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    A Community Approach to Research

    Kathleen Sullivan, PhD (right); Jupiter Peraza (left)

    By Kathleen Sullivan, PhD, and Jupiter Peraza–

    Just over a year ago, the Openhouse Executive Director asked if the California Department of Aging (CDA) would be willing to fund a study into the aging experience of LGBTQ+ Californians. The reason for the question was simple: despite being a policy leader on LGBTQ+ rights, the state had never done a study of the aging experience for our community.

    At the present moment, we are happy to report that the CDA immediately embraced the idea and the model suggested by Openhouse—that this be a community-based project with community input into the design and the rollout of a statewide survey. Now that the survey has been released, we want to share how and why we urged the state to use a community-based approach, how it worked to date, how it will generate participation statewide, and how we created an “evergreen” coalition of LGBTQ providers throughout the state who can share information and be thought leaders together on policy and programs to support community members age fifty and older.

    The essence of community is critical, and that should not be understated. LGBTQIA+ individuals—who have, historically, depended on community to survive the neglect and disenfranchisement from society—understand the locus that is community in paving a path forward. Thus, community was bound to play a pivotal role in the development of the Survey of LGBTQIA+ Older Adults in California: From Challenges to Resilience.

    It was almost impossible to fathom the inception and completion of the survey without the contributions of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and gender-diverse leaders throughout the vast state of California—individuals who possessed unique life experiences, theories of change, tenacious spirits, and brilliant strategic modus operandi.

    Not only was our community the north star for the development of the statewide coalition, but it was also the foundational component of the survey’s Advisory Committee (AC). The AC was indispensable—it constantly grounded the survey development in the real-life experiences of community, offered modes of thinking that transcended rigid clinical research methods, and, above all, provided agency to LGBTQIA+ individuals in the fashioning of their future.

    Community members at the state and regional coalition groups provided an unexpected request: the desire to hold events where people in their community could learn about and take the survey together. To meet this identified need, Jupiter created a wonderful facilitator guide for local organizations to hold a gathering specifically for the purpose of holding local events.

    Ultimately, the historic effort that is the Survey of LGBTQIA+ Older Adults in California: From Challenges to Resilience could not have come to fruition without the rendering of knowledge, expertise, and wisdom of the LGBTQIA+ community at-large. In our eyes, bringing in community was not simply a contractual stipulation to be followed in the creation of the survey; it was an opportunity to heal, to right historical wrongs, and envision a future for us and by us.

    The Survey of LGBTQIA+ Older Adults in California: From Challenges to Resilience:

    Kathleen M. Sullivan is the Executive Director of Openhouse, and holds a PhD in gerontology. In her role as Executive Director, she is working to develop 186 new units of housing in the Castro Cultural District for LGBTQ older people. When not working, Dr. Sullivan plays tennis, runs, and enjoys life with her wife of 25 years, Dr. Rebecca Levison.

    Jupiter Peraza is the Openhouse Manager of Statewide Coalition.

    Published on January 11, 2024