By Kerry Lobel
Last week, my partner Mary and I had dinner with Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. Both Del and I share the sign of Taurus. Each year, I mark my birthday by recalling how long Phyllis and Del have been partners. They have been together the entire 45 years I've been alive.
I've known them for more than twenty-five years. And at two key points in my life, they provided the tools I needed to create a life. As a young woman of 19, their book "Lesbian/Woman" changed my life. Tired of digging in scientific and religious journals that described homosexuals as sick or sinner, the publication of their book in 1972 was a breath of fresh air. By then they had been partners for almost twenty years, and had traveled many lesbian roads. Their book gave me the hope that I could have a life, connected with other lesbians. And, they taught me that along with my sisters, I should not expect only tolerance, but rather demand liberation.
Their lives have been framed by many movements, chief among them, the feminist movement. They understood early on that by making coalitions for social justice, we would not only bring our lesbian selves forward, but the rest of society as a whole.
And they've been unafraid to tackle the tough issues. Their book "Battered Wives" changed the ways in which our country addressed woman abuse. When I edited "Naming the Violence: Speaking Out About Lesbian Battering" Del was quick to offer her advice and support. While some were afraid to talk about abuse in our community, she knew that our community could only be strengthened by this honest discussion.
Just as Phyllis and Del have helped us navigate our 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s, they are also helping lead us through our issues as old gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people. They served as participants in the White House Conference on Aging and led workshops at a recent SAGE conference on aging issues. When NGLTF was challenged on issues related to ageism, Del and Phyllis, as well as Shevy Healey and Ruth Silver from Old Lesbians Organized for Change, trained our staff and demanded more visibility at NGLTF's Creating Change conference.
A recent stop of our families tour in Providence, Rhode Island, reminded us that no discussion of family issues is complete without the recognition that our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered family is comprised of individuals from each generation. Issues related to schools, parenting, and children are only one part of our life cycle. Issues related to Medicaid, social security, health care and social services are another.
As our colleagues at SAGE remind us, in the world's eye, the GLBT community appears to lack a family of all ages, and in the imagination of many of us, there is no future beyond age 40. Seniors are nearly invisible in the GLBT community, shunned to the detriment of us all.
In our work, as diligently as we work for the lives and well-being of young people we must address the needs of seniors. We must challenge bias in the healthcare system, demand fair treatment in mainstream senior housing, work toward building our own senior housing, challenge the invisibility in the greater LGBT community, and ultimately bring seniors into our community's family portrait, so that the world knows us as a family of all ages with a future to celebrate.
Eye on Equality is a monthly column that discusses or gives commentary on national and state-level political events or provides a behind-the-scenes look a social movements and trends. The column is written by Kerry Lobel, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.