Penelope Starr is a writer, artist, founder and producer of Odyssey Storytelling, restorer of Navajo rugs, LGBT advocate and a new citizen folklorist. Her book, Stories Uncensored: The Radical Act of Community Storytelling will be coming out in 2016.
Death and dying is a taboo subject. Add to that the invisibility of being an elder lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) person and there is a lot to NOT talk about. What are the special problems this marginalized class of people might face and how are their needs being addressed? What are the challenges and strategies that are specific to the communities in addressing healthcare systems, social networks and end-of-life issues? Are there commonalities in the diverse communities that make up the alphabet soup of LGBT? How does Tucson measure up in providing appropriate support and services? These were some of the questions I asked myself as I prepared to become a citizen-folklorist and delve into the nitty-gritty of LGBT aging with pride.
When the Southwest Folklife Alliance put out a call for people to learn how to engage in ethnographic fieldwork, I knew I wanted to apply. They had received a grant support from the Shaaron Kent Endowment Fund held at the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona to “engage in a year-long project to research, document, interpret and present cultural expressions and experience with the end of life, grief and mourning.”
I was chosen as one of the thirteen cohorts for the Continuum: End of Life Cultural Project and I attended a weekend of training on how to map and document different cultures in the Tucson community. The “culture” I wanted to explore was the elder Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender communities.
The Project had a number of goals. The first was to publish a journal based on the folklorists’ research. The next phase included a community forum and workshop to present some of the gleaned information to the general public. And finally a website was created to permanently archive the papers.
I was one of three panelists at the symposium and presented an overview of my findings. I received a very warm reception and had many people ask me for resources after the presentation. Most edifying was from a woman who works with refugees asking about resources for her first trans woman client.
My intention was to increase awareness and possibly plant seeds for change to improve the lives of LGBT folks. The paper consists of interviews with eight people with distinct concerns and points of view, both community members and organization representatives. I also included a glossary and a lists of resources for Tucson and for national organizations, hoping that the reader would want to learn more.
You can read my paper, Aging With Pride: End of Life Conversations in Tucson’s Elder LGBT Communities, here: http://www.southwestfolklife.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/penelope_starr.pdf
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.