Residents and Staff Work Together to Support the LGBTQIA+ Community

April 11, 2024

"As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, I'm able to stay true to myself at Riderwood ," says LJ Ingram, who lives at the Erickson Senior Living community in Silver Spring, Md., with her wife Sarah. 

She continues, "Riderwood is a very diverse community, and there are several groups on campus that prioritize inclusion and belonging. That goes a long way in helping everyone feel welcome!"

PRiderwood--a subcommittee of Riderwood's Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Committee--is one of those groups. Residents and staff members work together to develop events and programs designed to increase awareness of LGBTQIA+ related topics, foster unity, and demonstrate support.

"It's an amazing group," says Resident Services Coordinator Brian Koen, who serves as PRiderwood cochair. "Together, we organize activities like Riderwood's annual Pride Parade, movie series, and a Service of Affirmation."

Pride Month

Every June, Riderwood hosts a Pride Parade to celebrate Pride Month. 

"It's often the highlight of the year," says Koen. "Once again, we've invited drag queens to participate in the parade this summer. Residents, staff members, family members, and friends are invited to show their love and support by walking on campus."

Last year, the subcommittee held its first Service of Affirmation in the community's chapel, and it was well-received--so much so that another service has already been planned for 2024. 

"Reverend James Bell, our pastoral ministries coordinator, led the service. Several clergy members from the local community were invited as well," says Koen. "Growing up in a conservative area of the south, I was not comfortable being out, especially in a religious setting. Feeling welcomed, acknowledged, and affirmed meant a lot to me and many of our LGBTQIA+ residents."

Year-round support

To ensure that members of the LGBTQIA+ community feel supported all year round, PRiderwood plans monthly meetings--hosted by the LGBTQIA+ & Allies Support and Discussion Group--that are open to the entire Riderwood community. 

"The meetings are a safe space where attendees can ask questions," says LJ. "Many people want to learn more about the LGBTQIA+ community so they can better support children, grandchildren, or family members who are coming out. Also, everything said at the meetings is confidential."

The Safe Space Initiative, one of PRiderwood's first efforts, is still going strong as well. Those who wish to participate in the initiative place a laminated Progress Pride Flag on the door of their apartment home or office.

"It's a wonderful way for community members to demonstrate their support of LGBTQIA+ residents, staff, and visitors," notes Koen. 

"When Sarah and I moved in, placing the flag outside our door helped our neighbors know that they could openly talk to us and ask questions," says LJ. 

Recently, PRiderwood organized a Love Is Love event, which encouraged residents and staff to decorate their doors to display what love means to them.

"It was another way to show support, visibly illustrating the loving and caring community at Riderwood," says Koen.

Reaching out 

To extend Riderwood's love and support to the local community, LJ and Koen joined forces with Sales Director Josh Runkles last year to start an initiative called Listen and Learn. 

"Unfortunately, many seniors feel the need to remain in the closet--or even go back into it--when moving to a retirement community," says Koen. "We wanted to show what LGBTQIA+ inclusion can look like at senior living communities. By sharing resident stories, we communicate that open and affirming communities can have a real impact on peoples' lives."

To reach prospective residents, several current LGBTQIA+ residents share their experiences at events hosted by the sales team. 

"One evening, Sarah and I dined with a couple who wanted to learn more about the community," says LJ. "One of the women had a list of questions regarding what life is like here, but none of those questions had anything to do with LGBTQIA+ space--because she could already tell that we are an open and affirming community!" 

Feeling the love

"It's nice to see Riderwood's LGBTQIA+ population grow," says Koen. "We are so lucky that LJ and several other residents volunteer as ambassadors and share their experiences. Everyone needs support and love. I am happy to be a member of a community that provides just that."

"Riderwood is so diverse, representing all walks of life. We feel comfortable to be who we are, knowing everyone is welcome and accepted," says LJ. "We love living at Riderwood because Riderwood loves us!"

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