By Caitlin Connelly

Imagine an online LGBT senior center. What would that look like and how would it serve visitors?

These are questions on Shiva Prasad’s mind. The third-year gerontology PhD student at UMass Boston recently presented preliminary research findings on the subject at the LGBT Elders in an Ever Changing World conference in Salem, Mass.

Nearly 200 people attended the one-day conference held to discuss the needs and desires of older adults and caregivers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Organizations helping put on the event included the LGBT Aging Project, North Shore Elder Services and the Over the Rainbow LGBT Coalition, Salem State University School of Social Work, Care Dimensions, and AARP Massachusetts.

Prasad presented preliminary research findings at one of more than a dozen workshops at the conference.

The idea of the online center initially came up after Prasad’s first year as a PhD student, while interviewing for an internship at the LGBT Aging Project at Fenway Health. During that conversation Prasad said “it’s a crazy idea but it would be nice to have a one-stop online shop where LGBT older adults could reach out and get services they needed.”

The idea wasn’t crazy, but too ambitious for a summer internship. Still, it was a start.

Prasad’s internship guide at the LGBT Aging Project helped make a connection with Alice Fisher and Michael Immel, members of the Stonewall Seniors special interest group for LGBT older adults at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UMass Boston. The Stonewall Seniors had been thinking along similar lines and created a web page for LGBT older adults but questioned how to help it gain greater traction and better service its audience.

With the aid of UMass Boston associate professor Kathrin Boerner, Prasad teamed up with Fisher and Immel, as well as the LGBT Aging Project and Partners Healthcare, to begin answering questions of how to create the ideal online LGBT senior center. They designed a qualitative study that involved focus groups across Massachusetts to understand what LGBT older adults would want from this virtual meeting ground.

Their research is ongoing but is beginning to show that there are significant needs and desires for this online safe space where LGBT older adults can communicate with one another.