AUSTIN (KXAN) — Meals on Wheels Central Texas celebrates the grand opening of its first-ever LGBTQ senior center on Monday.
The center, which has been in operation for a few weeks after a soft opening in September, is housed at Metropolitan Community Church in south Austin. The program is not affiliated with the church or any religious messaging, though most of the members so far attend services there.
The center is necessary, officials say, because members of the LGBTQ community don’t want to risk discrimination at other social spaces as they age.
“They are much more likely to be socially isolated than the rest of the population, and that leads to loneliness, depression, and that can also extend into health issues,” said Thad Rosenfeld, vice president for communications at Meals on Wheels Central Texas.
Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk will speak at the grand opening on Monday at 10:30 a.m.
‘You know you’re accepted’
The group of seniors, who calls themselves the Golden Generation, meet twice a week. Meals on Wheels provides lunch, and the members play games and socialize.
“There is something to be said about being gay and being with other gay people that just lets you be yourself,” said Tony Krug, one of the group’s members, told KXAN.
He’s been out since the 1980s, but as he nears 70 years old, he’s careful when he goes to other senior centers. Those other programs are welcoming, too, but Krug said the atmosphere is different.
“Even at the south Austin center,” he said, “you have to be cautious because you don’t know how you’re going to be accepted. Here, you walk in the door, you know you’re accepted.”
He’s not alone in his concerns: A survey last year by the seniors advocacy group AARP found three out of four adults who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender “are concerned about having enough support from family and friends as they age.”
That concern can lead older members of the LGBTQ community to stay home more and interact less with other people.
Krug appreciates the new center for that reason, “so we don’t get isolated at home and forgotten. And so I jumped at the chance and came.”
‘There needs to be more’
It’s “kind of amazing, as progressive of a community as Austin is,” that this is the first LGBTQ senior center in the area, Rosenfeld said.
He added the new center is a “baby step” for Meals on Wheels Central Texas, and they will look at starting up more programs elsewhere in the city. “We get that Austin can be a difficult town for people to get around, especially if they don’t have access to reliable transportation.”
That’s Krug’s concern, too.
“There needs to be more,” he said. “I like it that it’s south Austin; I live in south Austin. I mean, if this was north, I probably wouldn’t be able to go.”
Opening the first center is a good step, he said, but he’d like to see more programs like it in the future. “We just have to keep laying the path,” he said.