On August 31 the doors of the Mattapoisett Museum were opened to people wanting to learn more about the LGBTQ community or wishing to share how to obtain services for youth, senior citizens, and families throughout the south coast.
Eileen Dugas, network coordinator for the South Coast LGBTQ+ Network, spoke to the types of services currently available and how those services are changing to meet the needs of people identifying as LGBTQ.
Dugas said that, before embarking on her current career path, she worked with children who were in care and or aging out of the state system. She said that LGBTQ children lacked connections that could help them move into an independent lifestyle, they lacked caring adult connection. Many end up homeless. She wanted to change that reality.
On this night in an environment that Dugas hoped would be a “safe space for education,” she said there are new initiatives being rolled out by the network. While the network’s main goal, she said, was “to ensure equality and safety to all identifying in the spectrum,” other areas of need would also be met.
One such initiative is what Dugas called, “aging well,” a program whereby senior citizens can find support, social opportunities, intergenerational exchanges through storytelling, and even a pen pal to write to during the winter months.
In attendance was Liz DiCarlo, a Mattapoisett resident and well-known local advocate for the LGBTQ communities as well as other underserved populations. DiCarlo said that Fairhaven COA director Anne Silvia has been a prime mover in realizing that senior citizens who are LGBTQ may never have come out and are completely alone or are disenfranchised from their families. She said that statewide recognition of the needs of this aging population includes training of caregivers in senior care facilities. This type of progress at the service level, she said, only came about through community activism.
“It’s important to get all people engaged, to be part of the bigger community, just like everyone else,” DiCarlo stated.
The network is also working on services for transitioning people and those who are non-binary. “They need support services and opportunities for social interaction,” Dugas said.
The network also provides services in the home where support is needed not only for those coming out but also for their families “to help strengthen the families.”
Alia Cusolito, a sophomore at Old Rochester Regional High School, is president of the LGBTQ ORR program. She said the group has had an opportunity to talk to educators directly sharing their thoughts and experiences. She said the group would also be focusing on ways that the topic of LGBTQ people could be incorporated into the curriculum. Cusolito said that for the school staff presently there are no guidelines on how to handle a student’s record when they transition. “There aren’t any policies or procedures,” she explained, hoping that the group she represents might help in this process.
Dugas said that Massachusetts is the only state that has a commission set up to address issues, concerns, and programs for LGBTQ youth; visit mass.gov/orgs/Massachusetts-commission-on-lgbtq-youth. To learn more about the South Coast LGBTQ+ Network, visit sclgbtqnetwork.org or call 774-775-2656.
By Marilou Newell