in a way that people could hear them. Most importantly, thank you to the women on these walls for your trust. You have been role models to me and have taught me so much. Like Audre Lorde says, “When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.” You all have shown me the importance of doing this. Now that I know better, I will do better. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.