Keeping aging LGBT people engaged and healthy

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — While there are no official numbers, some studies show there are millions of LGBT baby boomers in the United States, and they're especially at risk for health problems that come with isolation.

People are more likely to isolate themselves from society as they age, and the problem can be amplified for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

Shelby Stoddard knows that well. She clearly recalls "a single moment, a single decision" she made to transition to a woman. But in the years leading up to that moment, she was often isolated.

"The reasons I didn't come out sooner were several," she said.

She had a lot to lose, she said: society wasn't ready and neither was the medicine.

"After divorce, I lived as a hermit for 17 years. Didn't know anybody else like me. I had very few contacts with people," she remembered.  "It's really tough to not have anybody with you at all."

That type of social isolation can lead to serious health concerns like depression, suicide and risky sexual behavior, listed Larry DeShane Jr. of the Grand Rapids Pride Center.

"We're talking about adults who have only maybe been out a third of their life and now are finding themselves going back into the closet in order to feel safe when accessing resources," DeShane said.

The Pride Center and the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan have received a $400,000 grant from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund to try to prevent those problems. They'll use the money to keep members of the LGBT community connected.

"Whether it be in the health care field, social interaction, any aspect you can see that's going to reduce isolation and keep older adults in their home is what the grant is really aiming to do," Kendrick Heinlein from the Area Agency on Aging explained.

Some of the grant money went toward creating a print and online resource guide that contains information about counseling, legal options, health services and support groups.

Stoddard, meanwhile, had this advice to those who are in the same position she was for so long.

"Find somebody that accepts you," she said. "In my case, it was God. He had accepted me so many years before. It made it really easy to accept myself."

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