Lesbians Over Age Fifty celebrates its silver anniversary with a dance, a drawing, and so much more
by Nancy Ford • Photos by Dalton DeHart
The year was 1987, and the LGBT community was experiencing new visibility. Houston had more than a half-dozen Gay Pride parades under its belt. Mayor Katherine Whitmire was the city’s first upper-tier elected official with a sympathetic ear to the queers. More and more LGBT organizations and retail spaces were opening and thriving. Except for a little thing called HIV/AIDS, Houston’s emerging LGBT community was expanding, thriving, and coming out in numbers previously unseen.
At that time, Arden Eversmeyer, her partner Charlotte Avery, and a small handful of Houston lesbians in their 50s saw the need for women of similar age and circumstance to have not just a place, but a reason to come together and find themselves. That small handful of like-minded women organized, planted their flag, and became Lesbians Over Age Fifty, also known as LOAF.
Twenty-five years later, LOAF continues to provide a place and a reason for many of those same founding mothers, and many others like them.
“We identify ourselves as a social network and support system for lesbians 50 years of age and older and their partners, whatever their age,” Eversmeyer, 81, describes the group. “We try to find isolated women and bring them in, and provide a safe area for them.”
When Eversmeyer uses the word “safe,” she means more than “well-lit.”
“So many of these women are still closeted, and some of them are newly coming out. It always was a priority for us that the women could come to a place that could not be identified as a ‘gay’ place,” she explains. “For many of the women of this generation, that would just be too frightening. They just couldn’t do it.
“You know, if you spend a lifetime in a protected coloration, it’s kind of hard to drop that.”
LOAF first met at Autry House, but as word spread and membership increased, the group moved to the Multi-Service Center on West Gray Street. From there, they moved to Houston Mission Church, then to Eversmeyer and Avery’s private home. Resurgence in membership in recent years has brought LOAF’s roster to 230 women.
LOAF meets at least once a month for a gathering they call the Third Sunday Meet-N-Greet. “We used to call it the Monthly Meeting, but there just isn’t that much business that has to transpire. Not having business to do, it’s become a social event,” Eversmeyer says. “In 25 years, we’ve never missed a third Sunday meeting, someplace. Holiday or whatever—it didn’t matter. It is the one constant where women know they can find us.”
Quarterly, a speaker from a local organization delivers an educational presentation at Meet-N-Greet, now held at the LGBT Cultural Center in Montrose Counseling Center, but most of the women who attend are there to interact with each other. “It is a time to get together, socialize, meet new people, and just network with one another,” Eversmeyer explains. “That’s how we try to keep up with the people.”
Approximately 60 to 80 women attend the monthly Meet-N-Greets—“a pretty good, high percentage,” Evermeyer says.
One of the most anticipated inclusions at Meet-N-Greet is the group’s drawings and raffles. Each month, members draw for prizes like a GPS system, tool kits, wine and chocolates, and similar incentives. “We’ll have four or five little mini-drawings, and then a secondary, and then a major, instead of one huge basket going all to one person,” Eversmeyer explains. “The women feel like they have a better chance if there’s more than one ticket drawn.”
In July, LOAFers celebrate their quarter-century anniversary with a very special drawing.
“We have an absolutely gorgeous quilt,” Eversmeyer says. “It’s beautiful—it’s black, red, and white, with musical notes.”
The queen-sized, handcrafted quilt, donated by longtime LOAFer Scottie Scott, has been informally appraised at being worth $800 to $1,500. Tickets purchased by LOAF members at Meet-N-Greets for the last three consecutive months join the pot for the quilt drawing, scheduled July 15.
“There’s going to be lots of tickets in that pot!” Eversmeyer says.
Despite the sedentary image a quilt raffle may invoke, LOAF has much more planned to celebrate its 25th anniversary. LOAF has traditionally participated in Houston’s annual Pride parade, where it is always greeted enthusiastically by spectators. “Two-four-six-eight! Are you sure your grandma’s straight?” the LOAFers traditionally respond to the cheers of onlookers lining the parade route.
Further, this summer marks the return of LOAF’s monthly dance event, recently dubbed “Womyn on the Move.”
“From 1987 to 1994 we had Second Tuesday Dancing, and LOAF membership was probably around 50 to 75 women,” Eversmeyer recalls. “We would have 20 to 30 show up for dancing. We started at Kindred Spirits. When that closed, we went to Bacchus. When they closed, we went to The Ranch and Ms. B’s, then they closed.
“We ran out of women’s dance bars, is what we did,” Eversmeyer says, laughing. “Since Chances has closed, we got to talking about reviving some form of the Second Tuesday dancing thing. So we have landed, finally, at Brazos River Bottom.”
The monthly dance’s official name is now Womyn on the Move, which accurately describes LOAF’s members. “Our women still love to dance,” Eversmeyer says.
“It will be July 28 at the BRB, from 3 to 6 p.m., during daylight hours, which means it would not exclude women who would either not go out or drive at night,” Eversmeyer says. “These are things that we really need to be mindful of.
“It’s a safe environment,” Eversmeyer adds. “There will be no cover charge, and they’ll have a DJ and a bartender.”
Ensuing dances are scheduled the last Saturday afternoon of each month, with the exception of August 25 when LOAF’s membership plans to attend Kindred Spirits Foundation’s annual summer dance.
In addition to the excitement of its silver anniversary, the quilt drawing, the return of its monthly dances, and its expanded membership, LOAF has yet another reason to celebrate. For the first time in its 25-year history, LOAF received a 2012 grant of $1,000 from Bunnies on the Bayou, a local philanthropic group that funds LGBT charities.
Eversmeyer says that at this point there are no specific plans for the funds. “I think we are going to put it back for cushioning. We’ve grown so fast, we’re paying for things now that we never had to pay for.”
Other than its own membership and this one unexpected gift from the Bunnies, LOAF has no outside funders. “We’ve always been pretty much self-sustaining,” Eversmeyer says. “Because we haven’t been a service organization, we really weren’t in a good position to apply for a grant. We’ve tried to meet our own needs.”
In 25 years, members’ dues have remained unchanged, Eversmeyer says; dues and the money raised by the monthly drawings have paid LOAF’s expenses, so far. “Dues are $2 a month per woman—$24 for a single—or $36 per year for a couple,” she says.
Eversmeyer says one of the group’s main expenses is printing and mailing the monthly newsletter.
“We’re hoping we can do a partly-online newsletter and save a bundle with that.”
Looking to the future, and as the senior lesbians’ population increases, Eversmeyer expects LOAF to continue to grow and remain as vital as its membership.
“We’re tentatively trying to schedule one bus trip each quarter. We did a Coushatta trip a couple of weeks ago, and we did a trip two or three months ago to Galveston to see the tree carvings.” Potential day trips to Beaumont, as well as a bluebonnet-viewing trip, are planned for the coming months, she says.
“We’ve got two or three more trips that we’re looking at. Over in Schulenburg they’ve got some wonderful old churches!” Eversmeyer adds, expectantly.
“It’s been quite a journey that certainly has enhanced my life, I’ll tell you.”
For more information, log on to loafhouston.org.