October 24, 2014

The Disease That Defined My Generation

Perry Halkitis Photo1SAGE is honored to have Perry N. Halkitis, Ph.D., M.P.H., Professor of Applied Psychology, Public Health and Population Health, NYU, as our keynote speaker for this year’s annual SAGENet affiliate meeting. Dr. Halkitis will be talking about Survival and Resilience: How the Experiences of Long Term Survivors Inform the Delivery of Care for Adults Aging with HIV. His post below was originally featured on The Huffington Post on September 25, 2014.

PBS recently aired a documentary, The Boomer List, examining the life stories and experiences of those born in the United Sates between 1946 and 1964. According to these parameters, I too am a baby boomer having been born in 1963. But despite this chronological reality, I have never felt any particular kinship or connection with the baby boomer generation, a sense that was validated as I listened to the interviews of most of those who were depicted in the documentary.

The ideas of historians William Strauss and Neil Howe provide ample explanation for why I feel the way that I do. Beginning with their seminal work Generations, Strauss and Howe postulated a framework for delineating generations that has less to do with historical intervals defined by years than by the shared sensibilities. In their view, a generation shares age location in history. Those who constitute a generation experience significant historical events, social trends, and other phenomena while in similar developmental period of their lives. Because of these experiences, members of a generation are shaped throughout the course of their lives by these elements that they encounter during their childhoods an/or emerging and young adulthoods. In this perspective, I am a member of Generation X and not a baby boomer. That seems right to me.

But my point has less to do with my being a baby boomer or member of Gen X than it does with me being a member of another generation -- the AIDS Generation. For those of us who came or were coming of age during the late 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, our experiences were shaped by this epidemic that was devastating our country and taking countless lives. All of us who came of age at the time are members of the AIDS Generation -- men and women, gay and straight, HIV-positive and HIV-negative. Whether we experienced the epidemic front and center in cities such as New York or Los Angeles or whether we watched it from afar in news accounts in our small hometowns, this disease defined our formative years and is forever embedded in our consciousness.

I explore these ideas in my book, The AIDS Generation: Stories of Survival and Resilience, in which I document the life experience of 15 gay men who are long-term survivors of the epidemic. For gay men of my generation, in particular, this disease has left its inedible mark and has defined our lives for the last three decades. In the book I write:

Many of my generation entered our teens and young adulthood in this historical period of the 1970s and 1980s with a sense of confidence and zeal due to the efforts of our predecessors, the Stonewall generation--who spent years hiding their identity--demanding their rights and easing the path for us. We had also the energy of the civil rights and women's rights movements to support us. This is not to say that we came into our own with ease and without fear. Many of us still remained in our closet throughout our high school years for fear of being found out to be a faggot. Still, the promise for sexual freedom and sexual expression existed within our grasp. Little were we to know that we would become the AIDS Generation, and that within a decade this deadly disease would destroy our physical, emotional, and social lives. I know this because I am part of the AIDS Generation (p.5)

Some 33 years after the initial diagnosis of HIV in the United Sates and with hundreds of thousands deaths of gay men in the last three decades, the disease that defined my generation continues to afflict us. In 2010, 72 percent of all new HIV infections were among gay and bisexual men, and those entering their formative years nowadays continue to do battle with this disease. It is true that some conditions in the lives of gay men have improved in the last three decades. We now have effective treatments to fight HIV infection, the use of an HIV antiviral in the form of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) provides us with another powerful tool in our arsenal to prevent the disease from spreading, and historic legislation enacted over the last several years has enhanced our civil rights and protections. Be that as it may, this disease continues to haunt us and negatively impact our lives.

On September 27th as we acknowledge the National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, it is time for all of us to take stock and band together socially, politically, and emotionally to demand an end to the AIDS epidemic -- an idea espoused by progressive leaders such as New York's governor, Andrew Cuomo.

I am a member of the AIDS Generation. And unless we continue to fight this disease on all fronts and enhance and protect the health of gay men, my generation is only the first of many generations of gay men who will continue to battle this despicable disease.

Follow Perry N. Halkitis, Ph.D., M.P.H. on Twitter:www.twitter.com/DrPNHalkitis

                                                                                                                                                                                                    

October 23, 2014

An Ounce of Prevention: Why Adult Vaccinations Are Important

AdultVaccinations_flyer-1Accessing healthcare is complicated for many people, but LGBT older adults face a specific set of concerns and challenges. For example, according to SAGE’s new report, Out & Visible, 40% of LGBT people in their 60’s and 70’s say their healthcare providers don’t know their sexual orientations—which can lead to poorer health outcomes.

SAGE and Pfizer are collaborating to help improve the health of LGBT older people with a series of “Lunch and Learn” events at the SAGE Center. Our debut event focused on Adult Vaccinations—a critical component to staying healthy. After the event, we chatted with presenter Chris Nguyen, Pharm.D., a pharmacist with Duane Reade specializing in assisting HIV and Hepatitis C patients. Read the interview, and check out our online fact sheet, to learn more!

Thanks for taking the time to talk, Chris! Your presentation prompted a lot of great questions, which was so encouraging. Can we start by talking about why adult vaccinations aren’t as commonly understood as those given to children, and what we can do to change that?

Well, I think we don’t talk about it much in the media because it’s not sensational—Ebola is more sensational! If you are a doctor you’re mostly talking about vaccines to people in the risk groups. It should have more coverage than it does.

Some people don’t believe in vaccinations—there are misconceptions. Your personal belief can be rooted in fact or misconception, so actually convincing the patient is a factor as well.

Big pharmacies help get the word out and they get the communities involved, but even so we need more education along with the promotion -- besides the flu shot because that happens every year. Pharmacists can educate individual patients on the vaccines appropriate for them.

You outlined four key reasons why adult vaccinations are critical, in your presentation. Can you share them?

Well, first, vaccines help prevent morbidity associated with the disease. In some cases these diseases can actually be fatal.

Second, to prevent outbreaks. We don’t have measles and mumps epidemics anymore because we have vaccines. Meningitis is a great example of this, especially among men who have sex with men.

 

Third, it costs much less to prevent a disease than to treat it.

Fourth, to protect the people around you and not just you. If you don’t believe in vaccines, think about the people you love.

Most people are aware of the flu shot, but what are some lesser-known important vaccines?

The meningitis vaccine is an important one recommended to certain populations, particularly men who have sex with men. But one of the most important that’s recommended across the board is the pneumonia vaccine. A new recommendation was released last month which says that people 65+, irregardless of your immune function status or chronic health conditions, should get both available types of vaccine for this disease—Prevnar and Pneumovax.

People who are under 65 and not immunocompromised but have chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, asthma, or are smokers, should get just one type of the vaccine for pneumonia—the pneumovax.

What are some special considerations for LGBT older people in terms of getting vaccinated?

As you get older, your immune system will wane. As an LGBT person, you may be at higher risk for some things. For sexually active MSM, the Hepatitis A & B vaccines would be good, as well as the vaccine for meningitis.

LGBT older people have to deal with certain social issues, too, which may reduce adequate access to care, which makes them more vulnerable.

October 21, 2014

Tulsa Two Spirit Society Leader, John Hawk Co-Cke’, to present at SAGENet Annual Meeting

Wakomontanasideprofilecroppedpic2011We are thrilled to announce that John Hawk Co-Cke’ will provide an introduction to Two Spirit People at our upcoming annual meeting of SAGENet Leaders at the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma—home of Oklahomans for Equality.

SAGENet affiliates provide services and programs to LGBT older people in their local communities and they also work on city and state advocacy to ensure that public policies better support the needs of LGBT elders. This 2-day training and networking event bringing together established and emerging leaders from SAGENet affiliates to exchange ideas about LGBT aging programs and to discuss how federal policy affects their local work.

The Two Spirit People by John Hawk Co-Cke’ with information provided from “The Spirit and the Flesh” by Walter L. Williams

Native Americans have often held intersex, androgynous people, feminine males and masculine females in high respect. The most common term to define such persons today is to refer to them as “Two-Spirit” people, but in the past feminine males were sometimes referred to as “berdache” by early French explorers in North America, who adapted a Persian word “bardaj”, meaning an intimate male friend.

Native Americans focused on their spiritual gifts. American Indian traditionalists, even today tend to see a person’s character as a reflection of their spirit. Since everything that exists is thought to come from the spirit world, androgynous or transgender persons are seen as doubly blessed, having both the spirit of a man and the spirit of a woman. Thus they are honored for having two spirits, and are seen as more spiritually gifted than the typical masculine male or feminine female.

Therefore, many Native American religions, rather than stigmatizing such persons, often looked to them as religious leaders and teachers. The Two Spirited persons were also Name Givers, Healers, fortune tellers, Sexual teachers, master craftsman, powerful warriors, and considered a Gift from the Creator.

Because of this tradition of respect, in the 90’s many gay and Lesbian Native American Activists in the United States and Canada rejected the French word berdache in favor of the term Two-Spirit people to describe themselves. Many non-American Indians have incorporated knowledge of Native American Two Spirit traditions into their increasing acceptance of same-sex love, androgyny and transgender diversity. Native American same-sex marriages have been used as a model for legalizing same-sex marriages and the spiritual gifts of androgynous persons have started to become more recognized.

John Hawk Co-Cke’ is an HIV Prevention Specialist with the Muscogee-Creek TCE/HIV Project. He is a Certified Anger Management Specialist and Leader of the Tulsa Two-Spirit Society. He recently became an ordained minister because, as he says, “We’re going to be having a lot of gay marriages coming up in Oklahoma!!” He is a member of the Osage and Peoria Tribes of Oklahoma and is of Creek Nation heritage.                  

 

October 14, 2014

SAGE’S Firm Commitment to Diversity

In Fall 2013, SAGE launched a visionary strategic plan to guide its work over the next three years on behalf of LGBT older people. Among several top priority mandates, such as growing SAGE’s national impact and expanding best practices in aging services, we committed ourselves to a new campaign to decisively strengthen SAGE’s diversity and inclusion efforts. As aptly described in our strategic blueprint, “SAGE will integrate diversity and inclusion strategies into all of our internal and external functions. We’ll also develop culturally competent service models that target more vulnerable elders, and we’ll share this learning with our peers in the aging and LGBT field.”

This summer, we wrote and in-depth article in SAGEMatters about the importance of this mandate, as well as how SAGE has historically worked to address exclusion and create community for all LGBT older people.

Additionally, in early June SAGE's board of directors enacted a diversity statement that's meant to solidify and guide SAGE's work on diversity and inclusion. The statement reads:

“SAGE believes that we have a responsibility to make the principles of diversity and inclusion a centerpiece of our purpose, our people and our work. Such principles will:

  • Allow us to continually grow our relevance to SAGE’s stakeholders in a diverse world;
  • Utilize the contributions of diverse individuals to strengthen all aspects of SAGE’s work, as the country’s leader on LGBT aging;
  • Provide us with a larger pool of shared understanding, thus enabling us to make better decisions; and
  • Increase our ability to recognize our biases, and thus reducing the likelihood that we will be influenced by those biases.

SAGE is committed to the principles of diversity and inclusion in providing services to our constituencies; in creating our Board; in hiring, training and advancing our staff and volunteers: and in all that we do.

SAGE will ensure that our commitment to the principles of diversity and inclusion is realized by:

  • Incorporating the principles of diversity and inclusion in all aspects of SAGE, including its Board, staff, programs, and initiatives,
  • Holding ourselves accountable to our principles of diversity and inclusion by establishing and monitoring measurable outcomes, and
  • Sharing our commitment to diversity and inclusion so that our actions create greater understanding of the importance and benefits of diversity and inclusion, and in doing so, demonstrate SAGE’s commitment as a role model for the LGBT and aging communities, and beyond.”

Read this statement and access additional SAGE resources related to diversity and inclusion.

 

The White House Highlights Challenges/Opportunities for Addressing HIV/AIDS among Gay and Bi Men

Photo 1
Aaron Tax, Director of Federal Relations, SAGE and Daniel W. Tietz Chief Special Services Officer Office of the Commissioner, NYC Human Resources Administration

Today's post is written by Aaron Tax, SAGE's SAGE’s Director of Federal Government Relations.

On September 26, 2014, in recognition of National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, the Office of National AIDS Policy hosted a conference at the White House entitled “HIV among Gay and Bisexual Men: FOCUS. ACTION. IMPACT.”

Why this focus? As the White House stated, “In the United States, gay and bisexual men of all races and ethnicities continue to account for 63% of all new HIV infections. The National HIV/AIDS Strategy unequivocally states that “the United States cannot reduce the number of HIV infections nationally without better addressing HIV among gay and bisexual men.”’

Given this challenge, the goal of the meeting was to create actual actions steps the White House and federal agencies could take to address the epidemic and implement by the end of the Administration.

By next year, one in two people who are HIV positive will be over the age of 50. This population has higher poverty rates than their counterparts and remains more socially isolated. Yet, neither the aging network nor HIV-serving organizations have all the necessary technical skills, resources, knowledge, or general cultural competency and capacity to work with this population. Aside from an NIH working group focusing on increasing research in this area, no federal agency currently targets interventions at this population.

So as always, SAGE worked to bring an aging lens to the conversation, to highlight the lack of government action on this front.

We co-hosted a break-out session with Dan Tietz, Chief Special Services Officer, Office of the Commissioner, New York City Human Resources Administration, where we specifically focused on HIV and aging – and where we discussed a) how improve care, services, and supports for this population, and b) how to improve testing rates.

Fortuitously, next year, the White House will be hosting the White House Conference on Aging, which presents a great opportunity for the White House to specifically address the unique needs of this population and the need for the government to address the challenges raised at this day-long summit.

We look forward to working with the Administration to see a day when we have universal testing; better data collection; targeted prevention; research interventions; and targeted services and supports for older adults with and at risk for HIV.

 

October 10, 2014

A Quick Chat with Rubin Gonzalez

Our monthly “Quick Chats” with SAGE participants offer a first-person perspective on our community.  This month, we spoke with Rubin Gonzalez, a 59-year-old artist whose wide-ranging interests include sculpture, jewelry-making and painting. Despite his struggle with cancer, Rubin is staying active. Recently, his work has been on view at the Casa Frela Gallery in Harlem, and was included as part of the Harlem Art Walking Tour.

Rubin_gonzalezBlogThanks for taking the time to speak with me, Rubin. Can you tell me how you first came to SAGE?

I was hoping to get help with computer skills, and I met Reyno Francisco [a SAGE social worker] and he was a helpful and very positive person. I like people who express an emotional connection to their job—he did that. Then Tom Weber [SAGE’s Director of Care Management] contacted Lawrence Rodriguez, who owns the Casa Frela Gallery, and he wanted six pieces of my art!

That’s fantastic! When did you start making art?

My art comes from poverty. I was ten when my dad died, and I was one of ten kids. I didn’t have toys, so I said ‘let me make my own.’ I carved an elephant out of soap in grade school, and the teachers at my school started buying them. So I said ‘ooh I can make money doing this!’

My brothers used to tease me and call me ‘big head’ and ‘martian’, etc. But then I realized I have something they didn’t have. My artistic skills got me noticed. So I kept pursuing it.

You’ve done many different kinds of art, is that right?

Yes, I’ve done sculpture and painting and I’ve cut glass and cast silver. I’ve also done upholstery, made my own clothes, jewelry, and leather bags. My teachers always told me to specialize, and I said “No I can’t, I love everything!” People tell me, “Your work is good, but it looks like ten different people did it!”

My “Harlem Heroes Collectibles” was my first attempt at a business. They were wearable art representing Sojourner Truth, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others.

I also did a series of self-portraits at age 40—me and me alter egos—me as a white guy, me as a Black guy, as a martian, as a cyborg, and as an Aztec  king.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I’m an optimistic artist. I work with what I have. Garbage, to me, is like art—I see something different in objects than other people. At Casa Frela I am showing sculptures based on Native American and African American tribal headdresses. It was a challenge to replicate them in miniature.

And what does this show at Casa Frela mean for you?

This is like an answer to a prayer.  I am very interested in my legacy, since I’m living with terminal cancer, and my partner of 29 years, Rafael, passed away in May. To give myself purpose, I’m focusing on preserving my artwork. 

You’ve struggled a lot recently.  I’m so sorry about the loss of your partner. I’m really moved by your strength, and I can’t wait to see your show!

Thank you!My legacy is my motivator right now. I want to give my artwork a home, and make people happy.

 

October 8, 2014

New National Study: Five Things You Should Know About Aging and LGBT People

Today’s post is from Robert Espinoza, Senior Director for Public Policy and Communications at SAGE. It was originally featured on The Huffington Post. Follow Robert on Twitter.

Much has been written about the growing number of older people in this country (as the baby boom generation rapidly ages), as well as the incremental shift in favorable policies and attitudes toward certain segments of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) population. However, less public attention has been placed on the intersection of these two trends: how LGBT people experience aging, beginning in midlife all the way through later life.

BLOGCovernew research reportOut and Visible: The Experiences and Attitudes of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Older Adults, Ages 45-76—sheds new light on these issues. Based on a 2014 nationally representative study of more than 1,800 LGBT people and more than 500 non-LGBT people, Out and Visible extensively describes how LGBT people feel and experience areas such as healthcare, finance and retirement, support systems, housing and more. The study was commissioned bySAGE and led by Harris Poll.

Here are five things this new study reveals about LGBT older people’s experiences with aging.

1. LGBT older people are concerned about their financial futures and feeling that they need to work much further into later life.  Moreover, many LGBT older people rely largely on their own knowledge and education for retirement planning.

According to this new study, 42 percent of LGBT older people are very or extremely concerned that they will outlive the money they have saved for retirement, as compared to 25 percent of non-LGBT people; and half of all single LGBT older believe they will need to work well beyond retirement age. These findings speak to the importance of public policies that protect and support employment among LGBT people, as well as the critical role that financial planning has on one’s retirement outlook (as two solutions). Additionally, single LGBT people have different needs than partnered LGBT people that merit specific attention (among other characteristics explored in this study).

2. LGBT older people report fearing that if their sexual orientations and gender identities become known by healthcare or long-term care providers, as two examples, they will experience judgment, discrimination and inferior care.

Out and Visible notes that 43 percent of single LGBT older people and 40 percent of LGBT older people age 60 and older say their healthcare providers don't know about their sexual orientations. Two-thirds (65 percent) of transgender older adults fear that they will experience limited access to healthcare as they age. Prior research has documented significant health disparities among LGBT older people, spurred by a combination of poor healthcare access and the stressors of stigma and discrimination. In contrast, candid communication between LGBT people and their providers could play a role in improving their quality of care and ultimately, their overall health and well-being.

3. The support networks of LGBT older people are shrinking, and the housing outlook for many LGBT older people isn't optimistic either.

This new study reveals that 40 percent of LGBT older people report that their support networks have become smaller over time, as compared to 27 percent of non-LGBT people. Additionally, one in eight (13%) LGBT people and one in four (25%) transgender people say they have been discriminated against when searching for housing on the basis of their sexual orientations and gender identities, respectively. Secure housing and a supportive network of friends are essential to all people as they age, especially in preventing poverty and social isolation—yet this study shows that LGBT people might be compromised in this regard.

4. LGBT people are diverse and not a monolith—and this study reveals distinct differences that are relevant to providers, government and the broader private sector.

Two notable examples from this study. According to this study, African American LGBT older people are three times as likely as White or Hispanic LGBT older people to say that people from their churches or faith are part of their support systems. Moreover, transgender older people tend to be more worried about being a burden to their loved ones (48% vs. 32%), and knowing where they will live as they grow older (42% vs. 27%) than their cisgender (non-transgender) peers. The study shows additional differences across income, age, relationship status and more.

5. LGBT older people aspire to take on many of the same activities as their non-LGBT peers—yet this study shows that LGBT people are more likely to want to serve as mentors and many fear what might transpire with these options if their sexual orientations and gender identities become known.

According to the study, LGBT and non-LGBT older people cite similar interests for their retirement years: taking part in leisure activities, travel, volunteering, starting a hobby, working part-time and joining social groups. However, key differences also emerged. According to the study, LGBT older people are twice as likely as non-LGBT older people to envision themselves mentoring others (14% vs. 7%). Also, one in four (27%) LGBT older people and one in three (33%) transgender older people feels that work or volunteer activities will not be open to him/her if others know about his/her sexual orientation and gender identity, respectively. 

This study builds on a growing body of research over the last few years that has increasingly, though insufficiently, studied aging concerns among LGBT older people.The report also offers a host of recommendations for leaders in the public and private sectors, most of which are largely centered on the importance of becoming more responsive to the diversity of LGBT people as they age. We’re all aging, regardless of where we fall on the age spectrum, and we deserve to age into systems that enrich our lives, not hinder them.  In this sense, we can all play a role in building a more equitable society.

October 2, 2014

First Comes Love

Storytelling is an integral part of SAGE's national work and we use our SAGE Story program to strengthen the storytelling skills—and draw on the unique life experiences of—LGBT older adults to diversify the public narratives on aging, long-term care and LGBT rights. One storyline that continues to resonate in our community is that of love, committment and, sometimes, marriage.

In honor of celebrating these relationships, SAGE is excited for the release of First Comes Love: Portraits of Enduring LGBTQ Relationships from photographer Barbara Proud. This book highlights photos and love stories of 65 long-term same-sex couples, together from 10 to 59 years. Watch the trailer below for a few of these couples' amazing stories and feel free to share your own with SAGE

First Comes Love from B. Proud on Vimeo.

September 23, 2014

A Quick Chat with Natalie Kenvin

SAGE offers hundreds of programs every month, throughout the country. Our monthly “Quick Chats” with SAGE participants offer a first-person perspective on these programs, and a little more insight into the remarkable people who make up our community. This month, we spoke with Natalie Kenvin, a 72- year-old Chicago resident who has been a SAGE participant through Chicago’s Center on Halsted for about four years.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Natalie. When did you first become aware of SAGE, and how are you involved?

About four years ago. I walk through the door [of the Center on Halsted] and all pretenses are gone—it feels like a second home. I’m part of the Senior Action Group there. I’d like to see a little more activist presence, so I’m building a link between the Center on Halsted and local activist communities. I’m trying to get people more involved with the Jane Addams Senior Caucus [a senior activist organization in Chicago].


Natalie


What kinds of issues are you working on?

Well, through the Jane Addams Caucus we are trying to get an ordinance passed to better regulate federal housing money in Chicago, to improve access to housing for low-income seniors. We have more than 13,000 people waiting for low-income housing in Chicago! When Cabrini-Green [the Cabrini-Green Public Housing Project, now demolished] came down, everyone was promised housing. But they never got anything. People who are not people of color, and who are middle class, don’t have this problem.

That’s amazing! Housing is such a critical issue for people across the country right now. Can we get to know you a bit better? Where are you from originally?

I was born in Philadelphia, but my family moved frequently. We lived in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Canada, and Michigan—Detroit. It was an intellectual family but also one that was violent.

When I hit adolescence we were living in a run-down area in Detroit, but I was going to a kind of snobby girls’ school. During that time I really exploded sexually, and my grades started to slide. So my parents took me to psychologists who gave me two diagnoses: depression and gender confusion. I ended up being hospitalized in a state institution. I remember a psychologist saying, ‘I bet you spend all your time playing basketball with the boys!’ I was totally uninterested in basketball!

But then I caught a break. The psychologist changed and the person I got was a wonderful man. He layed off of the ‘gender confusion’. I had taken a test to see whether you were gender-confused and I saw the result [in my file]. It said “Patient is Pathologically Female”! It had questions like, “I like to wear flowered dresses—true or false?”

[Natalie and I both cracked up at the thought of this]

My parents would visit and they’d get so upset. The doctor said to me, ‘you’re not going to see them and you’re not going back to that—you’re going to college.’ I went to Wayne State in Detroit.

And you went on to have relationships with women, men, or both?

With women and men. When this came up, I thought I must be the worst person in the world. That I must be crazy—‘I’m attracted to women and men!’ I thought of it as a pathology. I married a man early on and when that began to disintegrate I began relationships with women.

Are you in a relationship now?

No. I wish! I have a girlfriend but she doesn’t want to make it a sexual relationship. When she said that I thought ‘Oh dash it all!’ She is a lovely, positive, life-loving woman. She’s my age and came from a background like mine. We are both bisexual. When we first met she said ‘I have something to tell you—I’m bisexual.’ And I said ‘me too!’ we laughed and high-fived. 

And what about work—are you currently working, or are you retired?

I taught English; my degrees are in Comp Lit. I won an NEA award for my writing [in 1995]. I've worked less since I’ve been ill in recent years but now I’m feeling better and having a bit of a renaissance.

You are doing amazing work! I wish you the best of luck. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your story, Natalie!

Thank you!

--Posted by Kira Garcia

September 22, 2014

What’s New on the National Stage

SAGE continues to lead federal efforts to improve the lives of LGBT older people, alongside our national partner organizations in the LGBT and aging fields. This summer, we collaborated with other advocates to win Medicare coverage for transgender older people, FMLA benefits for same-sex couples and an executive order that extends more protections to LGBT people. Learn more about new federal policy updates below.

Executive Order to protect LGBT Workers
SAGE was privileged to be in the room with President Barack Obama on July 21, when, with the stroke of a pen, he put in place protections that will help millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults.  In the executive order that he signed that day, he ensured that transgender federal workers are protected against job discrimination based on gender identity.  He also ensured that LGBT employees of federal contractors will be protected against discrimination, which, according to the UCLA’s William’s Institute, protects 34 million of these workers today. Many LGBT older adults, after facing a lifetime of discrimination and lower earnings across the lifespan, continue to workto maintain their economic security.  We welcome the news that this generation--who fought to help many LGBT people out of “the closet”--will be able to bring their full selves to work, at more workplaces, without fear of discrimination.

Medicare Will Cover Transition-Related Care
In May, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Department Appeals Board (DAB), an independent federal appeals board, ruled that Medicare must cover medically necessary care for individuals with gender dysphoria, just as it does for those with other medical conditions.  In short, Medicare will now cover transition-related care for transgender older adults.  SAGE applauds our advocacy partners—GLAD, the ACLU, Lambda Legal, and NCLR—for  their tireless advocacy on this issue.  It was a life-changing victory for transgender older adults, who are finally on a more level playing field with other Medicare recipients.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Benefits Extended to Same Sex Spouses
The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees to take 12 weeks of leave from their jobs without pay for family and medical reasons.  With the Windsor decision in place (the Supreme Court case that cleared the way for the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages), the Department of Labor (DOL) announced in August 2013 that it would recognize same-sex marriages, but only those of couples who live in a state that recognizes their marriage.  In June of this year, the DOL announced a proposed “place of celebration” rule, meaning regardless of where a couple lives or moves, the DOL would recognize that same-sex marriage for FMLA purposes.  If and when the rule becomes final, it would ensure that LGBT individuals who take professional leave to care for a sick spouse will enjoy job security—and a little more peace of mind. 

Social Security

With the Windsor decision in hand, President Obama directed the Department of Justice (DOJ) to review every federal law, rule, policy and practice implicating marriage. On June 20, 2014, nearly a year after the date of the Windsor decision, DOJ completed its comprehensive, year-long review, providing guidance to federal agencies on Windsor implementation.  What does this mean? According to the review, all federal agencies have now implemented Windsor, meaning they are treating married same-sex and opposite-sex couples the same, to the fullest extent possible, under the law.

But what about Social Security benefits for same-sex couples? Here are a few points to help answer this complex question:

 

  • If you are married and living in a state that recognizes marriage equality, generally speaking, SSA (the Social Security Administration) will recognize your marriage.
  • If you are in a Civil Union or Registered Domestic Partnership and living in a state that provides those forms of relationship recognition, generally speaking, SSA is going to recognize your relationship as if you were married.
  • If you are married and were living in a state that recognizes marriage equality when you applied for Social Security benefits, or while your application was pending, SSA will honor your marriage even if you move.
  • If, however, none of the above apply (for example, if you’re married but have always been living in a state that does not recognize marriage equality), you will not receive spousal SSA benefits.  For example, if you have always been living in Biloxi, Mississippi, but flew to Washington, DC, just to get married, SSA will not recognize your marriage.

 

One final important message on this issue:  regardless of where you live, we recommend you apply for spousal Social Security benefits, as new or increased benefits will be granted retroactively.  If the law changes through legislation or litigation, you should get SSA benefits retroactive to the date of your application.

--Posted by Aaron Tax