January 19, 2017

LGBT Elders: Resilience and Inspiration

SAGEInaugurationDear Friends,

It is often said that one of the greatest measures of a society is how it treats and remembers its elders. SAGE’s commitment to an equitable world where LGBT elders are valued and have boundless opportunities is inspired by this time-honored maxim. The inauguration of our country’s 45th President is a critical moment to reiterate this message. 

Our values as a society must support and honor our elders both because their hard work and perseverance laid the foundation for all that we have today, and because we still very much need their wisdom and contributions. This is especially true for LGBT elders, whose courage in the face of danger and adversity paved the way for marked progress on LGBT equality in recent years. Our LGBT elder pioneers did not lead the movement birthed at Stonewall by being quiet and invisible. In the same vein, faced with dangerous threats on multiple fronts, LGBT elders and their advocate – SAGE – refuse to be silent and invisible now. 

We must ensure that our older generations have the support they need to age safely and with dignity and respect. Like older Americans in general, most LGBT elders rely on Social Security in order to have enough to live on during their retirement, and rely on Medicare and Medicaid for their health and long term care.  Just like other older Americans, LGBT elders rely on community services funded by the federal Older Americans Act. They rely on federal support for senior housing. They rely on the progress the federal government has encouraged through training of aging service providers and the establishment of anti-discrimination protections. These programs and protections are even more essential for elders who are LGBT, people of color and members of other diverse elder communities – all of whom are especially vulnerable due to the accumulated effects of lifetimes of discrimination and marginalization.

While our elders need and deserve our support, we need them just as much.  As we enter a threatening new era when our society’s fundamental values and commitments to each other are under attack, we need the wisdom and fortitude of our LGBT elders now more than ever. We will apply the lessons they learned through decades of hard work and struggle, using that knowledge to build a better future.  We need their creativity, their spirit, their resilience.

In the days, months and years ahead, SAGE will stand firm with our LGBT elders for a policy agenda that makes older Americans a national priority, and that ensures that LGBT elders and elders from all diverse communities are at the center of that priority. We will do everything in our power to advocate for such an agenda. We will vigorously oppose any effort to roll back progress. We will relentlessly pursue our commitment to equity for diverse elder communities.

We at SAGE are inspired and fortified by the wisdom of our elders who have lived through decades of witch hunts, brutality, criminalization, stigma, AIDS and so much more. Our elders remind us that through all of these unspeakably difficult challenges, we stood firm, spoke out, and pushed forward.  

Count on SAGE and our many supporters to continue that great tradition by standing with LGBT elders and honoring their unique voices and wisdom. This week you can find SAGE making sure LGBT elders’ voices are heard at the Women’s March in our nation’s capital, leading an elder activism institute at the national LGBT Creating Change conference in Philadelphia, and gearing up for a new initiative – SAGETable – that will connect LGBT people of every age all across the country.

Please, join us! Let’s be proud to be measured by how we treat and remember our elders.

Sincerely,

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Michael Adams

LGBT elders needing emotional support are invited to call the SAGE LGBT Elder Hotline. SAGE established the hotline to make sure that LGBT elders have support no matter where they live. Provided in partnership with the GLBT National Help Center, calls are being taken at 888-234-SAGE (7243) on Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to midnight and from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturdays.

January 18, 2017

A handful of people shouted, "You don't live here! You don't belong here!"

Story

"When I would hear these instances of egregious anti-gay harassment, I sometimes thought maybe, well this might be a little conjured up, or there may be something they're not saying."

On a conceptual level, Jim Brooks and Bob Campbell have always understood that discrimination against LGBT is a reality. And yet, they had long hard reservations about fully believing people because they hadn’t experienced it themselves. It wasn’t until Jim and Bob were confronted with homophobia through housing that they learned how pervasive, nuanced and insidious LGBT discrimination and harassment can be.

Find out how Jim and Bob battled bigotry in their Arizona neighborhood in the latest SAGE Story. Then explore resources, news and LGBT age-friendly communities with SAGE’s housing portal and interactive map.

January 17, 2017

What LGBT Seniors Stand to Lose in ACA Repeal

This post originally appeared on the Center for Consumer Engagement in Health Innovation website on January 13, 206. Read the original post here.

By Aaron Tax

This blog is part of a series to highlight the dangers of the repealing the Affordable Care Act. Multiple times a week, Community Catalyst will highlight a different constituency to draw attention to the benefits the ACA has afforded them and to outline what a loss of coverage would mean.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) older adults face many of the same health and aging challenges other older adults face, but more pronounced. As a result, they are arguably more at risk if the incoming administration and Congress repeals the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without a replacement plan and/or makes significant and harmful changes to Medicaid and Medicare.

LGBT older adults face unique risks within the health care system due to the standard issues facing an aging population combined with their sexual orientation or gender identity, such as:

  • Aging Combined with Discrimination: Similar to the older population in general, LGBT older adults face challenges with aging: declining health, diminished income, and the loss of friends and family. LGBT older adults, however, also face the added burden of actual or feared discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Many choose to go back into the closet for fear that caregivers will discriminate against them. Transgender adults, however, do not even have that option. Despite federal prohibitions on discrimination based on sex stereotyping and gender identity and the prohibition of discriminatory practices toward LGBT individuals based on health status - such as being HIV positive - built into the ACA, the sex stereotyping and gender identity protections are currently under attack in the courts, and LGBT older adults remain one of the most invisible, underserved and at-risk elder populations.
  • Isolation from Society, Services and Supports: Studies show that LGBT older adults are twice as likely to live alone; half as likely to have close relatives to call for help; and more than four times less likely to have children to help them. Nearly one-in-four LGBT older adults has no one to call in case of an emergency. At the same time, studies document that LGBT older adults access essential services – including visiting nurses, food stamps, senior centers and meal programs – much less frequently than the general aging population.
  • Lack of Access to Culturally Competent Health Care: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has found that LGBT older adults face additional health barriers because of isolation combined with a lack of access to social services and culturally competent providers. These barriers result in increased rates of depression; higher rates of alcohol and tobacco use; and lower rates of preventive screenings. 
  • Higher Rates of Poverty: LGBT older adults reflect the diversity of our nation in terms of gender, race and ethnic identity. But there is one critical statistic where they do not reflect the norm: they have much higher poverty rates and lower average household income than their straight and cis-gender counterparts. In fact, 35 percent of SAGE clients in New York City have annual pre-tax incomes below $10,000 and rely on Medicaid – a program with looming threats of block grants or per capita caps - to provide their medical care. An additional 35 percent subsist on annual pre-tax incomes of $20,000 or less and qualify for coverage under Medicaid expansion or could utilize tax credits to purchase insurance on the Marketplace. The Medicare-eligible segment of this population benefits from the ACA having lowered Medicare Part B premiums, the closing of the “donut hole” for prescription drugs, and payment and delivery reforms aimed at improving quality and the coordination of care for individuals with complex care needs.
  • HIV: As of 2015, the CDC estimates that one in two people who are HIV positive in the United States are now over 50. Yet little attention and money is targeted towards prevention for this population. One of the free preventive services covered by the ACA is HIV screening, though recommended testing in the U.S. cuts off at age 64. As a result, older adults are much more likely to be dually diagnosed with HIV and AIDS if and when they are ultimately tested.

Because of higher rates of health disparities, un-insurance, poverty and a greater reliance on programs like Medicaid and Medicare - two programs that could be facing significant retooling and subsequent funding cuts in the coming years - the protections provided by these programs and enacted in the ACA are critical for improving the quality of life for older LGBT individuals.

As we enter an uncertain time, we believe that we must do more to honor and support the LGBT elders who fought the fight and paved the way for the recent advances we have seen on LGBT rights. The least we can do is ensure that this population still has access to the foundational supports provided by the ACA, Medicaid and Medicare.

Aaron Tax, Director of Federal Government Relations, Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE)

 

January 9, 2017

Make the Most of SAGE's Housing Website with These Seven Tips

In September, SAGE launched Welcome Home, the first-of-its-kind LGBT age-friendly housing website and interactive map. This comprehensive consumer resource is designed to empower LGBT elders and those who care for them with the information they need to find safe, welcoming and affordable housing nationwide. Here are some tips for making the most of this new resource:

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1. Enroll in SAGE Housing 101.

Housing 101 isn’t an actual course but a state of mind. Want to know where LGBT age-friendly housing is being built? Curious about new options for retirement living but not sure where to start? Want to hear stories from others just like you from around the country? Need help filing a housing discrimination complaint? Watch the video below, then go to the Housing 101 page for more.

2. Know your rights.

Knowledge is power. Housing discrimination is on the rise, and it’s important for LGBT elders and those who care for them to be prepared for discrimination before it happens. See the Know Your Rights page for helpful consumer guides, including Lambda Legal’s housing FAQ for LGBT elders, then browse LGBT housing news and anti-discrimination cases across the country.

3. Keep up with the latest research.

According to SAGE’s Out and Visible report, when searching for housing, 1 in 8 LGBT older people report they have been discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientations, and 1 in 4 transgender older people report discrimination on the basis of their gender identities. Opening Doors, a report published by the Equal Rights Center, revealed that nearly half of older same-sex couples experienced at least one form of adverse differential treatment (as compared to heterosexual couples) when inquiring about housing in a senior living facility. Follow the Reports and Presentations page for research published by the nation’s leading LGBT organizations.

4. Subscribe to the SAGE blog.

Want to be the first to know about housing news, website improvements and new features? Follow the SAGE blog. Be sure to leave your comments and questions, and share on social media!

5. Read SAGE news as it happens.

Last summer, SAGE, HELP USA and BFC Partners announced the development of New York City’s first senior housing with services specifically designed for the LGBT community. Read about these developments and other SAGE housing news and see SAGE press releases for official statements.

6. Watch and share SAGE’s housing videos.

SAGE produced a series of housing videos in partnership with Citi, and features them regularly on the housing website's main page. Watch the whole series and look for new videos here.

7. Get interactive.

Now it’s easier than ever to know what’s happening in LGBT age-friendly housing with SAGE’s interactive housing map. Click a state to view housing policies and news, access culturally competent providers, and connect with organizations that can help, including SAGENet affiliates.

Still can’t find what you’re looking for? Want to suggest a new feature or submit a housing resource? Email SAGE at engagement@sageusa.org.

January 2, 2017

New Year, New SAGECare Train the Trainer


TJohnston1By Tim R. Johnston

This year I’m resolving to double my efforts to train service providers on LGBT cultural competency. From housing providers to nurses to service coordinators, it’s my job to make sure that more people know the "ins and outs" of providing services and care that are welcoming to our community. 

That’s why SAGE is growing its roster of SAGECare Certified Trainers. Beginning with in-person training and expanding to webinars and on-demand content, SAGE and SAGECare Certified Trainers have trained more than 13,000 providers in all 50 states. A series of rigorous evaluations reveals that SAGE trainings create positive changes in participants’ knowledge and attitudes about LGBT older adults and aging. SAGECare offers trained agencies the chance to earn a SAGECare-branded credential that demonstrates their commitment to LGBT older adults.

SAGECare Trainers are certified to conduct one- and four-hour in-person trainings. Trainings employ several different teaching methods to help participants develop empathy for LGBT older adults, learn about LGBT cultures, and gain the skills needed to provide culturally competent care to LGBT people. Trainings are challenging, fun, impactful and often emotional. SAGECare is a national program and SAGE invites applicants from all regions, with a special emphasis on New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Los Angeles.

Our next Train the Trainer will be in Chicago from May 23-25, 2017 – do you want to apply? More information, including information on travel costs, how much trainers are paid, and more can be found on the application.

If you can’t make the next Train the Trainer event but still want to get involved, another great option is SAGE’s National Resource Center on LGBT Aging’s Volunteer Education Ambassador program. Once approved, Volunteer Education Ambassadors are given a presentation they can use to help raise awareness about LGBT older adults and LGBT aging. Ambassadors all across the country have presented to local community groups, churches, universities and conferences.

When I conduct a training people often say, "LGBT aging—I’ve never thought about that!" Join me and help SAGE make 2017 the year that makes LGBT aging and LGBT older adults a top priority. Say it with me: "LGBT aging, yes I care about that!"

Click here to apply for SAGECare's next Train the Trainer event.

Click to explore housing resources, news and LGBT age-friendly communities with SAGE’s housing portal and interactive map.

December 30, 2016

Live Long and Prosper with George Takei

This post originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of SAGEMatters.

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Takei speaks at SAGE & Friends LA Reception in April 2016.

Q. SAGE believes that we have a responsibility to make diversity and inclusion a centerpiece of our purpose, our people and our work. You once said "diversity is one of the strengths of our society." What does that mean to you?

George Takei: In addition to strength, with diversity we become a more vibrant, engaging and humane society. The community we live in gains strength by the power of the endowments of its members, be they muscular, intellectual or innovative. We also become richer for the performing, creative and artistic talents of the people. We become more vibrant by the inclusion of people of different cultures, histories, faiths and experiences. And we become a more humane society by embracing all people in need. As we say on Star Trek, "infinite diversity in infinite combinations."

Q. How has playing a starship helmsman on television and steering public opinion in real life contributed to your career revival? Any tips for older workers out there?

Takei: In show business, there is the term "to be between engagements." I don’t like not being engaged. All my life, I have not only pursued an acting career but have also created my own 'engagements' when not gainfully employed as an actor, whether it be political activism, public service, writing or, having discovered a fascinating advance in technology, social media. I don’t understand this thing called "retirement." I think life is to be lived.

IMG_5766Q. This summer marked the one-year anniversary of the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling—what you called a "landmark day for all Americans." What do you think the next frontier is for the LGBT community?

Takei: It is the backlash to nationwide marriage equality. Just as the Voting Rights Bill, which was signed by President Lyndon Johnson back in 1965, is still being resisted by those who are trying to place obstacles to access to the ballot box for minorities, the same kind of backlash is happening with nationwide marriage equality. The totally transparent cloak for this bigotry is the cry of "freedom of religion." And the battleground now is the bathroom, of all places! But, as in Indiana and Arkansas in 2015 and North Carolina and Mississippi now, ultimately we will have to rescind their hateful laws. The struggle continues.

Q. You came to Twitter and Facebook when you were 74 and you now have millions of followers. These platforms have allowed you to push for LGBT rights across the country. You were the public face of #BoycottIndiana after the state enacted a religious freedom law that allowed people to deny services to LGBT people based on their religious beliefs. You also led another social media charge against a similar law considered in Arkansas. Do you think we are going to be fighting bills like this for the next few years?

Takei: As I said above, the struggle for access to the ballot box is still being fought more than a half century after the Voting Rights Act was signed. But I also keep in mind that Loving v. Virginia, which granted interracial marriage, was ruled in 1967. When Brad and I were married in 2008, we were barely conscious of the fact that our marriage was interracial as well as same-sex. Our marriage was less than a half-century after Loving v. Virginia. I remain an optimist.

Q. SAGE’s mission is to advance successful aging for our LGBT elders so that they can live a vibrant life. Physical health and humor are both important to you. What principles of successful aging would you say make the most difference?

Takei: There is no one magic formula. It is a combination of many qualities. Physical health and good humor are important parts. Keeping the mind and body engaged, which means exercising both regularly—ideally daily—is also essential. Eating well and in moderation is also key. An optimistic view of life is vital. I rejoice in each and every birthday. It was my grandmother’s favorite hobby. She amassed a handsome collection—104 of them. She was a cockeyed optimist. My number one tip is to find joy in each and every day. Every morning, sunny or cloudy or rainy or torrid, is a wonderful gift. Enjoy it.

Read the interview on page 16 in the Fall 2016 issue of SAGEMatters.

December 20, 2016

Digital Activism Brings Elders into the Fold

This post originally appeared on Diverse Elders Coalition blog on December 13, 2016. Read the original post here.

By Jenna McDavid

Earlier this week, I attended a virtual town hall hosted by ColorOfChange.org, which brought together hundreds of people from around the world to learn and share the many ways in which communities of color will be pushing back against unfavorable changes in the political and social climate of this country. I was really inspired by the collective power of so many activists, advocates, allies, and community members getting together – without having to leave their houses! – to strategize and support one another. I also noticed that during the town hall, as participants were typing and chatting with each other, that a number of people identified themselves as Baby Boomers or Elders who wanted to get more involved in the fights to protect their communities. One person note that she is homebound and unable to volunteer outside of her house or participate in protests, but still wanted to take part in the movements that are shaping our future.

The Diverse Elders Coalition launched our civic engagement campaign earlier this year with that very goal in mind: getting elders of all ages, identities, classes, abilities, and locations involved with the programs and processes that impact their lives. We collected nearly 5,000 comments from individuals in all 50 states about the unique and unmet needs of American Indian/Alaska Native elders, Asian American, Pacific Islander American and Native Hawaiian elders, Black and African American elders, Hispanic elders, and LGBTQ elders. Those comments were submitted to the Administration for Community Living (ACL) along with a statement from our coalition, urging the ACL to incorporate our findings from these comments into their planning guidance for aging programs.

This campaign has been so inspiring to me, not only because of the incredible impact of our communities working together, but also because of how many people we were able to engage. Our members submitted comments both in-person and via the Internet; materials were distributed and comments were collected in six different languages, including English, Spanish, Korean, Mandarin, Vietnamese, and Hmong. And it wasn’t just elders who shared their stories with us: children, grandchildren, caregivers, and community activists also told us about the needs of the older adults in their lives. When we pool our resources and collaborate with each other, anything is possible.

Which brings me back to this virtual town hall that I had joined. It’s not always easy for people to get out of their homes and pound the pavement, particularly older adults in our communities, who may live alone, have difficulty accessing transportation, and/or struggle with illness or disability. But there are so many opportunities for us to connect through the internet. We are seeing proposals from members of Congress that will negatively impact our communities: large-scale deportation of immigrants, a Muslim registry, repeal of the Affordable Care Act, cuts to Medicare and Social Security. Our coalition will continue to push back against policies that hurt elders of color, American Indian/Alaska Native elders, and LGBT elders, and we will work to find innovative ways – including through phone- and internet-based advocacy – to get elders involved in these fights as well. After all, more older adults than ever are using the internet and social media to stay connected. Why not stay connected to community organizing and political advocacy efforts, too?

Some of our member organizations have already begun to do this. For example, the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) is hosting a series of monthly community calls, which bring together people from anywhere in the country to talk about the issues that impact Southeast Asian Americans. Anyone can join; all you need is internet access and a phone. And as we head into 2017, the Diverse Elders Coalition will want to connect our partners and community members with their Congressional representatives as well as with each other to ensure that we have as many voices as possible speaking up for the needs of diverse older adults.

For more information, contact the Diverse Elders Coalition here.

December 14, 2016

Why Mary’s House? (Again.)

This post originally appeared on Diverse Elders Coalition blog on September 29, 2016. Read the original post here.

 

Click to explore housing resources, news and LGBT age-friendly communities with SAGE’s housing portal and interactive map.

 

By Dr. Imani Woody

People often ask me, “Why do we need a place for LGBT older people to live? Don’t we have enough nursing homes and retirement homes for them to use?”

So I often share the story of John, a well-to-do gay elder who was found deceased — in his welcoming, upscale retirement complex. He had stopped going to church. He had stopped playing cards and going to the clubs. He had stopped interacting with his friends.

Or I sometimes share the sorrow of my older friend, Helen, who after the death of her partner, was asked by her partner’s siblings to leave the home they shared. And how she now lives with her brother, who “harasses me for my gay lifestyle.”

Aging as a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or same-gender loving (LGBTQ/SGL) person can bring different challenges than aging as a mainstream elder. Often, we don’t have the same support network of children and spouses — or the caregiving and financial support that they provide; we may be estranged from our families of origin; we have lost many of our peers and our friends through the HIV/AIDS epidemic; and we, as a group, are more likely to live alone. In addition, research is verifying what many of us have known for a while: that the stigma and discrimination associated with being old and being LGBTQ/SGL can be just too hard. It can be so hard, in fact, that many of us go back into the closet. As we begin to access the senior/wellness centers, retirement complexes and nursing homes, this fear of discrimination makes us unable to be our whole selves, increasing the potential of drug and alcohol addiction, neglect of our health issues, depression, and suicide. Increased social isolation among LGBTQ/SGL elders is at an all-time high.

Mary’s House for Older Adults, Inc. was organized to create welcoming environments for LGBTQ/SGL elders in their golden years. Our first major initiative is building a physical residence in Washington, DC for fifteen elders. However, we acknowledge that we cannot build enough LGBTQ/SGL welcoming spaces for all of the people who will need them. So, our mission also includes training and education for the staff and residents of existing spaces: senior wellness centers, retirement complexes and nursing homes that serve and house us. We also are involved in public policy advocacy that impacts LGBTQ/SGL older adults and elders locally and nationally. We invite you to join our small, mighty band of supporters and volunteers and help us CHANGE our city and the country, one residence, one elder at  a time! Feel free to reach out to me at info@maryshousedc.org to learn more about how to get involved. I look forward to hearing from you!

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.

December 1, 2016

Where Bigotry is Denied Entrance—Fighting HIV/AIDS Stigma in Housing

By Pat Lin

On this World AIDS Day, it’s important to commemorate how far we’ve come since the HIV/AIDS pandemic started. HIV isn’t the death sentence it used to be, but many long-term survivors of HIV continue to pay an emotional, physical and financial toll. In addition to managing the disease, HIV survivors still face stigma. As they get older and the effects of the disease compound the challenges of aging, they become more vulnerable. As the nation’s largest and oldest organization serving LGBT older adults, SAGE seeks to eradicate the stigma around HIV and to create welcoming spaces for long-term HIV survivors.

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"Peaceful Moment" by Lester Blum and Vladimir Rios from the I Still Remember exhibit on HIV/AIDS

When seeking specialized housing in a supportive and nonjudgmental environment, long-term HIV survivors, LGBT or not, face a huge hurdle. According to a 2014 poll conducted by SAGE, 1 in 8 LGBT adults and 1 in 4 transgender adults report experiencing discrimination in housing and long-term care environments. In an article addressing HIV stigma in housing options, Hilary Meyer, SAGE’s Director of Social Enterprise and Special Projects, said, "We certainly have experiences with hearing stories about caregivers not understanding how to work with HIV, appalling things such as concerns with contact. There's still very much a stigma and misinformation."

SAGE is working to create comfortable and inclusive environments for long-term HIV survivors. Last summer SAGE announced that two new LGBT age-friendly senior housing developments would be built in New York City. Along with these two developments in Brooklyn and the Bronx, SAGE is spearheading nationwide advocacy efforts against discrimination in housing. "The number one issue for our constituency is affordable housing," said Meyer. "Having a long-term disability just compounds the issue. It limits where they can live." Yet housing construction alone is not enough to solve the problem. As SAGE’s Director of Federal Government Relations Aaron Tax said, "We can’t build our way out of this. The wider housing stock has to be either affordable and/or targeted low-income, and be welcoming…If you're in New York City, perhaps you can get into an LGBT-targeted building, but there are plenty of people who won't be able to get into a building like that."

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Ingersoll Senior Residences in Brooklyn (L) and Crotona Senior Residencies in the Bronx

Who one lives with is just as important as where. Open, compassionate and culturally competent providers and staff who understand the specific needs of LGBT older adults and long-term HIV survivors are crucial to creating supportive environments. This is why SAGE started SAGECare, a training and consulting program on LGBT aging for service providers. SAGECare offers cultural competency training for all levels of employees, personalized consulting on LGBT aging issues, and full audits on LGBT-inclusive policies, procedures and best practices. Providers can earn Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum SAGECare credentials to signal their commitment to the best person-directed care for LGBT older adults.

Said one SAGE constituent, "I want to feel safe, housed in a place where bigotry is denied entrance." Long-term HIV survivors and LGBT elders deserve that safe space, and it’s up to people and organizations like SAGE to make sure that it happens.

November 30, 2016

Yet We Rise: Remembering to Fight on Transgender Day of Remembrance—and Every Day

TDoR2

By Pat Lin

Renée Imperato, lifelong transgender activist and SAGE participant, began the closing of SAGE’s Transgender Day of Remembrance ceremony with a wry yet passionate call to action. “Greetings to my collaborators in the enlightenment of the human condition,” Imperato said. “That should cover it. At least 5 genders of the Native People.” Sniffles and solemn faces filled the room, but the transgender elders present insisted on fighting as well as mourning, moving forward as well as remembering.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance was started by trans advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith as a vigil to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed in 1998. The vigil commemorated all the trans people lost to violence that year — an important memorial that later became the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Facilitated by Applied Theatre coordinators Christian Appel and Shanti Rose, the SAGE community used practices of ritual, performance and community organizing to plan this year’s ceremony. “All the ideas we had coming this year came directly from trans women,” said Appel. “We tried to make as many decisions be up to them. That is critical.”

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The ceremony began with readings of the biographies of those lost to violence. Participants discussed at length the themes they wanted to explore. Topics ranged from heavy to hopeful, from suicide as another prominent form of violence within the transgender community, to a reading of trans milestones in 2016.

As participants rose to give thanks, prayers, dedications and affirmations, mentions of the recent election permeated the room. Though worried, participants remained upbeat. “We have the 2nd man in charge who believes in conversion therapy. Well, I’ve converted,” participant Victoria Rose proclaimed to uproarious laughter. “And then we also have transitional therapy. Well I’ve transitioned, honey. I want you to humor me. We’re celebrating these people’s lives. Let’s not cry because I see myself in each and everybody here.”

The ceremony ended on a striking note with a fiery call to action. Imperato invoked the names of pioneering trans activists, such as Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Leslie Feinberg and more. She emphasized the intersectional component that’s so important to genuine progress, and mentioned the growing number of trans women of color in leadership positions. “If we don’t have that, we'll never be free. You’ll never be free until you shed free the chains of oppression that chain us all but they just chain people of color even more. Justice is coming. Oh, it’s coming. And when she gets here she’s going to be pissed off. So don’t mourn! Don’t cry! Fight back!”