Food Pantries, Pandemic Pivots, and Preventing the “2nd Closet” for LGBTQ Seniors

Imagine the door to the only home you’ve ever known being slammed against you after revealing your sexual orientation or gender identity.

Or a hospital worker grimacing in confusion at your gender identity when you show up in the emergency room for care.  

Unfortunately, these scenes and more are still harsh realities for many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals living in the U.S. today. But thanks to the Montrose Center, thousands of these LGBTQ people in Houston, Texas have a powerful ally in the continual fight for equality, health, and wellbeing.

Anita Das
Anita Das

We recently sat down with Anita Das, the LGBTQ Health Education and Outreach Specialist at the Montrose Center and manager of the Lesbian Health Initiative (LHI). LHI is a long-time RWV partner and regional coordinating organization that is now part of the Montrose Center program array. We talked about the center’s recent wins, new programs, and how they’ve adapted and overcome during the pandemic. Read on to learn more about the incredible things the Montrose Center is doing and how you can help.

Q. The mission of The Montrose Center, in part, is to “empower the LGBTQ community and their families to live healthier and more fulfilling lives.” Can you talk more about what that looks like for the people you serve?

Anita: Absolutely. For me, the thing that really sets us apart in terms of this mission is the holistic and wrap-around nature of our services. We work with people of all ages at different stages of their lives, and are able to meet a variety of needs including case management, counseling, peer support facilitation – if it’s a need in the community, chances are we have a program or service that addresses it.

One thing that really jumps out to me as relevant is all the work we’ve done in partnership with RWV to promote better health care access. For instance, we do monthly workshops on popular health education topics like anxiety and burnout, and consistently promote the open enrollment period for health insurance. Work like this connects our clients to the services and supports they need effectively and tangibly.

Q. What are some big recent wins for the Montrose Center that you’re really proud of?

Montrose Center Houston, Texas
Montrose Center Houston, Texas

Anita: I’m thrilled about The Law Harrington Senior Living Center (pictured above), which we opened right in the middle of the pandemic and is, to my knowledge, the first of its kind here in Texas. The Center provides an affordable, LGBTQ-affirming housing solution to seniors in our community. This is so important because LGBTQ seniors are much more likely than their straight, cisgender counterparts to be living below the poverty line. And then also, LGBTQ people that have to go into assisted living facilities often report feeling forced back into the closet, and that’s not ok with us. The Center is a place where all people can be fully themselves in a thriving community. 

Another wonderful highlight was the Holiday Care Package project we launched in 2020. Many of our clients struggle with chronic illness or are already prone to isolation, and the pandemic only exacerbated that. So the center pulled together and sent out a ton of care packages full of pantry goods, cleaning supplies, masks, and heartfelt letters so that these folks know that there are people out there in the community who care about them. The response was so positive that we’re now taking year-round donations so we can continue doing this outreach in the future.

Q. How has the Montrose Center had to adapt during these challenging times? 

Anita: I’m really proud that we were able to provide service continuity during the COVID-19-related shutdowns. We moved a lot of things online, like our dialogues and workshops, and we actually found we were able to reach an even broader audience this way. People who may not have been able to get across Houston traffic for one of our events could more easily log into an online meeting, so that was cool.

Q. What can people do right now to show support for the Montrose Center and the LGBTQ community you serve?

Montrose Center Staff
Montrose Center staff handing out supplies from their pantry

Anita: We always need donations to our Emergency Pantry. We were able to help people out with essentials like bottled water and food during the really bad freeze and power outages that happened back in February.

Also, all donations to the Taking Care of our Seniors fund go towards supporting the Senior Living Center, so any help with that would be very appreciated.