Rico Johnson is the man charged with getting the message out there for Birmingham LGBTQ’s Ageing With Pride campaign. Midlands Zone recently caught up with him to find out about the campaign and how to get involved...
Tell us about your involvement in the Ageing With Pride campaign, Rico...
I work as the campaign manager for Ageing With Pride at Birmingham LGBT. My day-to-day work consists of organising community outreach activities, coordinating advertising for the campaign, scheduling social media, and altogether ensuring that Ageing With Pride maximises its reach. This will be the most important step in making sure that the campaign reaches even the most isolated members of our community.
How’s it going so far?
It’s going well. My role is challenging, and I feel like I’ve learned so much about not only myself but the older generation as a whole, by getting out there and meeting the people we’re trying to serve. My job is a balancing act, to ensure that the needs of one person don’t ostracise another. I’m always looking for ways to engage with communities that aren’t being represented. Working with older LGBT people on this project is fantastic because you get to make real change in the world through action.
Give us an example of some of the most common issues facing older members of the LGBT community...
A number of people in the older community are severely isolated. The biggest hurdle for the campaign is how to target individuals who’re isolated, to inform them of activity to help tackle that isolation. As challenging as this is, Birmingham LGBT and I have pulled out all the stops to ensure we’re running this campaign the right way. We’ve engaged with people who face homophobia in care-home situations, and with individuals with dementia who forget they’ve come out at all. Then there are people who lost partners during the AIDS crisis, and who’ve never received proper care or treatment to combat the fallout from this because it was a different time for the LGBT community.
All of us are ageing - fact - yet many of us are eager to ignore that reality. This consequently results in some of us inadvertently ignoring older people’s issues. This is especially prevalent in the LGBT+ community because of how driven it is by aesthetic and youth, perhaps most commonly in our commercial spaces.
Often, social barriers aren’t considered by segments of the larger LGBT+ community, and that’s a main issue here.
Had you ever considered these problems prior to becoming involved in the campaign?
Some of the things that I’ve learned were logical after taking time to consider the plight of some older LGBT people, but others surprised me. Although I’ve had my fair share of isolation due to class and race, I’d never thought about ‘isolation due to age’ in the LGBT+ community.
What single fact unearthed as part of the campaign’s research has surprised you the most?
By far the most shocking fact to come out of our research is that there’s no real concern about or perception of ageing in the LGBT+ community.
The gay scene is accepted as being for younger people, just as clubs appeal to younger people whether they’re LGBT or not. The facilities of Birmingham LGBT and the number of LGBT community-led groups were, in part, the reason why this was less of a concern than anticipated. However, this doesn’t help members of the older LGBT community who are isolated - nor does it help in terms of tackling issues of ageism in the community. We can all work a little bit harder to make space for older people in our lives, whether that’s through conversations in public spaces or even trips to your older neighbour’s house for a cup of tea, if they’re willing.
It’s still early days, but what hurdles have you come across so far in getting the message over?
We’ve mostly received positive feedback, although there’s been a bit of discourse around why it’s important to tackle these issues in the mainstream and not internally. There have also been a few chats about whether isolation is an issue at all, especially from younger members of the LGBT+ community.
I think these conversations are what the campaign is all about. Open dialogue is extremely important to help change one of the biggest issues facing our community.
Isolation is a huge issue in the UK, and not just in terms of the LGBTQ+ community. What do you believe the government could or should do to tackle the problem?
The government has just appointed Tracey Crouch as minister for loneliness, which is definitely a step in the right direction. Nationwide research should be undertaken to establish what creates particularly high rates of isolation in certain groups, and funding should be allocated to tackle the issues rather than simply deal with the symptoms. On an interpersonal level, I think more regular community-based activities could help some of the more immediate issues, whilst sustainable solutions to what can only be called an epidemic should be seamlessly actioned in modern society.
How can people become involved in the Ageing With Pride project?
We have a number of voluntary roles connected to the campaign - ambassadors who can act as the ‘boots on the ground’, and even advisory roles for those with limited mobility. Despite my expertise, I could serve the community better with the knowledge from lived experience. It’s so important that our over-50s engage with this campaign.
How do you plan to keep your rainbow?
Birmingham LGBT and I will continue to fight for the underrepresented, making sure that voices are heard. I will use my platform to speak for the experiences that aren’t shown to the wider public, and which are disregarded by people in positions of power who are actually well-placed to make a difference. We all live on this planet together, so we need to find a way to weave positive changes into the tapestry of this life. I plan to be a part of that.
You can learn what Ageing With Pride is doing for Birmingham by attending the project’s community launch at The Loft, in the city’s gay village, on 1 November (from 6.30pm}. Refreshments will be included. And best of all, the event is completely free!
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