From Miami to Fort Lauderdale to Key West, South Florida is one of the best places to live or visit if you identify as LGBTQ. Unlike much of the American South, attitudes here are generally welcoming to diverse communities. Although surveys show that Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-Palm Beach metro area’s population only comes in at number 21 for the most LGBTQ residents in the nation, census data tells only part of the story.
Aside from its attractiveness to LGBTQ individuals, South Florida’s warm and sunny setting is also notably attractive to retirees. While strong LGBTQ metro areas in other parts of the country, such as San Francisco and Portland, are often focused on the needs of high-risk LGBTQ youth, South Florida’s LGBTQ funders are overwhelmed with the needs of local LGBTQ elders.
These funders are grappling with some of the same issues that funders in other places, like New York City and Los Angeles, have been engaging as America’s LGBTQ population ages.
As in other places, there’s a growing number of LGBTQ elders in South Florida who are estranged from their families, most often single, without children, and likely to live alone. All of these factors lead to this population’s high risk of isolation, depression, mental decline, and premature death. Also, despite progress of recent years, there is still plenty of discrimination against LGBTQ seniors in Florida, which often discourages these seniors from seeking healthcare and social services from mainstream sources. When the needs for care become too great, some of these seniors go back into the closet to make things easier, ultimately losing a defining piece of their identities in the process.
Perhaps no organization is more aware of these risks and local needs than the Our Fund Foundation (OFF). OFF’s president and CEO has said that his organization’s mission is to make South Florida the most livable community in the nation for LGBTQ people and that this population’s elders are a top priority in this mission. This is the only LGBTQ community foundation operating in South Florida, and it has launched a new program to bring hundreds of LGBTQ seniors out of isolation and into a place of hope, health, and community.
The initiative is called the SAGE@SoFIA, and it’s targeted at LGBTQ seniors living in Fort Lauderdale and elsewhere in Broward County, Florida. OFF is working with two nonprofit partners to make the initiative happen: SAGE, the largest and oldest group in the world dedicated to the needs of LGBTQ seniors, and SoFIA, a “think and act tank” based in Broward.
The collaborative is initially pursuing at least three approaches to support local LGBTQ seniors, starting with a visitation program that brings community volunteers into the lives of socially isolated LGBTQ seniors. This approach is really nothing new, however: SAGE has operated its successful Friendly Visitor Program since 1979. Now, it will be pursued more specifically in South Florida communities.
Another aspect of OFF’s new initiative is to improve technology training services that will help LGBT seniors gain digital literacy skills in order to virtually connect with others around the globe. The funder will hire a full-time program coordinator for the new initiative to implement the new program and keep it on track.
In addition, OFF has an ongoing grant program that awards grants twice per year to nonprofits in Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach Counties. It also has six field-of-interest funds that address the needs of local elders, lesbian women, transgender individuals, HIV/AIDS, arts and culture for LGBTQ expression, and social justice for all LGBTQ people. With eight years of funding experience now in this space, OFF has become the third-largest LGBTQ foundation in America.