September 18, 2014

HIV, Aging and LGBT people: A Metamorphosis

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On April 3, 2008, my longtime friend Don (last name withheld) tested positive for HIV, the same day as his mother’s 56th birthday. He remembers the day vividly. “I had given blood to my doctor and a couple weeks later, I still hadn’t received a call. I called my doctor’s office and they said, ‘There’s an anomaly with your blood.’ I immediately freaked out and thought, ‘God, this is it.'” Don took the last appointment of the day and a few hours later received his diagnosis, along with a few referrals. He went home “to pull myself together, call my mom and wish her a happy birthday.” He wouldn’t share his HIV status with his mother for several years.

“It stopped me dead in my tracks,” he says of that day. “And even though having an HIV diagnosis isn’t the same as it was 15 or 20 years ago, I immediately saw the end. I had dreams where I would see this road that said: ‘dead end.'”

At 42, Don represents a notable demographic segment of the U.S. population living with HIV/AIDS. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),the highest rates of HIV prevalence, by age group, are among people ages 45-49 and ages 40-45—20% and 16%, respectively. As these people in their 40s and their older peers age, spurred in large part by medical advances, people age 50 and older will make up roughly 70 percent of Americans with HIV by the year 2020.

Yet aging with HIV can be especially difficult. Older adults with HIV report high levels of isolation, yet few community spaces embrace their full identities as older people, people with HIV and, in most cases, given the epidemic’s prevalence, LGBT and people of color. Additionally, medical research has found multiple health concerns related to aging with HIV—and the psychological dimensions of living with HIV, or a new diagnosis, can spur its own storms. Without a large-scale, dedicated response, the “younger” end of this older adult spectrum, including Don, will join their older peers over the next decade in entering an aging system unprepared to meet their unique needs, despite their overwhelming numbers.

Continue reading "HIV, Aging and LGBT people: A Metamorphosis" »

September 12, 2014

Moving Non-discrimination Protections through Storytelling

SAGE Story is a national digital storytelling program for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender LGBT elders. The initiative brings together sites in North Carolina and Pennsylvania to build their capacities as LGBT aging advocates and to collect stories on the ways in which discrimination has affected LGBT older people.

This collaborationis designed to capture the critical voice of LGBT elders on LGBT equality advocacy struggles—from efforts to pass state and local nondiscrimination laws, to policy initiatives for relationship recognition, to campaigns to encourage pro-equality public opinion.

To prepare them to lead this work, our LGBT aging advocates will receive a custom training in non-discrimination messaging and framing from Jace Woodrum, Director of Communications for the Gill Foundation and Roey Thorpe, Director of Advocacy Programs for the Equality Federation. The training is based on new research, conducted by the Equality Federation and the Movement Advancement Project.

Recently, SAGE's Serena Worthington, Director of National Field Initiatives, spoke with Jace Woodrum to learn more.  

Jace-Woodrum-Headshot-for-BlogCan you tell me a bit about the research process?

When we do polling around non-discrimination laws both in local communities, state-wide and at the national level, we see high levels of support, oftentimes in the 70th and 80th percentile, but when we get into the midst of a campaign around non-discrimination—our opponents use some very hurtful scare tactics to stir up concerns in the public which can make it tough to keep the support that we start with. Our research is focused on understanding the real concerns people have and developing messaging that helps people navigate those concerns and remain supportive.

How was the research conducted?

The process began with one-on-one interviews with LGBT people to understand their experiences of discrimination. Then, we went into some exploratory focus groups to learn about how people think about non-discrimination laws. Over the course of the project, we honed in on trans issues, and we also looked separately at employment non-discrimination and housing and public accommodations. We have done dozens and dozens of focus groups, polls, and some online surveys as well.

Why is this project important?

We know that we are making, as a movement, huge advances on marriage, but our progress on non-discrimination has stalled at the state-wide level. Advancing non-discrimination laws and ensuring basic legal protections for LGBT people is critical because even as we’re winning marriage, our community still faces discrimination, especially transgender people who are especially vulnerable to unfair treatment at work and in our communities. Once we secure the freedom to marry nationwide, it’s only going to get more complicated. For example, we are seeing this play out right now in Pennsylvania, a state that has marriage equality but doesn’t have critical non-discrimination protections.

What are some key ways that framing and messaging have changed based on research?

For years, we talked about marriage as a set of rights and benefits that same-sex couples wanted to access. Then, through research, we learned that our way of talking about marriage as a set of critical rights was not building support among the public and was not accurately depicting why same-sex couples wanted to marry: for love and commitment. So we shifted our messaging, and we’ve seen huge gains in public opinion and in the number of states allowing same-sex couples to share in the freedom to marry. We’ve had similar breakthroughs from this non-discrimination research project, and we’re learning more and more everyday.

SAGE Story is funded by the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund

North Carolina Sites

SAGE Raleigh at the LGBT Community Center of Raleigh
SAGE Wilmington of the Cape Fear Coast
The Freedom Center for Social Justice


Pennsylvania Sites
SAGE Western Pennsylvania at Persad Center
SAGE Philadelphia at William Way LGBT Community Center

--Posted by Serena Worthington, Director of National Field Initiatives. Follow her at @SerenaWorthy

September 8, 2014

Successful Aging: Preparing for a Happier, Healthier Older Adulthood

When you think of getting older, what comes to mind? Possibilities, new adventures, a second or third chance to pursue a lifelong dream? Or is it anxiety, anticipation, hope, fear—or a mix of these emotions? The subject of aging can stir up different feelings for all of us, but one thing’s for sure: we all want to remain healthy, happy and independent as long as possible. With this in mind, SAGE is thrilled to announce today’s launch of Successful Aging, a new initiative to support LGBT people age 45 and older in shaping their legacies—defined by how we live and what we give back to our communities.

 

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Through in-person convenings, educational seminars and a library of online lessons, Successful Aging brings together people to connect the dots between the choices they make early on in life with their life and career aspirations as they age across the lifespan. Our vision is to ensure that every one of us ages successfully—financially secure, surrounded by loving and supportive friendships and family, and treated with fairness and respect in all aspects of our lives. We’ve released the first of our online lessons today—we hope you’ll take a look and share your thoughts in the comments section, or via Facebook.

The first of our in-person gatherings will be held in Washington, DC this November and in South Florida in February 2015. We’ll be scheduling events in New York City and Los Angeles soon as well. To learn more, contact SAGE’s Director of Legacy Planning, Jerry Chasen.

Successful Aging aims to create community and to open up a space where we, as LGBT people, can connect and learn about the choices we can make to enhance our retirement years. We hope you’ll join the conversation!

September 2, 2014

Finding Pride and Home: A Look at Housing for Older LGBT Adults

DavesingletonAuthor Dave Singleton doesn't want one more older LGBT adult to face rejection and discrimination at work or home. But rejection and discrimination are still much too prevalent for many LGBT seniors in need of assisted living. Finding Pride and Home: A Look at Housing for Older LGBT Adults illustrates the growing need for LGBT housing options. Read the original article here.

Moving to an assisted living home should never mean stepping back into a closet.

That seems obvious to those of us living out and proud lives in post-Stonewall Riots America. But fears of rejection and of being ostracized are ever-present realities for many seniors in -- or considering moving to -- shared senior living communities.

One Man's Fear

I saw the fear firsthand when I volunteered at a senior living community in Washington, D.C., a few years ago. Steven was 71 then, with round John Denver glasses, longish silver hair, and an agile mind, but he was dealing with the aftermath of two strokes, which left him unable to walk and in a wheelchair. I said hello and, after a few minutes of small talk, he told me he was gay and uncomfortable in what he thought was a homophobic environment.

"I lived the last 25 years of my life as an openly gay man in Dupont Circle," he said. "Then I came here this year because there was nowhere else to go, and I'm scared to be myself. Gay people are either invisible to, or unwanted by, the people here. So I stay quiet."

I asked the management if they specifically trained the staff to support LGBT residents, and the director nodded in somber admission of the problem. "We're working on it," she said.

The Rise of LGBT Senior Housing Options: A Clear Need

She's not the only one "working on it."

LGBT senior housing options have gained steam in the last decade, led by the rise of older LGBT baby boomers.

"I get calls from LGBT seniors who ask, 'Where can I go where I know I will be safe and treated fairly?" says Chris McLellan, writer and coordinator of Senior Services for SunServe Social Servicesin Broward County, Florida, which serves the LGBT-dense population of Fort Lauderdale.

Of course, this forward-thinking movement to create LGBT-friendly retirement communities, with built-in acceptance and a supportive environment, makes sense. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force estimates 3 million LGBT elders live in the United States, and that number will double by 2030.

"There is a real need for this housing," Michael Adams, executive director of SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders), told the New York Times recently. The need isn't just based on numbers. He was commenting on the results of a recent study in which the Equal Rights Center in Washington enlisted testers in ten states to pose as either gay or straight couples and make phone calls to senior living facilities. In almost half of the cases, the same-sex couples faced discrimination from housing agents, who didn't mention the vacant units presented to straight couples.

Once you're actually living in a home, it's often the little things that are troubling. "For example, someone sits down at dinner at a typical home and asks you on the spot about your wife and kids," says Steve Krege, COO of Northstar Senior Living, which manages the LGBT-focused Stonewall Gardens in Palm Springs, California, set to open in September 2014. "Do I tell the truth or not? Will they think differently of me? You don't want to put someone in that situation, especially when the majority of 70- to 80-year-old residents may still feel the pull of the closet."

 

Continue reading "Finding Pride and Home: A Look at Housing for Older LGBT Adults" »

August 26, 2014

Recognizing Women's Equality Day

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5 years before suffrage.
Image from NYPL Digital Collection

Anyone over the age of 50―as I am―can realize how short a span, historically, a century is. And that makes one marvel that major events, like the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution granting women the right to vote, happened so recently. In fact, it was less than a century ago―August 26th, 1920―when Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed this amendment into law! It took 72 years from the time of the first major women’s rights conference in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848 to achieve this legal milestone. Of course, this represented significant progress for women’s rights, but was hardly tantamount to full equality.

To put the amendment’s passage in perspective, consider how much earlier other nations provided for women’s suffrage (which in some cases was not universal). For example, as early at 1718 Swedish taxpaying women who were members of city guilds were granted the right to vote locally and nationally (although the right was rescinded later). The United Kingdom in 1869 granted local voting rights to women (almost 60 years later, in 1928, the right was granted universally).

So when we mark the not-so-widely known Equality Day this August 26th, we may still claim, as the early feminist Alice Paul did after the 19th Amendment passed, that voting rights do not denote genuine equality. The right to vote is merely a step in the right direction. True equality would mean that all would be treated equally before the law regardless of race, gender, gender identity, national origin, color, ethnicity, religion, disability and other traits, without discrimination.

In order to rectify the limitations of the 19th Amendment, in 1923 Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman introduced the “Lucretia Mott Amendment,” later known as the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Although it passed both houses of Congress in 1972, it did not gain the needed ratification of 38 states to become law by the deadline in 1979. In fact, after 35 states did ratify the ERA, five of them later rescinded their votes. The major part of the ERA text concisely stated that “Equal rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.”

How can we mark Equality Day in the absence of legal protections like those that would’ve been afforded by the ERA? Our equality may still be imperfect, but this is an ideal moment to remind ourselves of the ideals we’re striving for, and what we have yet to achieve. Women remain underpaid and underprivileged socially and politically; despite our progress, many LGBT people also live with daily discrimination and prejudice; these experiences are often amplified for the people of color in our communities.

Now, as we evolve in this 21st century, let us dedicate ourselves to full equality for ourselves (marriage equality represent an excellent step, but it’s not the only one) and for others experiencing prejudice. In this effort, let us embrace those in our own community―such bisexual and transgender men and women―who emerge from another closet.

As the English author Gilbert K. Chesterton wrote, in another context, “We are all in this together and owe each other a terrible loyalty.”

--Posted by Felicia Sobel, Women’s Programming Coordinator

August 21, 2014

Rethinking the Term “Senior Citizen”

Today is National Senior Citizen’s Day, which is a great opportunity to look at the role age and aging play in all of our lives. Many people are familiar with terms like racism or sexism—but here at SAGE we spend a lot of time thinking about ageism. Ageism is the act of stereotyping and forming prejudices about people or groups based on their age. It can take many forms, from assuming that all teenagers are irresponsible to passing over an older adult’s job application because of their age.

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One important way that we combat these different ‘-isms’ is to learn how to speak to others with respect and understanding. The language we use in our everyday lives has a tremendous impact, not only on our personal relationships, but on the national conversation around diversity and inclusion. For example, when I’m conduction our LGBT cultural competency trainings, I have all the participants say ‘LGBT’ out loud four of five times. After this activity people that have never even said the word LGBT can say it smoothly and without stumbling over the letters, which is an important way to demonstrate that you’re an ally to the LGBT community!

Given the power of language, today is a great time to explain why SAGE chooses not to use the term “senior citizen” in our work. Calling someone a senior citizen places them into a category simply based on their age. Along with this category come many other assumptions about what older adults can and cannot do.

‘Senior citizen’ is just one of a few terms used to describe older adults that are increasingly rejected. A 2012 article in the New York Timesdiscussed this shift in language, noting that other terms like ‘elderly’ are also falling out of favor.

Whatever the label, anytime you see someone first and foremost as a member of a group, it makes it more difficult to see that person in all of their uniqueness. At SAGE we strive to see everyone as individuals with their own strengths and weaknesses, not just as members of a certain generation. Removing ageist assumptions or language for our collective vocabulary is an important part of doing our work, and that’s why we don’t call our constituents senior citizens.

There may be times when it’s very important to talk about older people as a group, and in those moments we prefer the term ‘older adults’. It allows us to speak to a set of shared experiences, without bringing along a lot of the baggage and stereotypes associated with ‘senior citizens’.

After all, as one style guide points out, we don’t refer to people under age 50 as ‘junior citizens,’ so why create a special category just for older people?

What term do you use to describe yourself? Which terms do you love, and which do you dislike? Let us know in the comments! 

--Posted by Tim Johnston, PhD

August 14, 2014

A Quick Chat with SAGE Participant Dorrell Clark

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 folks who make up our community. This month, we spoke with Dorrell Clark, a 62-year-old retired train operator who lives in the Bronx with her wife. When she’s not at SAGE, Dorrell also dabbles in dance and acting.

Thanks for talking with me Dorrell. How long have you been coming to SAGE?

Oh a long time—for over ten years. I participate in the women’s meeting in Harlem, also Fabulous Fridays, and the bereavement group, which is a great support system. Recently I also went to the Saturday Cool Out gathering. We talked and shared old pictures—it was a joy! The programs are gratifying to attend because you’re in your own place—you’re safe. It’s always good to be with people like you because they know where you’re coming from.

Dorrell Clark

So, what do you do professionally?

Well, I’m a retired MTA train operator.

That sounds fascinating! Did you enjoy it?

Absolutely! I loved it. The best thing was that every day I went to work I learned something new. I was a work train operator. We worked with the people who repaired tracks and stations.

In your opinion, how has being LGBT changed since you came of age?

I identify as an aggressive. Back in the day, if you could pass as a male (and I sometimes do), people wouldn’t bother you. Even today people call me sir until they look close. But nowadays, it doesn’t matter. Women walk down the street holding hands, and no one bothers you! Back in the day you couldn’t do that—you’d get harassed.

Most of the time, no one disputes that my wife and I are married. But she has been sick and at the hospital recently, there was this one nurse who looked at me and said “Who are you?!” and I said, “I’m her wife.” The nurse answered, “Well, I have to ask her,“ meaning my wife, who confirmed—she will tell you she’s my wife before I tell you I’m hers! But then the nurse asked her “Do you feel safe?” as in, “Do you feel safe with her?” That hurt—the cancer had put her in the hospital, not me. But in general, things are better than they were.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk, Dorrell!

Thanks for calling!

--Posted by Kira Garcia

Happy Birthday Social Security! Talking with Congressman Mark Takano (D-CA)

TakanoOn the occasion of Social Security’s 79th birthday on August 14th, we had a conversation with Congressman Mark Takano (D-CA) about how the Windsor decision impacted Social Security benefits for older adults. Last month, Takano introduced the Social Security and Medicare Parity Act, which would help couples in non-marriage states qualify for benefits even if the state they reside in doesn’t recognize the marriage.

Why is Social Security such an important program for older adults?

Millions of Americans contribute to Social Security during their working years and deserve to receive the benefits they have earned to help them manage their retirement. With the decline of defined benefit pension plans, Social Security benefits are a becoming even more of a lifeline for seniors from all walks of life. No senior should be denied these full benefits because of who they love.

Aren’t many LGBT older adults very well-off?   Do they even need Social Security?   In other words, why is Social Security so important for married same-sex couples?

The myth that LGBT seniors are better off is patently false. Statistics show that a lifetime of discrimination actually hurts earning power, makes LGBT seniors less likely to have a spouse’s income they can count on, and less likely to have children to help care for them in their old age. LGBT couples, just like all other Americans, have paid into Social Security and Medicare and deserve to receive the benefits they have earned in their retirement.

Didn’t the Windsor decision ensure that the federal government would treat married same-sex couples equally, regardless of where they live in the United States?

The Windsor decision was an historical day that paved the way for equal rights for all Americans no matter who they love. However, Windsor could not change everything overnight. While it overturned section three of the Defense of Marriage Act, the Department of Justice just concluded a year-long review of what the decision means for other federal statutes. While I and others continue to believe that the Social Security Administration has the discretion to provide spousal and survivor benefits regardless of where a same-sex couple lives, the Justice Department and the Social Security Administration have concluded that eligibility for benefits be based on the state in which the couple resides. That means that couples living in non-marriage states are still prevented from getting the benefits they have earned.

Can you please explain what issues married same-sex couples who live in non-marriage states currently face?  

Not only are couples in non-marriage states ineligible for certain Social Security and Medicare benefits, but a whole other host of federal benefits and protections. They don’t yet qualify for family medical leave to take care of a sick spouse, and veterans and their spouses don't receive the same spousal and survivor benefits as heterosexual couples.

Continue reading "Happy Birthday Social Security! Talking with Congressman Mark Takano (D-CA)" »

August 7, 2014

SAGEWorks Boot Camp – A Pilot Program in NYC

Greg_quoteUnemployment and underemployment are major barriers to health and happiness at any age, but for LGBT older adults, a job search can be especially challenging. Anti-LGBT bias is still a reality in the workplace, but long-term unemployment and age can be even greater barriers to landing a job. Being LGBT is not obvious on a resume, but lack of employment and age are immediately apparent.

Our new SAGEWorks Boot Camp program will address these issues and offer an affirming boost to older LGBT job seekers. The Boot Camp program will provide a rigorous and comprehensive approach to workforce readiness.  This free two-week program will be piloted in our New York City location, and is designed to help participants address obstacles to employment.  The program application process will mirror the hiring process to help participants understand clearly what is expected by employers in today’s job market.

Certain program elements will be specifically designed to address multiple barriers many SAGEWorks participants face, including long-term unemployment. Training components of the program will be concentrated, intense, and encouraging with clear expectations for participants in each step.

The course curriculum will be taught by Howard D. Leifman, Ph.D., a renowned Human Resource/Training Consultant and Career/Executive Coach.  Formerly the National Director for Strategic Staffing and Recruiting at the global HR consulting firm William M. Mercer, Inc., Dr. Leifman will offer his extensive HR and employment counseling skills to Boot Camp participants.

The curriculum will include lessons on:

  • Taking Assessments
  • Realities of Today’s Job Market
  • Resume & Interview Instruction
  • Conducting a Modern Job Search
  • The Hidden Job Market
  • Social Media & Networking
  • Stress & Anger Management
  • Communication Skills & Selling Yourself

Applicants must have basic computer skills and be willing to commit to the two-week/5 day a week program schedule. The best candidates will be those who are most motivated to find a job.  Applications can be submitted online here.

--Posted by Michele D'Amato

July 23, 2014

President Obama Signs Executive Order on LGBT Job Discrimination

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SAGE was privileged to be in the room with President Obama on July 21, 2014, when, with the stroke of a pen, he put in place protections that will help countless of LGBT older adults.  In the executive order he signed, he ensured that transgender federal workers would join their lesbian, gay, and bisexual brothers and sisters in being protected against job discrimination based on their gender identity.   He also ensured that LGBT employees of federal contractors will be protected against discrimination.  Many LGBT older adults, after facing a life of discrimination and lower earnings, continue to work, to maintain their economic security.  As a result, it is welcome news that this generation, who fought to get out of the closet, will be able to bring their full selves to work, at more workplaces, without fear of discrimination.

--Posted by Aaron Tax