Six older men gathered around a table eating barbecue before a game of shuffleboard.
In many ways, it was a typical scene in St. Petersburg, a city once nicknamed “God’s Waiting Room” due to its large number of retirees. But to some in the group, it felt novel.
“It’s a social event that’s not a bar,” said Andrew Paquette, 63.
“You have to remember, historically, bars were the only place we could go,” said Daniel King, also 63. He gestured at his friends across the table. “This is all new to me.”
It can be hard to make friends later in life. For members of the LGBTQ community, who may face discrimination from their peers or might be navigating their sexual or gender identity for the first time, it can be especially challenging. Roughly half of LGBTQ older adults feel isolated from others, studies have shown.
Groups like EPIC Generations aim to help.
Launched in 2020, the initiative organizes social events for LGBTQ seniors in Pinellas County.
“The biggest issue we heard from our LGBTQ elders was loneliness,” said Jane Haskell, 29, LGBTQ community support counselor for EPIC, a local nonprofit health system that oversees the group. “To combat that, we wanted to offer a way to meet people that wasn’t on the apps or at a bar — and not to date, but just to make friends.”
There are museum trips, coffee hours for veterans and pottery-making. (King joked that their group was the rowdiest table at the ceramics shop.)
“It’s about fellowship,” said John Robinson, 70, who has attended quilt-making classes and orchestra performances through EPIC Generations. “Just being together.”
Around the holidays, Haskell said, activities like these are particularly vital.
LGBTQ seniors are at heightened risk of experiencing loneliness. They are four times less likely to have children than their heterosexual peers, having come of age at a time when parenting was out of reach for many LGBTQ people.
They’re also twice as likely to be single and live alone, a phenomenon that may be partially due to the loss of many peers and loved ones during the AIDS crisis.
Loneliness is a subjective state, like hunger. But it can have tangible health consequences.
When experienced over a long period of time, loneliness can increase a person’s risk of dementia, depression and high blood pressure, and is significantly linked to earlier mortality and morbidity.
“It’s an adjustment, having all this free time after retiring,” said Gary Crocker, 70, as a waiter delivered the shuffleboard players’ food. “That’s kind of why we do this — so you don’t sleep all day.”
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EPIC Generations has a series of events planned for the rest of December, including an ornament-making class, a holiday party and a transgender social hour.
The organization provides free transportation to those in need.
Want to participate?
EPIC Generations will hold several upcoming holiday events at its St. Petersburg campus, 3050 First Ave. S. For more information, call 727-328-3260.
- Ornament-making arts and crafts: 2 to 4 p.m. Tuesday.
- Holiday party: 1 to 3 p.m. Thursday.
- The EPIC T Club, a transgender social hour: 2 to 3 p.m. Dec. 29.