July 30, 2015

Why We Need Our Elders to Take the U.S. Trans Survey

Pony Knowles, SAGE Center Midtown Program Coordinator

I was one of perhaps three trans people at the small liberal arts college I attended. One stayed stealth throughout all four years, and the other chose not to transition medically. I was out. Very out. You can well imagine the kinds of questions I found myself asked by my fellow cisgender classmates. Aside from all of the more terrifying or rewarding aspects of being visibly trans—and those are, for many of us, manifold—the most tiresome is the bombardment of inappropriate questions from well-intentioned cis people. Worse yet, there is a temptation to translate the responses they hear from any one trans person into a kind of 'official' trans narrative, applicable to all trans people, of all walks of life.

Back on that college campus, the answers I gave varied from day to day, depending upon my exhaustion at serving as a public fount of knowledge, especially when I myself was still discovering my community and my place in it. Suffice it to say, my answers, I’m sure, differed significantly from the hypothetical responses I can imagine my fellow trans classmates issuing—and those would likely differ greatly from each other as well. I couldn't speak for other trans people then. I can't speak for them now, but I remember them always. In the decades since, I have found myself thinking often of a woman who knew that she must remain stealth in order to get her education, particularly as an older nontraditional student. And I think of a young transmasculine student of mixed race and from a rural town in Georgia, who was not closeted and who was asked different questions than I was. And then there's me– a white, college-educated, middle-aged trans guy, who lives in a bustling metropolis– the questions that I am asked and the answers that I can give must not define an entire nation full of trans experiences, trans joys, and trans dangers.

The temptation to designate exemplars who appease the most normative standards of what trans can look like weighs heavy upon those of us who meet with the double bind of being marginalized within our own communities. Silence too often is meted out to those who are transgender and older, or not white, or poor, or geographically isolated. Particularly as the trans rights movement gains momentum and begins to focus itself upon the political goal that will unite and define us in the eyes of the nation, all voices must be raised and counted, safely, and with great compassion and intention. If we focus solely on our trans youth who are bullied in schools, who commit suicide, who don't have enough trans role models to support them— we must not risk losing sight of all of our trans foremothers and forefathers who have already spent their entire lives in the shadows of the LGBT community.

“We as older trans people need to engage and to educate younger generations of our experiences decades ago. As someone who transitioned in the 1970s, we had fewer resources, but we more readily made lemonade out of lemons.  Transitioning as an older adult means having a tougher battle than younger trans people. We need to address the issues we face, and we need to be visible, to show how we can also find happiness—whether one achieves ‘the surgery’ or not.”
                                                   -Frances, SAGE Constituent

The diversity of lived experience is striking when you speak to a trans youth in their teens or 20s, and to an older trans adult and their 60s or beyond. The dangers faced are very different, and the social realities are remarkably disparate. Transition dates also change everything: an older adult transitioning today will meet with a different set of challenges than someone of the exact same age who transitioned decades prior. That said, it is almost always the case that those of us who transition at any time and at any age need, more than anything else, to find ourselves in a legacy of support created by other transgender trailblazers, who light our path of discovery at every turn. Our genders are never created or sustained in isolation, and we owe our deepest debts of gratitude to those who have come before us. Too often do we overlook older voices, and too often are older members of our community less likely to step forward and make themselves vulnerable.

The wealth of narratives available to trans people about our history and our present remains enormously restricted— on one hand, by a simple lack of unified knowledge and, on the other, by a lack of access to the voices that must strain most to be heard. This is why the National Center for Transgender Equality has put together the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey, a follow-up to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey that was completed by nearly 6,500 people across the United States. It is imperative that this survey, conceived as a broad effort to outline information about the lives and experiences of trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary identified people, reach as far as possible into the most silenced pockets of our community. The fact that the survey can be completed anonymously, and that it is conducted by a trans-led organization, are the greatest guarantors that the information gathered by us will be used for us— to inform systems of support and advocacy, and to better the lives of trans people across the country.

Without a collection of pure data that seeks to weave together all of the constraints and desires and lived experiences of the trans community at large, we will continue to see a lack of services tailored to the needs of our communities. We will continue to see trans voices coming from the most diverse regions of our communities pushed out again and again. If, as they say, knowing is half the battle, then let us engage. 

SAGE Center Midtown will host a Trans Coffeehouse Social on Saturday, Sept. 12th, from 2-5 pm. The Cyber Center will be open to anyone who wants to complete the survey. Volunteers and staff will be on hand to assist; the space is accessible and designated for trans-identified members participants and guests all day. Please call (646) 576-8669 for more information.

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July 14, 2015

Positive Momentum: Reflecting on Yesterday’s White House Conference on Aging

I’m excited to report that yesterday’s White House Conference on Aging included some major breakthroughs for SAGE and LGBT older people across the country. In recent months, SAGE has prepared diligently to ensure that LGBT voices would be heard at this influential conference, held every ten years. As I listened to an inspiring and impassioned statement to conference leaders from iconic LGBT aging activist Sandy Warshaw, who called for anti-discrimination protections and voiced her refusal to be closeted in old age, I knew that we had succeeded on that score.   

Highlights from the day included a critically important announcement from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)  that the federal government will take decisive steps to end discrimination against LGBT elders in all government-assisted housing.  Given that housing discrimination against LGBT elders is rampant in senior housing, the HUD announcement was a huge advance.  A second important announcement came from the Administration on Aging (Ao), which announced a new partnership with SAGE to convene key service providers in the aging sector, collect data on how LGBT elders are being served, and identify action steps AoA can take during the last year of the Obama Administration to make aging services more LGBT-friendly.    

Thinking back on the last White House Conference on Aging, held in 2005, I’m truly amazed by how far we’ve come in ten years. We’ve moved LGBT issues from fringes of the larger conversation on aging to its very center. As one example, the needs and experiences of LGBT elders were specifically referenced at the conference by Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Assistant Secretary for Aging Kathy Greenlee, and Ai-Jen Poo of Caring Across Generations. It’s inspiring to see that LGBT older people have truly been granted a seat at the table.

Sandy Warshaw, SAGE Delegate at The White House Conference on Aging
SAGE Delegate, Sandy Warshaw, raises her concern about facing discrimination as she ages as a lesbian at The White House Conference on Aging


In the weeks to come, we’ll be talking more about what was accomplished at today’s White House Conference on Aging, and what SAGE’s federal advocacy game plan is moving forward.  We did a lot at the White House yesterday.  Looking ahead, there is so much more that we need to do!  

-- Posted by Michael Adams, Executive Director of SAGE 

July 13, 2015

Taking Our Voices to Washington

How can we ensure that leaders in Washington, D.C. hear the voices of LGBT older people? While SAGE considers this question every day in its national advocacy work, today's White House Conference on Aging is a particularly important moment to make sure we're heard and represented. This important conference convenes national leaders to discuss the state of American aging every ten years--and SAGE is bringing LGBT voices to the table. Want to join us? Check out a live stream of the conference, available online here

In advance of today's conference, SAGE conducted a survey of LGBT older people to learn more about the most important questions and concerns facing our communities today. Watch this video to hear some of what they had to say. 

July 7, 2015

Finding Fathers in Surprising Places

This essay was originally posted on June 17, 2015, in Nylon Magazine's My World, My Words series. Special thanks to the author, Rae Angelo Tutera, for letting us republish it on our blog.

I had a friend named Lee, who was sweet. The world can be perfect in some ways, so Lee's last name was actually Sweet. We were matched through SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) by a woman who deemed us, very correctly, compatible: You're both collectors, she noted.
 
 
I was an archivist who fantasized about moving into my then-girlfriend's (now fiancée's) brownstone and collecting beautiful things together, and Lee was a retired graphic designer who already had a brownstone full—damn full—of beautiful things, the most exquisite things. I believe he was born discerning: As a boy he asked his dad for a Chippendale for his birthday; I think he was given a baseball mitt instead.

My own grandpa, who raised me, passed away when I was 25. Joining SAGE as a friendly visitor was something I did with very specific tenderness, and an awareness that I might end up having my feelings hurt—I didn't want to lose anyone again. But my desire to connect with someone from my Pop's generation, especially someone like Lee—someone who was critical but sensitive, an introvert whose sudden, cutting wit reminded me of Flannery O'Connor, a gentleman in his 80s who had been in the Army during World War II, who was incidentally gay—eclipsed my anxiety. And all I had to do to meet him and spend time with him was hop on the G train.

When Lee became sick suddenly, I started visiting him in the hospital instead of at his brownstone. I was having a late twenty-something crisis—what did I really want to do? I was becoming a Jack of all trades and what I really wanted was to do one meaningful thing. I said to Lee, "You're old and you're wise." This made him laugh. I continued, "What do you think I should do?"

At the time, he couldn't speak. Remembering this pains me, but also I smile when I think about the fact that Lee and I had become intimate enough for me to compress his tongue to help him strengthen it so he could start speaking again. He wrote down his answer to my existential question, telling me I should go back to the frog pond because I was happy then. 

When I was a kid, my grandpa and I would go "frog hunting" together at the pond down the road. We would roll up in the middle of the night and Pop would shine his bright police light (he was the retired chief of Scarsdale) at the pond and we waded into the water together, bravely disregarding the snapping turtles that were big enough for me to catch a (terrifying) moonlit ride on. I was seldom seen without a bullfrog in those days, or without a net attached to the end of a broomstick, duct taped to another broomstick, voyaging out into the water. Call me Ishmael.

It's no surprise that I told Lee about the frog pond, since it's single-handedly my favorite thing to remember from my childhood. But I couldn't believe that his answer to my question was to conjure this memory, and at first I felt grief that I couldn't go back to the pond, and that I couldn't be with Pop anymore. But I realized that my grandfather had taught me to be patient, get dirty, respect nature, use my body as a tool, to make weird jokes, to love—a love big enough that it included (and includes) tadpoles.

And I realized that as much as I wished to go back in time and be with him again and to learn those things again, what I wanted more than that was to keep moving forward toward a future where I would teach those things to my own child.

My aunt once gave my grandparents (her parents) tiny tapes to record the stories of their lives on. If I remember correctly, my Gram passed on this; she's always been a living, moving thing—like a shark—who, while poised and charismatic is, not at all narcissistic and not at all the type to slow down to record any of her pithy or sentimental remarks. My Pop, though, recorded things like this: "If ever you want to attain immortality, have a little of your better self rub off on a child, for a child is the father of man and he is an image of yourself."
 
The nostalgia I have around frog hunting persists. But Lee gave me a new lens on my beloved childhood memory: I began to see it from my grandfather's perspective in addition to my own. It was a paradigm shift. Over the past weekend, I was up by a lake, the lake my fiancée learned to swim in. It is a fine lake where the gulping sounds of bullfrogs can be heard coming from both the grass and the water. I took off my shirt, and crept along the edge of the lake, until I took off my socks and boots and walked in. I don't mean to brag, but I still have it: I caught a frog with my bare hands, and walked the big guy over to my fiancée to show her while grinning so hard my face hurt. I am 30 now —I'm, as I always joke, the oldest I've ever been. And I've learned I have the capacity to channel my former, frog-hunting self, and my former, frog-hunting dad.
 
Dedicated to the memory of Theodore Tutera and Lee Sweet.
July 2, 2015

"Go, get married! But before you do..."

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court decreed that marriage equality for LGBT people was a constitutional right. That night, in front of the iconic Stonewall Inn and hundreds of revelers, Edie Windsor, marriage equality heroine, teamed up with SAGE to share a special message in light of the Court's decision. As she says, "by all means—go, get married! But before you do, learn how a marriage will impact you, both financially and legally. Put simply, talk before you walk." Watch the video and learn more about Talk Before You Walk in a letter Edie wrote below.

 
Letter from Edie Windsor
 
I am unequivocally proud to stand in celebration today with my friends and family at SAGE. Together, we salute our LGBT colleagues and allies whose leadership and tenacity have achieved this extraordinary moment. A new day has dawned - one in which I am humbled to have played a role through my own victory before the Supreme Court exactly two years ago. The pride and courage of the plaintiffs in Obergefell v. Hodges have brought the freedom to marry to all Americans.

By all means--go, get married! But before you do, learn how a marriage will impact you, both financially and legally. Put simply, talk before you walkSAGE and I are partnering on a new campaign to make sure people, including LGBT older people, can find the information they need on marriage. Check outTalkBeforeYouWalk.org to find out what marriage may mean for you.

The momentum of this decision propels tomorrow's work forward. SAGE returns to the task at hand: ensuring that LGBT people can age with the safety, dignity, and affirmation that every human being deserves. The Supreme Court's decision amplifies my love and appreciation for SAGE's vital work -- because this work is the next step in our community's onward march toward equality for ALL. 

With utmost pride,

Edie Windsor 
June 25, 2015

Heroes of Pride: Sally Ann Hay

Every summer, LGBT people across the country step out during Pride season to honor who we are, celebrate the progress we’ve made, and re-energize ourselves for the battles ahead. Yet in the midst of all the revelry and marching, older people are often overlooked. This summer, SAGE is celebrating some lesser-known “Heroes of Pride” on our blog. 

 

image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/hires.aviary.com/k/mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp/15062518/5ac6ae50-c9f9-4de1-bbc0-1847b8cce3de.png
<em>Sally Ann Hay</em>

Today we’re talking with Sally Ann Hay, a 65-year-old cisgender lesbian woman from Lincoln, Rhode Island, about her history with activism, her involvement with SAGE, and about a notable relative in her family tree.

So glad to talk with you, Sally! Could you share some of your personal story with us? Who do you consider to be your family members?

I’m married to my partner Dee Bird, and I would say my primary family is my family of choice blended with my family of origin (which includes some amazing step-relatives.) I have a brother and two sisters who are aware and accepting. One sister has early onset Alzheimer’s and I’m managing her care, which is somewhat of a challenge because she lives in Arizona. My brother and another sister are devout Christians which initially had me a little worried, but they are both very accepting.

Tell me a little bit about your working life.

I’m a retired psychiatric social worker. I worked in an agency and then in a private practice for the last ten years of my career. I worked with a large number of LGBT people.

What led you to the work in the LGBT community that you’ve done?

I came out at 27 in 1977 and had been very involved in the feminist movement, the antiwar and civil rights movements--and those continue to be very important to me. As for the LGBT movement, I backed into it. When I first moved to Rhode Island I went looking for a lesbian community so I got involved with Options, RI’s LGBT news magazine. The punchline is that at that time, the Options collective was mostly gay men, not many lesbians! But it was great entrée to community. From that, I was involved in helping create Equity Action, a philanthropic fund dedicated to LGBTQ issues. That activity led to me putting on an LGBT elder healthcare seminar, and that led to SAGE!

And then there was my uncle, Harry Hay, who started the Mattachine Society…

Wow, really? That’s amazing!

Yes! I didn’t know Harry when I was growing up—but that was because he was a communist, not because he was gay. As I got to know him in the last years of his life, one of the ideas he championed that really hit home with me was we are a sexual minority and it’s important not to fall prey to the temptation to assimilate. So that’s been my motivation for the last ten years—we are a wonderful people, we aren’t like everybody else. Marriage equality doesn’t solve it.

How did you find out about him being this incredible early leader in the movement?

I was probably in my late 20’s or early 30’s--around 1980. I was in therapy and my therapist said “you must be pleased about the book about your uncle.” And I said “what book?” She was horrified that I didn’t know about the biography that was just coming out [The Trouble with Harry Hay].

When I was able to get a copy, I read in the preface that he was a communist and I thought—oh that’s why my father was so against him! And then reading the book…I wish for everyone that they have a famous relative. It’s just a trip to read your family history! I thought “Wow, this makes so much sense.”

How did you connect with him finally?

I wrote an article about lesbian and gay social workers in the late 80’s. He read it and sent a message to my sister and said “please let your sister know I know she’s a sister.” I wrote a scathing letter [to him] saying “my coming out story is mine and by the way my father doesn’t know and if he’s going to find out, it’ll be from me.” The possibility of his sharing my orientation horrified me. One of his claims to fame is “my safety is dependent on your silence” so he knew the importance of that.

He once said “I’m the Martin Luther King, Jr. of the gay rights movement” and at the time I thought “you arrogant S.O.B.!”  I came to appreciate while at times he was an arrogant S.O.B. and that was what it took to be the phenomenal leader and activist that he was.

I came to really appreciate a personal relationship with him in the last 6 years of his life. For both of us, it was important to have family that was both family of choice and biological. It was really special. Neither of us ever expected to have that.

So tell me more about your involvement with SAGE.

I began to get involved because it was an important issue. But as I aged into the cohort, I realized “Oh this is about me!”

When I first got involved, my partner wondered “Why we should care: we all get older.”  I said, “Just imagine we have need for home health care and someone comes to the house and they’re not ok with LGBT.” That kind of crystallized it.

Those of us in this age group have lived for so long under the radar that we can’t even realize what we don’t expect for ourselves! I’m trying to convey to LGBT older adults that we have a right to demand that we have appropriate healthcare and services available to us.

When we show [the film] “GenSilent”, the thing that amazes me is watching LGBT people make the connection of “Oh my God, who’s gonna take care of me?”  We’re resilient, but there’s an ending where it could get ugly.

Your colleague Cathy Cranston said that “Sally is the glue that held SAGE Rhode Island together over the last dozen years.” What’s the magic formula for that glue?

I’m good at making relationships and putting ideas into practice. Some great connections have grown  out of my attending the Lt. Governor’s Long Term Care Coordination Council over the last several years. In the beginning, my primary contribution was standing up, saying who I was and what group I represented – being sure to articulate what the “GLBT” in SAGE represented.  I’m so ‘normal’ looking, I think there was a certain shock value.  Over time, relationships developed (especially with the previous Lt. Governor), our network grew and the importance of recognizing LGBT olders began to gain traction.  Perseverance.

With age comes wisdom and I’m now backing out of being as involved as I have been —I remembered  that I retired for a reason!

Sounds like you’ve earned a retirement!

Well thank you! I love that proverb, “If you want to travel fast, go alone. If you want to travel far, go with friends.”  I don’t feel I’ve done this alone. 

--Posted by Kira Garcia

June 23, 2015

Training Housing Providers in LGBT Cultural Competency

15710716766_5332422e92_oWe are excited to announce that there are a few spots available in our special housing webinar with Enterprise Community Partners on Thursday, June 25 from 2-3:30 PM EST. This webinar will provide an interactive introduction to the culture, needs, and concerns of LGBT older adults, including why this elder population often is deterred from accessing needed services and supports. Anyone interested in learning about LGBT cultural competency with regards to housing needs is invited to join in and it's FREE! Register today!

Ask yourself a few questions. Where would you be without safe, secure housing? What if you couldn’t truly be yourself at home, fearing judgement or even abuse? How would you feel in the face of impending eviction? Many LGBT older people are faced with these questions every day and this webinar will attempt to shed light on their circumstances and what housing providers can do to help.  For more information, check out our national initiative to address the LGBT older adult housing crisis.

Training Housing Providers in LGBT Cultural Competency
June 25, 2015, 2:00 p.m. EST
Register Here
An interactive introduction to the culture, needs, and concerns of LGBT older adults, including why this elder population often is deterred from accessing needed services and supports.

June 22, 2015

"I'm Worthy of Any Job I Want"

SAGEWorks employment boot camps are two weeks long, a time commitment some people have trouble making because they don’t completely understand what they are signing up for.

Problem solved. Here are three employment boot camp graduates who quickly explain exactly what you can expect and what they got out of the boot camps.

Delyn starts dropping truth bombs right away: “I don’t like change but I’ve had to deal with change because I’m getting older, I wanted a job … I didn’t have a job.” Preach!

David was totally planning to bail on boot camp, you can see it in his twinkling eyes: “Well, you’re not exactly sure you’re really going to do two weeks.”

As for Sharon likening the loss of a job to a death of a loved one, we are going to chalk that up to her training in the dramatic arts.

All three videos can be found on SAGE USA’s YouTube channel.

-- Jeff Stein, Communications Consultant, SAGEWorks

June 19, 2015

SAGE in the Pines!

On June 6, 2015, Dr. Ed Schulhafer hosted the 23rd Annual SAGE Fire Island Pines Celebration. The celebration marks the beginning of Pride Month in New York and was sponsored by Ketel One Vodka. SAGE honored DJ Lina, Walter & Karen Boss and Ward Auerbach for their commitment to the Fire Island Pines community and LGBT older adults. The event hosted over 225 people and all proceeds raised went to SAGE! Thanks to our many supporters for attending -- we can't wait until next year!

June 17, 2015

A New Partnership for SAGE Metro St. Louis

The right partners make us stronger--and SAGE Metro St. Louis has found a terrific one in PROMO Fund (the 501(c)3 Missouri Equality Organization). After a year and half of strategic planning, these two organizations are set to merge on July 1, 2015, creating a stronger, more capable organization to provide SAGE’s core programs of information and referral, advocacy, and community education to the entire state of Missouri.

Though the July 1 merger will mark an important change, SAGE and PROMO Fund have already been working as partners for years. In collaborating over the past 4 years on the LGBT Health Policy and Training Project, we've recognized our common goal of improving the quality of life of LGBT Missourians across the life span.

PROMO Fund's Executive Director AJ Bockelman described the power of the merger, saying "By combing the forces of PROMO Fund and SAGE, we can better utilize our resources and continue meeting the needs of the community on a broader basis."

AJ-and-Sherrill-(2)
AJ Bockelman of Promo Fund, Supreme Court Plaintiff Jim Obergefell, and Sherrill Wayland of SAGE Metro St. Louis

That broader work will include establishing a model of community outreach and education that helps ensure access to quality and inclusive LGBT services for all Missourians--wherever they live. SAGE's healthy aging framework offers a great foundation for this task. 

It's also exciting to note that this merger marks the first time a SAGE affiliate has merged with a statewide organization. As Michael Adams, SAGE's Executive Director, described it, “At the heart of the SAGE vision is maximizing the positive impact we can have on behalf of LGBT older adults. By joining forces, SAGE Metro St. Louis and PROMO Fund will ensure that they have the greatest possible impact for LGBT older people across the State of Missouri.”

We're excited that with this new partnership comes new opportunities across the state to establish and grow the SAGE aging service referral network, as well as our social support and community education programs. PROMO Fund will also continue to grow its LGBT Health and Public Policy program to promote LGBT inclusive policies and training to organizations across the state.

We live in exciting times for LGBT equality. But the fight for equality is far from over. By joining forces with PROMO Fund we strengthen our voices for LGBT equality.  This new partnership makes us stronger, more impactful, and more able to create lasting change. It's the start of a terrific new chapter. 

-- Posted by Sherrill Wayland, Deputy Director, SAGE of Promo Fund