In 1978, Chris Almvig was living in New York City, launching SAGE, a national program that would become a leader in aging LGBTQ issues.
Forty years later she’s living in St. Petersburg, organizing Project Generations Coalition, an alliance that strives to support the aging LGBTQ community.
While a lot has changed in four decades, some progress is hard-won.
“A gay person who is 80 now, maybe they’ve had a pretty open life,” said Almvig. Now, in an uncertain political climate, she says, “they are going back into the closet.”
When Almvig began the process of co-founding SAGE, or Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders, she was no stranger to the needs of seniors.
“When I was younger, I really enjoyed grandma- and grandpa-sitting,” Almvig said. “Our neighborhood was filled with people who had their older parents living with them.”
Years later, Almvig realized that the senior gay community was in need of some assistance.
“I started feeling like older gay people were isolated,” Almvig said. “Socialization was a necessity; some of these people had lost their partners and they had no way of meeting other people for friendship.”
That’s where SAGE comes in.
“We put on socials once a month, put on a meal, entertainment, music for dancing,” Almvig said.
New Places, New Faces
Almvig’s passion for the senior LGBTQ community has not dwindled following her move to St. Petersburg.
Her newest mission, Project Generations Coalition, has teamed up with EPIC Empath Partners in Care to provide support to local LGBTQ elders.
“We considered Gulfport, and there is a huge population of lesbians,” Almvig said.
Gulfport Public Library, the Gulfport Senior Center and Pinellas County Health and Human Services have all pledged letters of support to the up-and-coming coalition, according to Almvig.
The estimated budget for the first year is $82,750 and will provide phone reassurance to elders and train professionals in the field of aging to be sensitive to the needs of the LGBTQ community.
The coalition is based in EPIC’s current building at 3050 1st Avenue South, St. Petersburg.
“It’s a lovely location,” Almvig said. “We totally lucked out.”
Sally Kruse and Jerry McCloskey are a perfect example of who the coalition will aim to reach.
The two women, who live in Pinellas Park, have been together for 47 years.
“We met at a bowling alley in Tampa,” said Kruse. “I was very impressed by her white shoes.”
The two women have seen their share of LQBTQ elder discrimination.
“I had one doctor look at me and say, ‘How long have you been with her?’ Real sharp,” Kruse said. “It was discriminatory.”
For the three months McCloskey was admitted to Gulf Shore Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, both Kruse and McCloskey say they felt welcome among the patients there.
“People have to accept themselves,” Kruse said. “I was Catholic – and I still am before they throw me out tomorrow – but if you don’t accept yourself, you won’t be happy.”
Update 10/30/18, 2:23 p.m.: Contact information given at the bottom of the original story was misleading. People who would like to learn more about opportunities for LGBTQ elders or to become involved in the program should contact Joy Winheim at 727-328-5525, or email her at Winheim@EmpathHealth.org. The Gabber regrets the error.