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Surveying Gay seniors
Surveying Gay seniors
by Paul Varnell - SGN Contributing Writer

I have written somewhat playfully about the annoyances and advantages of growing older, but there are serious issues here for the Gay community. The demographic bulge we call the "Baby Boom" is surging into the Gay "senior" category, much as it is into the "senior" category generally. This presents us with a challenge and an opportunity.

The challenge is to lure more of these Gay boomers into (greater) involvement with the Gay community and retain those who have been involved up to now. The opportunity is that we can strengthen and enrich the Gay community if we can draw on the knowledge and skills they have developed over their lifetimes.

There has not been much large-scale research on Gay seniors or older Gay boomers, but a good deal of the research I have seen, by health care or social service agencies, seems to view seniors primarily as people experiencing health problems, economic limitations, psychological disabilities and limited mobility. No doubt that is true for some seniors, especially the very old. But they are a minority.

It is important to keep in mind that most of us are reasonably healthy, active adults, fully committed to living out what is essentially an extended "middle age" in a flourishing and enjoyable manner. We are living longer, living healthier, and many are retiring earlier. As Judge Richard Posner put it in his valuable book, Aging and Old Age:

"The rate of aging, moreover, mental and especially physical, can be, and is being, retarded by improvements in diet, by increased exercise, and by advances in medical technology. We cannot eliminate old age, but we can postpone it; we have postponed it. We are much less likely to think of a healthy 60-year-old or even 70-year-old as being 'old' than we were 30 years ago."

To me, that means that social service agencies should survey or study not primarily the drain these "new seniors" will be on the Gay community, but what they with their time, energy and accumulated knowledge can contribute to the Gay community. They are a vast reservoir of untapped potential with an appetite for mental stimulation and a desire to feel useful. What would such a survey look like? Here, I'll give some examples. (Younger people might find it interesting to take this survey, too.)

Potential contributions to the Gay community
What skills did you develop during your employment career?
What hobby and craft skills did you develop during leisure hours?
Could you teach other people any of those skills?
Do you have an advanced academic degree? In what?
If retired, do you now have a part time job?
Could you help young people develop their reading or math skills, or civics or science knowledge?
Could you lead a book (or other) discussion group?
Do you own a car? Would you be able to chauffeur someone once a week? Once a month?
Have you included a Gay organization in your estate planning?
Would you be willing to join a "donors circle" to provide ongoing financial support for a Gay group?

Personal growth and development
What kind of books do you like to read?
Do you go to plays, movies?
Do you go to concerts - classical? jazz? pop? folk?
What newspapers do you read? What magazines?
Do you patronize your local public library?
Do you have (or have access to) a computer?
Are you subscribed to any listservs or e-mail lists? Which ones?
Do you write a blog? Do you comment on other people's blogs?
What skills would you like to develop or improve?
What subjects would you like to learn a little more about?

Recreational activities
Rate your energy level 1-10 (10 high).
Where do you meet new people? Church? Social clubs? Social gatherings?
Do you go to Gay bars? Once a week? Once a month? Seldom/never? Why or why not?
Are you a member of a reading group?
What Gay groups, clubs, organizations do you belong to?
Do you visit area gambling casinos?
How much exercise do you get: walking, jogging, working out?

Some of Paul Varnell's previous columns are posted at the Independent Gay Forum ( His e-mail address is

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