The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

Inclusion logoHonoring its core values of welcome, inclusion, social justice and grace, Covia is celebrating Pride not only through events this month, but through an ongoing commitment to make its communities and programs welcoming to all.

Covia is an Endorsing Organization of the Long-Term Care Equality Index (LEI) – the  first organization to do so on the West Coast. LEI, a joint initiative of SAGE and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, is a three-year project to “assess, benchmark, and ultimately improve the policies and practices of long-term care residential settings (nursing homes, assisted living, continuing care retirement communities, and more) regarding their LGBT-inclusiveness.” Jerry Brown, Senior Director of Covia Affordable Communities, is a member of the LEI Advisory Council.

As part of the LEI, communities and organizations are encouraged to sign the Commitment to Caring Pledge as an indication of their intention to engage in LGBT inclusive policies and practices. Kevin Gerber, President and CEO, says, “Covia has long supported the inclusion of LGBTQ+ seniors and staff in our communities. We are glad to support the work of SAGE and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation in ensuring that senior communities throughout the country are safe and welcoming for everyone.”

In the greater community, Jen Arent, Director of Senior Resources for Sonoma County, created a display at Sonoma County Pride that won the “Year of Love” decorating contest as she asked those who stopped by to join Covia’s “Wall of Love.”

Arent asked everyone who came to the booth to take a multicolored paper heart and write down what they feel about love – “who they love, why they love, what they love, et cetera.” Then Arent would pin them up on the multicolored fabric panels used to decorate the booth. “It was an amazing success!” Arent says. “By the end of the day we had nearly 200 paper hearts with positive, kind, thoughtful messages of love from people of all ages, backgrounds, and beliefs. It was truly inspiring.”   

Covia will cap off the month by participating in San Francisco’s Pride parade, cosponsoring a contingent of LGBTQ+ seniors that will include residents and staff from Bethany Center, Presidio Gate Apartments, San Francisco Towers, and St. Paul’s Towers. The theme of this year’s parade, Generations of Resistance, is “an opportunity to put seniors at the center of the celebration and the march towards social justice,” according to Openhouse, which is coordinating the parade contingent.

LGBTQ+ inclusion at Covia doesn’t end with the month of June. A new session of Well Connected, beginning on July 8, offers a weekly LBGTQ Chat group. Open to all LGBTQ older adults, the group “will create an inclusive place to share our stories with each other and build a sense of community.” Participants can register for this or any other Well Connected group by calling 877-797-7299.

Throughout Covia, “we continually work to build the value of inclusion in all we do,” says Mary McMullin, Chief Strategy and Advancement Officer. “It’s important to us that the moment people walk into one of our communities, they know that they are welcome, just as they are.”

Kevin Gerber and Doug Pace

Kevin Gerber and Doug Pace

On Tuesday, October 30th, Kevin Gerber, Covia’s President and CEO, along with Doug Pace, Director of Mission Partnerships for the Alzheimer’s Association, welcomed LeadingAge members to the Inclusion Reception, an event at the LeadingAge Annual Meeting and Expo in Philadelphia. Covia was one of the Signature Donors for the event. 

Kevin – Good evening and welcome to the City of Brotherly Love and to LeadingAge’s Inclusion Reception. My name is Kevin Gerber and I’m the president and CEO of Covia, one of the proud sponsors of tonight’s event.
Doug  – And I’m Doug Pace, Director of Mission Partnerships for the Alzheimer’s Association, also one of the proud sponsors this evening.

Thanks to Jerry Brown’s perseverance and advocacy, the first Inclusion Reception occurred when AAHSA, as LeadingAge was then known, held its annual meeting in San Francisco in 2006. Back then, many members never had even heard the term LGBT. Now, we’re hearing it from the podium at the plenary sessions. Then, there were no sessions dedicated to LGBT seniors. This year, we have workshops on preventing elder abuse and person-centered care specifically focused on LGBT seniors.

We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go. Only recently we saw the news of a same-sex couple who were refused entry into a senior living community because of their relationship. We still hear of LGBT seniors who decide to leave communities due to the homophobia of their neighbors. We know of friends and colleagues in this industry who still to this day feel they must hide their authentic selves in the place where they work. And many of the gains that we have made as a society seem vulnerable to reversal.

And so, although we’re here tonight to celebrate and enjoy one another, let’s not forget that this is a Party with a Purpose. We can’t rest and say our work is done. In her keynote address on Sunday, Frances Frei said, “You can’t argue for inclusion for one without arguing for inclusion for all.” We need to carry this spirit of inclusion with us to our communities and to our industry, for LGBT persons, and for everyone. After the party is over, let’s go back to our communities and our industry, speaking up for the inclusion of all and working to ensure that the differences among us are not merely tolerated, but welcomed and celebrated.

Leaders in senior affordable housing will share the story of the Openhouse Community, the Bay Area’s first LGBT-welcoming senior affordable housing project, in a free event on June 1 at 3:00 at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. Pre-registration is requested.

LGBT Housing – A Community Conversation About Lessons Learned and Future Directions will be moderated by Karim Sultan, VP of Affordable Housing for Covia. The panel will include: Marcy Adelman, co-founder Openhouse, a San Francisco non-profit exclusively focused on health and well-being of LGBTQI elders; Karyn Skultety, Executive Director of Openhouse; and Ileah Lavora, Housing Developer at Mercy Housing. 

“Hopefully, the panel will motivate like-minded parties, whether it be in San Francisco or in the greater Bay Area, to build more LGBT housing,” says Sultan. “Obviously, there would be a lot of work between this initial conversation and a building going up, but we would like to start a larger conversation.”

After the panel, participants are invited to take a tour of the housing community at 55 Laguna, which provides Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender-welcoming housing for seniors age 55 and older. Though open to people of all sexual orientations or gender identity, 68% of the residents identify as LGBT.

The LGBT Community Center is located at 1800 Market Street. To register for this event, please visit this eventbrite site.