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Black gay couple to receive AARP award

Rev. Irene Monroe

On Nov. 12, Paul Glass and Charles D. Evans of Falmouth were honored with this year’s AARP Andrus Award for Community Service. It’s AARP’s most prestigious and visible state volunteer award for community service. They are the first married and Black gay couple in AARP’s history to receive the award.

AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, is one of the largest organizations in the country, focusing on issues affecting Americans over 50 with a membership of over 38 million members as of 2018. The AARP Andrus Award for Community Service is an annual awards program developed to honor individuals whose service is a unique and valuable contribution to their community and society, reflecting AARP’s vision and mission.

“I am beyond honored and grateful for this recognition. I feel we are not put on this earth to exist but to be of service to others and our community,” Charles told me.

When AARP Massachusetts was looking to honor the state’s top volunteer, Paul’s and Charles’ names rose to the top. They have made a difference in the lives around them, sharing their knowledge, experience, talent and skills to enrich the lives of our community.

“Paul and Charles have channeled the many negative experiences they endured into positive, healing and inspiring volunteer work and leadership,” wrote Barrie Atkin of Swampscott, who nominated the guys. “Their signature work cofounding LGBTQ+ Elders of Color in 2013 in Massachusetts was innovative, unusual and courageous. No such organization existed at that time. In collaboration with the LGBTQ+ Aging Project, they identified the need and turned the need into a reality. They didn’t just co-found the organization along with others. Their continued leadership inspires many others to be involved.”

People of color are underrepresented and underserved regarding aging services and resources. Paul and Charles understand the intersectional challenges and complexities of growing older as African American gay men.

LGBTQ+ senior communities with multiple identities confront multiple challenges. Their organization, LGBTQ+ Elders of Color, fills the gap Massachusetts LGBTQ+ organizations and local, state and federal public health systems missed. Outreach is essential because the challenges facing African American LGBTQ+ seniors intensify with age.

By 2050, seniors of color will comprise over 40 percent of the elderly population, with approximately 3 million being LGBTQ+. According to Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (Sage) and Movement Advancement Project (MAP), approximately one-third of LGBTQ+ elders live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, with 40 percent African Americans. These seniors often feel more vulnerable, invisible and isolated by retirement. Historical and ongoing discrimination have created significant lifelong challenges for this demographic group: limited wealth and savings, low wages, few labor protections, housing instability, food insecurity, stigma, immigration, HIV status and higher mortality from treatable conditions. All have contributed to a lack of well-being and lowered quality of life.

These Dapper Dans’ unique and invaluable resources and services for its LGBTQ+ elders of color reverberate throughout the Bay State. Since childhood, their indefatigable spirit to give back to their community was ingrained in them.

“Since relocating to Massachusetts on Cape Cod in 2002 and our subsequent retirement, we have enriched our lives with stronger connections to the community through outreach and advocacy,” Paul told the audience at the award ceremony. “To some, retirement may mean the opportunity to relax and take it easy. To us, retirement has provided an opportunity to find new ways to help others.” 

Without the foundation Paul and Charles have laid for us LGBTQ+ elders of color, we wouldn’t be the vibrant, visible and growing community that we are.

Irene Monroe is a theologian and news commentator.

AARP Andrus Award for Community Service, LGBTQ+ Elders of Color, opinion