I am excited to introduce my colleague Kim L. Hunt to you – Kim has led AIDS Foundation Chicago’s Pride Action Tank (PAT) as Executive Director since its inception seven years ago and also serves as Senior Director on AFC’s Policy & Advocacy team. I want to share with you how Kim’s innovative approach to storytelling – focused on individual joy and resilience of LGBTQ+ and other marginalized communities – creates lasting systemic change in Illinois and beyond.
What is Pride Action Tank? Established in 2015, PAT is a project of AFC and a think tank focused on action that improves outcomes and opportunities for LGBTQ+ communities in the areas of housing, health, safety, financial security, youth and aging. These goals are achieved through two strategies: first, a collective process of inquiry, storytelling and advocacy wherein PAT acts as a platform for advocates’ voices; and second, by gathering community input through convenings, fleshing out what the community needs and wants. Kim reflects:
“Storytelling is just so essential to the work that we do and sharing the voices of the people who are most impacted by the issues we work on, making space for them to share power in the decisions around what that future could look like for them.”
Kim leads projects that improve the lives of LGBTQ communities, such as systemic change to support LGBTQ+ older adults and LGBTQ+ youth in foster care, and addressing challenges faced by non-binary/transgender individuals in accessing public bathrooms, among other significant issues being experienced by the LGBTQ+ community. Kim ensures that their voices are not only heard, but that the community is engaged from beginning to end, from gathering the gifts of personal stories to actionable legislative changes. Kim admits that the intentionality to be wholly inclusive “can be messy and takes more time, but in the end, serves the population who have been chronically marginalized and stigmatized.”
Kim knows that people with lived experience are the experts on the pressing issues that affect their lives. She encourages people to “name their dreams” and be fully present in their identities when sharing their personal stories and insights. One project Kim has been working on started with a 2-day event covering what it’s like to age as an LGBTQ+ person, called OUTAging: Summit on Our Possibilities. Utilizing the participants’ feedback from the initial summit, she launched the OUTReach for Safe Senior Living project, which addressed the needs for improved culturally competent care for LBGTQ+ older adults in long term care facilities and other settings. This is particularly important as people living with HIV age and need tailored care. Individual storytelling and videos were targeted at policy makers throughout the state in an effort to make change. Kim knows that many LGBTQ+ older adults had to endure a lifetime of discrimination in the workplace and live with stigma and victimization.
“This is the group of folks that is often in need of services and care within the systems that are supposed to be a safety net, but that safety net does not even acknowledge that they exist.”
It is estimated that at least 70% of LGBTQ+ older adults go back into the closet when they enter long term care as there is bullying and mistreatment from both staff and other residents. Thankfully, through PAT’s advocacy work and collaboration with other agencies, the Advancing Equity for Older Adults law (SB 1319) was enacted in 2020 which, in Kim’s words “helps older adults know they can continue to live full, authentic lives no matter where they reside or receive care.” This bill prohibits discrimination against LGBTQ+ and HIV-positive residents of long term care establishments. Illinois is the first state to include people living with HIV in its “greatest social need” definition and only the third state to include LGBTQ+ individuals. And just at the end of this legislative session in March, SB3490, Disrupting Disparities for LGBTQ+ Older Adults and Older Adults Living with HIV, was passed, requiring state-funded providers to complete LGBTQ older adult awareness and competency training, as well as the creation of the three-year Illinois Commission on LGBTQ Aging and an LGBTQ+ Advocate in the Illinois Department on Aging.
What is next for PAT? Kim has found how empowering and healing the story-telling of older LGBTQ adults is and its usefulness when advocating for specific issues. PAT is currently hosting trainings and workshops assisting them with processing their lives through their stories with other like-minded people who, Kim says “are literally cheering you on is rare for older LGBTQ adults. They just don’t get to do this much.”
One participant reflects on the impact of personal storytelling:
By talking about your experiences, you can begin to reflect on them. It also helps you reflect on the challenge of communicating with others. The way each of us understands our experience helps one appreciate the differences in sameness and the sameness in difference. We are all less simple than we appear.
Categorized under AFC news.