By Tara Kyle
HELL'S KITCHEN — The aches and pains of growing old are bad enough, but for LGBT seniors the heartache can be compounded by being torn apart from the person who has loved them for most of their life when they go into care.
Sometimes, that split happens because family members don't recognize the relationship, but other times it's a matter of insufficient financial means. Gay couples who enter nursing homes are often assigned to separate rooms.
"It's a very common story in our community that a couple that has been together 20, 30, 40 years has to split up because the family can only take care of one," said William Moran-Berberena, executive director of the charities program of the Metropolitan Community Church of New York.
For that reason, MCCNY, which serves gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals from its 446 W. 36th St. location, is launching a new program that will match LGBT seniors with LGBT home care providers.
The project, called "Queer Elder Spirit" will kick off in January and serve LGBT couples and singles older than 50 throughout Manhattan.
In the early stages, Moran-Berberena said the initiative would focus on people dealing with issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure and hip replacements rather than serious, chronic conditions.
Queer Elder Spirit will send healthy LGBT people to training programs with partner First Care of New York. Some will learn how to provide home health services such as picking up prescriptions and making sure seniors take proper dosages of medication. Others will focus on caretaker services such as helping with chores and errands.
Besides helping LGBT couples stay together in their age, Moran-Berberena said he believed the home care positions, which offered a salary and benefits, would provide a much needed employment opportunity to younger people in the church community.
That matters especially for transgender men and women, whose status creates a major barrier in the job-seeking process.
"Sometimes you keep your legal name, but you're living your life in a different way," said Moran-Berberena. "When you go to a job interview [as a woman] and submit official documents with a man's name, a lot of employers have issues with that … and that closes that job opportunity."
While some of the intended benefits of matching LGBT home care providers with LGBT seniors are psychological, MCCNY organizers also hope it can have a real medical impact.
"They belong to a generation of LGBTQ that being out of the closet wasn't very common," Moran-Berberena said of the over-50 set. "So most of the people are suffering in services because they don't feel comfortable telling people who they really are."
An elderly gay man, for example, might elect not to disclose all of his sexual history to a urologist, Moran-Berberena said.
Since home care providers sometimes serve as conduits between doctors and patients, Moran-Berberena said he hoped that pairing gay male patients with gay male providers, transgender patients with transgender providers, and so on, could lead to greater disclosure.
"Doctors aren't magicians, they don't read minds," he said. "What we want is to guarantee that the patient feels 100 percent comfortable with the home care provider."