October 23, 2012
10 Considerations for Working with the Diversity of Older LGBT Latinos
By: Bryan Pacheco

Effective outreach begins with a plan and developing a plan requires research. Yet, anyone trying to develop an outreach plan for older lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Latinos can quickly feel as if he or she is hitting one brick wall after another—there is simply a lack of resources dedicated to this community.  Sure, you may be able to find strategies on how-to engage seniors, LGBT youth or the Latino population at large, but these strategies do not speak to the unique experiences and challenges faced by older LGBT Latinos.

For those of you whose organizations are trying to better engage this community, you may simply need a place to start. You may wonder, “What are the most effective outreach techniques to reach Older LGBT Latinos?” As the former Outreach Coordinator for SAGE Harlem (a program for LGBT older adults serving a significant Latino population), I have asked myself the same question. Through trial and error, I have been able to identify the top ten considerations for working with the diversity of older LGBT Latinos.

Outreach to Older LGBT Latinos: The Top 10 Considerations

1.       Remember, the Latino community is a LARGE community

The very term “Latino” is at best a general phrase for many different subcultures that categorize a diverse group of people from the Caribbean to South America to North America. Research your community’s prominent Latino cultures and determine what outreach methods they prefer. For example, an older Latino of Puerto Rican descent, who is second generation American and more acclimated to the United States culture, requires a different outreach approach than a recent Ecuadorian immigrant.

2.       Se tiene que comunicar en Español (You have to communicate in Spanish)

It goes without saying the importance of communicating in Spanish when conducting outreach in Latino communities.  Many older Latinos prefer to communicate in Spanish, either because they speak limited to no English or simply relate better to others in their native tongue. By not having outreach materials in Spanish or otherwise not communicating in the language, you potentially alienate a large percentage of the Latino community.

3.       Be an active part of the community

You probably have heard the expression, “Don’t expect the community to come to you. You have to go to the community.” When doing outreach, the worst thing to do is to engage passively. Get out into the community and become a part of it. Go where older LGBT Latinos congregate: Set up a booth at a festival or community event for the Latino community.  Go to your local LGBT center and hang flyers. Visit seniors centers and conduct a presentation about the services you offer.

Another useful approach is to foster relationships with important community leaders and organizations who can make referrals on your behalf to their clients.

4.       LGBT sensitivity and visibility

While there have been advancements in LGBT equality in the United States, there is still a lot of progress to be made both domestically and abroad. Latinos, especially recent immigrants, may have faced discrimination in their native countries. There have been countless stories from older LGBT Latinos who have been rejected by family and friends or faced discrimination from their churches, places of work or other institutions after coming out. Remain sensitive in your outreach approach. Showcase your organization’s commitment to the LGBT community—this will show potential participants that your organization is a safe and affirming space for them.

5.       Create segmented lists

Collecting contact information from walk-ins, at health fairs or other community events is a necessity. But what do you do with the information once you have it? Sending the same content and information to your entire database is not an effective outreach approach. Segment your lists! Creating a segmented list or being able to pull the phone numbers, e-mails and mailing addresses of older LGBT Latinos will allow you to target your message more effectively to this community.

6.       Don’t forget to call

In today’s social media-crazed age, organizations often heavily rely on the Internet to get messages out and communicate with stakeholders. While having a social media and internet presence is a necessity, it’s important not to abandon traditional communication methods. I have found that phone calls work exceptionally well when communicating with older adults, who may not own or know how to operate a computer.

7.       Utilize Spanish-language and alternative media

Media is one of the most powerful tools available to quickly spread a message to a large group of individuals. And today there are a number of media outlets specific to the LGBT, Spanish-speaking and older communities. Additionally, there are also many independently owned and locally based newsletters that are trusted news sources by community members. Identify and foster a relationship with reporters from these outlets who have covered relevant stories in the past.  Before pitching a story, ask yourself first: “Is this news?”

8.       Use word of mouth

Older LGBT Latinos will most likely know other older LGBT Latinos. And in the Latino community, there is a lot of value placed on personal relationships. Ask your existing participants to spread the word to their friends and networks. Hearing about a program or service from a trusted personal reference will have more influence than an organization saying how important or great their new program is.

9.      Create as a community

Involve older LGBT Latinos in the planning process when creating or coming up with new initiatives. They will be proud of what they contributed and will want to share the final product with their networks. This is a double victory for your organization, as not only does this strengthen your reach to the community, but simultaneously enables you to create culturally appropriate programming.

10.    Be ready for success

Congratulations! You have a successful outreach plan and have begun implementing it. Now, it’s time to deliver the goods.  Once older LGBT Latinos begin contacting or visiting your organization, you must be prepared to communicate with Spanish speaking individuals and be sensitive to the needs and experiences of LGBT older people. If at all possible, employ staff who reflect the population or have a willingness to be guided by their needs. Review your programs and services. Are they of interest or importance to older LGBT Latinos? Are there opportunities to create new programming (for example: a support group for older Latina lesbians) that are relevant to the population?

Bryan Pacheco is the Communications & Community Advocacy Associate at Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE). The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.