KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO
The North Fork Women for Women Fund is conducting a survey on needs of lesbian women Saturday at a garden party in Orient. From left, Colleen McDonough, NFWFWF president Sandra Benedetto, survey coordinator Robin Imandt and Jere Jacob prepare materials for the survey launched Tuesday and continuing through July 31.
What’s different about the needs of the North Fork lesbian community from those of any other women in Southold, Riverhead and Shelter Island?
“We hope to find that out through the survey,” said Robin Imandt, who is spearheading an effort to poll gay women throughout the area on behalf of North Fork Women for Women Fund (NFWWF).
Called the Live Out Loud Community Empowerment Survey, the project was launched at a garden party in Orient Saturday. The survey is available online at www.northforklesbians.org/liveoutloud.html, or a printed copy may be obtained by calling 477-8464 or e-mailing [email protected]
Developing the survey involved months of coordination made possible by a $25,000 grant from the New York State Office for the Aging. Experts at Hunter College’s Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging and Longevity assisted in formatting the survey and will be responsible for compiling the results.
The survey takes about 20 minutes and seeks basic demographic information, including whether or not women are partnered or living alone or with friends or family members and whether they are full- or part-time North Fork residents.
It asks about views on aging, health-related issues, social support systems and satisfaction with existing community services to meet their needs. It also seeks to establish information on skills lesbians in the community have that might be tapped. These range from computer, technical, and home maintenance skills to care giving. There are also sections on civic participation and priorities for future planning.
Noting that aging baby boomers are putting the country at the doorstep of “the biggest demographic revolution in human history” — as Dr. Marianne Fahs, professor of health policy and management and co-director of Brookdale Center, has put it — Ms. Imandt commented that “single straight women have a lot of the same issues” as gay woman. “We’re not trying to say that we are so different,” she said. But focus groups she held to prepare for the survey indicated thatthere are some issues unique to lesbians, she added.
She heard, for example, that members of the lesbian community are not always comfortable using services provided by town government. Many public agencies don’t even know they have lesbian clients because the women haven’t been open about their sexuality, she said.
When a lesbian loses a life partner, she is often not treated by society the same way a widow would be, Ms. Imandt said. And because many lesbians don’t have children, there isn’t the family structure to care for them as they age, she said.
The lesbian community’s needs may be mostly social in the short term — the desire for a drop-in center, for example, Ms. Imandt said. Long-term, a nursing home facility that would be sensitive to their relationships was mentioned by some of the women in the focus groups, she said.
While NFWFWF has reached out to lesbians throughout the North Fork and Shelter Island, some have not come out and others just haven’t become involved with the organization, Ms. Imandt said. In conducting the survey, the goal of the organization — which raises funds to assist women in paying medical expenses for everything from insurance premiums to the costs of mammograms, pelvic exams, even dental needs — “is not just to bring in the usual suspects but to bring in the whole community,” Ms. Imandt said.
Survey participants have until July 31 to register their opinions. Once the survey is compiled, members of NFWFWF will prioritize needs that have been identified and seek grant funding to begin implementing some new programs, Ms. Imandt said. They will also share results with the New York State Office for the Aging.
“We want to create a supportive community,” she said of the overall goal.