By Michelle Talsma Everson. Photos courtesy of George Burson, David Samora, and Duet.
A little over a year ago, Echo talked to local couple George Burson and David Samora about their caregiving journey and the support they’ve received from local nonprofit Duet. Back then, Burson — who began working for Duet on a part-time basis this past fall — dreamed of launching a support group in the Valley specifically for LGBTQ+ family caregivers. (A family caregiver is defined as anyone who provides unpaid care for a loved one.)
Beginning on Thursday, June 6, that dream is a reality as Duet, in partnership with Community Church of Hope, will be offering a support group for local LGBTQ+ family caregivers on the first and third Thursdays of every month from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Community Church of Hope. Burson will be facilitating the group, which will be free of charge to all attendees.
“The idea for a support group specifically for LGBTQ+ family caregivers has been in the works for at least two years,” Burson says. “Now, everything seems to be falling in place and myself being a member of the LGBTQ+ community is helpful to make this the right time to launch the group.”
So why the need for a support group specifically for LGBTQ+ caregivers?
“Many LGBTQ+ caregivers may have issues separately from those discussed in a regular support group and they may feel more confident speaking openly in an environment of fellow LGBTQ+ community members,” Burson explains. “Community Church of Hope is a space created specifically with the LGBTQ+ community in mind, so support group attendees may feel more at home there.”
“The LGBTQ+ community is growing and aging. The Community Church of Hope is committed to partnering with Duet in their work to support those who care for our aging population,” says Patrick Stout, pastor at Community Church of Hope. “Our location and facility will provide an open, safe environment for the facilitators and caregivers to share and learn how to assist our loved ones.”
According to a report titled “Out and Visible: The Experiences and Attitudes of LGBT Older,” researchers noted that there are 3 million LGBTQ+ folks nationally who are age 55 and older. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, some issues that specifically impact older LGBTQ+ family caregivers are: how “chosen family” (versus your family of origin) responsibilities may impact caregiving; employer issues; finding supportive healthcare and service providers; experiencing mistreatment or discrimination; maintaining a sense of community; and maintaining their own well-being. Many of these same issues are faced among all family caregivers, but may prove particularly challenging for LGBTQ+ caregivers, experts note.
“Most issues that you will face as an LGBT caregiver for an aging parent or relative are the same as those faced by all caregivers. In a family of origin, it is typical for one child to assume the role of primary caregiver for an aging parent or parents. That responsibility often falls to the person who lives closest to the parents or who does not have young children. For LGBT people, the assumption that they do not have family responsibilities of their own if they do not have children can be particularly hurtful,” according to the Family Caregiver Alliance. “Even if you are ‘out’ to siblings and relatives, they may not understand or appreciate that being part of a chosen family means you have serious obligations and commitments. Depending on family dynamics and communication styles, your role as a primary caregiver may be assumed without discussion.”
“Many LGBTQ+ folks may have no children, so caregiving for an aging relative almost automatically falls on them,” Burson echoes. “They also, like other caregivers, may be caregiving for a spouse or child or other loved one. This is a general support group, not disease specific, so we want to support all LGBTQ+ family caregivers.”
Samora, Burson’s spouse and partner of nearly 30 years, does not officially work for Duet but is still highly involved with the nonprofit and advocating for the rights of the elderly.
“I am very happy and excited for George taking on this challenge with Duet,” Samora shares. “It’s a much needed program, especially in the LGBTQ+ community.”
“I am 60 years old and I’m looking at our future and we see what happens in the care of elders in our community … There is no way a single person can do this on their own,” he continues. “I’m talking about paperwork, contacts, calling and making appointments and arriving to appointments. In the past years we have witnessed no consideration for the elderly. It is important that they need to be respected and cared with dignity. It is very important for the LGBTQ community to have a program like this. I have heard and witnessed many people in situations. They are caring for a loved one or a parent. They do not know where to turn or that there is even assistance out there.”
Because of his passion for caregiver causes and the rights of seniors, Samora is now a volunteer with AARP on the advocacy for legislation of Arizona. “I am looking at the future for us and for other people in our community,” Samora notes.
In addition to their continued work with AARP and the new support group, Burson and Samora have facilitated three “Finding Meaning and Hope” video discussion series sessions for family caregivers and hope to facilitate more as time allows.
In their own caregiving journey, the couple are still caregiving for Burson’s mom, who is 90 years old. Burson shares that they had to make the hard decision last fall to place her in a group home but he still visits regularly and is her advocate.
“This new support group for LGBTQ+ family caregivers is a no-pressure opportunity to speak and share your experience with a group of people who understand,” Burson shares.
Support group details: Being a caregiver can be even more complicated when you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community. This new caregiver support group is designed to allow you to speak freely about your concerns and issues with others who will completely understand you. Whether you are caring for a spouse, a partner, a parent, or a friend, you are not alone. Join us for emotional support, helpful tips, and ways to better navigate this difficult caregiving journey.
Dates: 1st and 3rd Thursday of every month, from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Location: The Community Church of Hope, 4124 North Sixth Drive, in Phoenix. Please enter on Sixth Drive just north of Indian School Road. Admission is free. To RSVP, call George at Duet — 602-274-5022 ext. 139 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about Duet and its other offerings for family caregivers, visit duetaz.org/family-caregiver.