Today is the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), a solemn day where we pause to gather together and remember transgender people whose lives were ended by acts of violence over the past year. TDOR began when activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith organized a vigil to mark the death of Rita Hester, an African-American transgender woman who was murdered in 1998.
This afternoon and evening, all over the United States and internationally, communities will gather together to honor the lives of those we have lost, while also drawing attention to the systemic violence faced by the transgender community. While each vigil is slightly different, all TDOR events involve reading the names of every transgender person killed over the last year. This year we also mark the loss of Leslie Feinberg, a transgender activist and author of Stone Butch Blues. Feinberg’s life was ended by illness and not violence, but her work to end oppression and support everyone’s right to self-determination continues to resonate beyond the transgender and LGBT communities, and into our society at large.
These events provide an opportunity to come together as a community and ensure not only that those we have lost will not be forgotten, but that their deaths will not be in vain. They are an important chance to look forward to what can be done to end violence against the transgender community. Click here to find a TDOR event near you.
Our monthly “Quick Chats” with SAGE participants offer a first-person perspective on our community. This month, we spoke with Paulina Victoria Garcia, a Mexican-American volunteer, who is both legally blind and deaf, issues that affect many LGBT people across the country, especially as they age. Paulina comes to the SAGE Center Midtown in New York City from the Helen Keller National Center’s Vocational Training Program and started off working in the kitchen. She soon found another use of her many talents and currently runs a sign-language class for participants at SAGE Center Midtownin New York City.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with me Paulina. How long have you been coming to SAGE Center Midtown in New York City?
I’ve been coming to SAGE since August. I worked in the kitchen at first. I help my coworkers set up the space for dinner, prepare the food and then I hand out the meals when dinner is actually served. Since I am hard of hearing, I asked if I could start a sign-language class to help people communicate better.
What a great idea! How many people take your class?
My class is on Thursdays from 3-4 and about 22 people take my class. We start off with the basics of communication—always carry a notebook and a pen is the first lesson! We then move on to basic signing—ASL, or American Sign Language. Communication for people who are hard of hearing encompasses more than one method and I try to teach that from the very beginning. I’m trying to create ways for the deaf community to become more involved with SAGE and for people to be comfortable with me and others like me as I am transgender. That’s my main purpose.
Impressive! Is the class going well?
I am lucky in that new people are coming into the SAGE Center Midtown from the deaf community all the time and that people here want to communicate with them and each other. I have people in the class who are \ all are interested in either learning basics or learning more sign language. Some people who are older are becoming hard of hearing and they want to learn some ASL to help them communicate better. I also feel like people are very accepting of me here and I feel comfortable in a way that is very empowering.
What do you teach in the class?
Basic ASL–the ABC order, basic vocabulary, like colors and every day words like “happy,” “sad,” and other feelings. Especially since I work during dinner service, they use a lot of food words with me. I really try to teach them to not use their voice when signing so to experience what deaf people deal with daily.
Can you tell me top 5 good signs to know?
The most popular phrase for the class is “what’s your name” and then teaching them to sign with the ABC’s. Also popular is “good night”, “good morning”, “thank you,” “hello” and “my name is __________.”
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk, Paulina!
Over the past decade, SAGE's Harlem contingent has grown from a small group of dedicated community members to an energetic, engaged community of dozens of older adults with a full-time gathering space for case management, classes, discussion groups and socializing. On a typical Friday night, SAGE Harlem participants can be found discussing politics, reminiscing, watching movies or playing games.
To mark the occasion, nearly 200 Harlem community members, SAGE staffers, volunteers, and local leaders gathered to celebrate with food, conversation and good company. For more images of the event, visit the SAGE Flickr page here.
Harlem Program Manager Chris Jones addressed the crowd.
This expansion wouldn't have been possible without the help of SAGE's Harlem Investors Circle, which raised an extraordinary $100,000 in just one year--an impressive feat that will make a huge impact! SAGE applauds their visionary support of our programs, services, and facilities in Harlem. These supporters serve as champions for the LGBT elders of color that we serve.
SAGE is very happy to be honoring our Veterans today with a celebration and launch of our "SAGEVets" program at the SAGE Center Midtown. Our guest speaker will be Donald McIvers of LGBT Veterans of New York, who was part of the Special Forces that served in Vietnam and participants will get to hear first-hand details of the SAGEVets program from Lee Albertorio, our SAGEVets Program Coordinator.
The purpose of the SAGEVets program is twofold: one legal and the other programmatic. First, staff will be connecting older veterans with lawyers from South Brooklyn Legal Services in an effort to fight dishonorable discharges due to “homosexuality” so that these vets can rightfully receive their VA benefits and pensions. Second, the SAGEVets Program Coordinator will be conducting eligibility screenings and case management on a case by case basis. Lee will also be conducting outreach and trainings at the other SAGENet affiliates in New York state, such as Rochester, Kingston, Long Island and other Veteran Administrations.
This pilot program is made possible from funding from the New York State Legislature passed in the spring of 2014. For more information about the initative, please read our press release here.
People are talking about Out & Visible! Our new study of the fears, beliefs, behaviors and aspirations of LGBT older adults offers important--and startling--statistics that have long been missing from our conversations about LGBT aging. At the Out & Equal conference in San Francisco yesterday, a panel of representatives from major financial and consumer companies weighed in on how the report can help them better serve our communities. We're excited to share the findings of this study with new audiences across the country, and to hear their responses.
For example, Out & Visible found that LGBT older people are far more concerned than non-LGBT older people about their financial security and retirement. 42% of LGBT older people are very or extremely concerned that they'll outlive their retirement savings, as compared to 25% of non-LGBT people. A panelist from Prudential, Josh Stoffregen, remarked that "Being able to better understand the unique needs and challenges the older LGBT population is facing helps us as we continue to learn more about all aspects of our community. We're pleased that SAGE is shedding light on this important topic."
Despite our years of recent progress, LGBT people still struggle with disproportionate barriers to health and happiness. Out & Visible provides many insights which reveal the extent of these issues and the work that's still necessary to create longer, healthier lives for LGBT older adults.
What does it mean to age successfully? At SAGE, we believe that all LGBT people deserve to age financially secure, free from discrimination and surrounded by the people they love and the supports they need. With proper planning and a new frame of mind, aging can engender new possibilities and the realization of long-held dreams. SAGE's Successful Aging initiative provides lessons and resources to imagine this type of vibrant life at any age, one in which we also live and leave behind meaningful personal legacies.
Interested in attending a Successful Aging event? We have two coming up in Washington, D.C. and New York City! Click on the links above or contact Jerry Chasen, Director of Legacy Planning at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you’re interested in attending.
SAGE 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.
Accessing 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.
We 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.
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.
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.”