April is National Volunteer Appreciation Month and SAGE would like to recognize our many volunteers for all that they do. From our Friendly Visitor program to our Cyber Center and Drop-In room hosts, our volunteer-led programs and people serving meals, we could not perform all of our work without them!
This week, we asked Bob Rizzo from our Friendly Visitor program a few questions about his experience. Read his responses below:
Why do you volunteer?
In general, I volunteer to connect with and give back to my community, and hopefully make it a better place. To me volunteering is a two-way street. It's not just doing something for someone less fortunate than myself, but more of an exchange.
What makes volunteering at SAGE special or different?
Last year when I was investigating where I could volunteer my time, a good friend of mine (who worked at SAGE as a social worker) thought I'd be a good candidate for their friendly visitor program. I had no idea this program existed and was immediately drawn to the fact that it dealt with the aging LGBT community. What a wonderful opportunity to visit and befriend someone who may not otherwise have a social or support system in place. One of the remarkable things about the SAGE friendly visitor program is their meticulous process of matching up compatible, like-minded individuals.
How long have you been volunteering at SAGE? Or in general?
I've been with SAGE since June 2013, though I've volunteered for other organizations such as Gods Love We Deliver and GMHC over the past 20 years.
Do you have a specific memory of a volunteer experience that you would like to share?
Absolutely! My SAGE "friend at home" Kurt, is eighty five years old, partially disabled, and a former Broadway performer. The facility where he lives has an acting class that he takes once a week. About a month ago he invited me to a "performance" of his acting class, where he would be the master of ceremonies. Naturally, I said that I would love to go. The following week when i walked into the community room for the show, there was Kurt sitting center stage, complete with a tux shirt, bow tie, and top hat. There were fifteen elderly women seated in a semi-circle around him, all dressed in roaring twenties outfits. It was a sight to behold. He said that he was so happy I came, and to please sit in the front row so I wouldn't miss anything. The music then started, and as Kurt began to speak and introduce the play, the weak and physically impaired man I'd known for the past four months, literally transformed into his former, younger self. He sat up erect in his chair, his diction was loud and clear, he played off his costars, and he knew exactly how to hold for a laugh. Needless to say, Kurt was obviously a very talented performer in his day. It was hard to hold back the tears as I took photos throughout the performance, and it's a memory I will always cherish.
If you became unable to speak for yourself, how would medical decisions be made for you? We'll consider that question and others on April 16th, the 7th Annual National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD), a nationwide event promoting the importance of healthcare choices and advance directives. The LGBT community is especially vulnerable in this regard, since many hospitals restrict visitation rights to narrow interpretations of family. This day is a reminder for us all to take steps to ensure that we make our wishes clear about who may visit us and make medical decisions on our behalf in times of crisis.
If you don't have advance directives in place, learn how to obtain them here.
If you live in New York, please attend our NHDD event on April 29th. A volunteer legal team will be on hand to help navigate advance directive forms. Find out more information here.
For more information on the importance of advance directives and other legal documents, visit the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging's resource page.
Watch a video from NHDD explaining advance directives below.
Today's post is from Hilary Meyer, SAGE's Director of National Programs and Director of the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging.
LGBT older adults deserve secure, stable and affordable housing, yet often face harassment and intimidation in their homes and in long-term care settings from aging professionals and other residents. This means that many people live in physically and emotionally unhealthy environments that compromise the quality of their lives.
SAGE’s National Resource Center on LGBT Aging (NRC) is running a social media campaign this week to draw attention to this critical issue. Whether you are an older adults yourself, an aging provider looking for more information or an LGBT organization looking for more information on housing needs, we have you covered with webinars, articles, educational videos, publications and more!
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.
Latino elders who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) face additional challenges as they age, compounded by barriers rooted in their racial and ethnic identities, as well as LGBT stigma and discrimination. Yet the attention and infrastructure to ameliorate these conditions is generally lacking. That's the overarching conclusion reached by the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) in a first-ever national needs assessment examining the social, economic and political realities of a growing, though multiply marginalized, population.
NCHOA’s report speaks to a timely moment. Demographics project a significant increase in Latino people and older people over the next few decades, trends rooted largely in immigration and the aging of the Baby Boom generation, respectively. For example, the U.S. Census estimates that the number of Latino people age 60 and older will sky-rocket from 4.3 million in 2010 to 22.6 million in 2050. And as societal attitudes and policy changes have made it easier for some segments of the LGBT population to "come out" and live openly, LGBT older people have become increasingly visible in both the aging and long-term care system, as well as society at large.
Yet NHCOA's new report—released in partnership with the national LGBT aging advocacy non-profit, SAGE—contends that this wave has left behind a more marginalized population: LGBT Latino elders. Based on a year's worth of expert interviews, a literature review (that tellingly emphasizes the general dearth in research on LGBT Latino people) and focus groups in four major metropolitan cities with high concentrations of Latinos and LGBT people, NHCOA paints a portrait of Latino LGBT elders aging in communities that aren't accepting of their full identities. LGBT Latinos also report both fearing and encountering biased care providers without the skills or resources to support their unique needs.
Drawing largely from published research, the report describes how many LGBT Latinos enter their later years already facing significant disparities related to physical and mental health, and to health care access and prevention. What are the major drivers of these inequities? According to the report, LGBT Latino elders face financial challenges rooted in lifetimes of discrimination in the workplace and in public benefit programs such as Medicaid and Social Security; lower educational statuses; housing instability; and reduced savings associated with a higher concentration in jobs with low-wage incomes and meager health insurance. It's not simply that LGBT Latino people are in poorer physical and economic health than their peers; it's that they have been systematically impoverished their entire lives by the same policies and institutions meant to protect them—and the effects become visceral in later life.
Perhaps the report's most profound insights are found in the testimonies of LGBT Latino elders interviewed for the report. One respondent describes the overbearing power of religious leaders in destabilizing multicultural LGBT communities: "The ones who kick you out are those who run the church. But those who are rejected believe it’s God who is throwing them out.” Another respondent describes how rejection often comes most painfully from other LGBT people: "Even in our LGBT community when there is someone who says, 'Yes, I am bisexual,' people say, 'Ay no, you are crazy or confused.' I think that there is much discrimination within our community, but as long as you don’t say who you are, things are fine.” Or perhaps the broad societal disregard of older people is the most painful renunciation, as told by one respondent: "We are persons who, because of who we are, people are not interested in."
The report's respondents also exhibit an acute analytical sense, rife with possibilities. One respondent adeptly summarizes the problem as "a lack of information and knowledge about where services are located. There is also a difficulty speaking about one’s own health, as well as a language barrier. This community is not used to speaking about its health, body or sexuality.” And another respondent offers a concise call-to-action to the aging field: "The challenge is to train in our native language the communities or the centers that, in one form or another, are going to provide those services.” The report's recommendations generally abide by this advice. It encourages policies that better fund and deliver supports to all older people (which Latino people and LGBT people disproportionately access), as well as targeted supports for LGBT Latino elders. And it firmly states that the aging field should invest in more multi-lingual, LGBT-friendly outreach, training and services for LGBT Latino older people.
One of the report's more incisive recommendations is to deepen the research on marginalized older people to better craft interventions that will become even more pressing in the ensuing decades, as people of color become the U.S. majority and sexual and gender diversity becomes more salient in civic life. On one level, this could mean better understanding the diversity within "Latino" identities, which encompasses various nationalities, histories, cultures and languages. And it means better studying difference within LGBT people to pinpoint more marginalized sub-groups—transgender people and bisexual people, as two noteworthy examples.
We can't fix what we don't fully understand, is what NHCOA's report ultimately seems to be stating. Yet this report takes us one step closer—and LGBT Latino older people deserve it.
As our LGBT population ages, research illustrates that the right to safe and affordable housing is not a guarantee. On February26, 2014, the Equal Rights Center (ERC), in partnership with SAGE, released the results of a 10-state testing-based investigation documenting differential treatment against older same-sex couples seeking housing in senior living facilities. The report, Opening Doors: An Investigation of Barriers to Senior Housing for Same-Sex Couples, can be read here. Among other findings, the tests showed that 48% of same-sex couples experienced at least one form of adverse differential treatment when inquiring about senior housing as compared to their heterosexual counterparts.
The report showed the following from the investigation:
Housing agents providing information about additional units being available to the tester from an opposite-sex couple;
Housing agents advising the tester from the same-sex couple about additional fees, costs, and/or a more extensive application process than were disclosed to the heterosexual tester;
Housing agents providing information about additional amenities to the testers from the opposite sex couple that were not mentioned to the tester from the same sex couple; and
Housing agents offering "specials" and discounts to the tester from the same-sex couple that were not offered to the tester from the opposite sex couple.
These results highlight the need for further research to provide additional data on housing discrimination against older LGBT adults and for policy remedies that improve housing options for LGBT older adults, no matter where they live. Read our full press release here.
In addition to this report, more LGBT housing news hit the wires, including a thoughtful piece from SAGE Senior Director of Public Policy & Communications Robert Espinoza on the right to housing and aging discrimination in the LGBT community via The Huffington Post. In addition, the New York Times released an article on the need for LGBT-specific senior housing featuring SAGE Executive Director Michael Adams. Serena Worthington, SAGE's director of community advocacy & capacity-building, is quoted in a recent piece from the BBC on thegrowth of gay retirement homes. And SAGE is featured in MSNBC's piece on LGBT housing, which focuses on the opening of the John C. Anderson Apartments in Philadelphia.
While many LGBT older people engage in health behaviors that promote good health, research also shows that many LGBT older people engage disproportionately in behaviors that put them at risk, such as smoking, excessive drinking and non-prescribed drug use. In addition, many LGBT older adults delay care out of fear of discrimination from health providers, which means that illnesses go undetected until crisis hits. And more broadly, a general lack of data collection and research on LGBT elder health issues has left the field without the information they need to develop effective interventions that address LGBT older people's unique health realities.
Did you know that:
According to a 2011 national study on LGBT older adults, high percentages of LGBT older people struggle with health conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, cholesterol, arthritis, cataracts, asthma, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and more. Nineteen percent of LGBT elders reported having had at least one type of cancer. Read the full report. ▶
LGBT elders also deal disproportionately with mental health concerns, which is a primary risk factor for social isolation. According to a 2011 national health study, more than half of the respondents have been told by a doctor that they have depression; 39 percent have seriously thought of suicide; and 53 percent feel isolated from others.
Research shows that LGBT elders engage in health behaviors that both promote good health and put them at risk. According to The Aging and Health Report: "The majority of LGBT older adults in the project are sexually active and most engage in moderate exercise, wellness activities, and participate in health screenings. Yet, some report high-risk health behaviors such as smoking, excessive drinking and non-prescribed drug use. Especially at high risk are those age 50 – 64. Their rates of smoking, excessive drinking, non-prescribed drug use, and HIV risk behaviors are significantly higher than those age 65 and older." Read our resources on diabetes, falls prevention, heart disease and HIV/AIDS.
A lack of cultural competence regarding transgender people and their health needs, as well as bias and outright discrimination by providers, create serious barriers. These barriers, together with financial barriers, mean that many transgender older adults often avoid or delay seeking care. In addition, medically necessary care related to gender transition is often arbitrarily excluded from public and private insurance. Inability to access this care can contribute to declining health, and these exclusions are often also used to deny coverage for preventive and other medical care transgender older adults need. Read more on transgender health issues. ▶
In response to the recent church sign posted by the ATLAH World Missionary Church in Harlem, New York City, SAGE recently asked its LGBT elder constituents that take part in its SAGE Harlem program to reimagine a more welcoming sign for the community.
We asked them: “What alternative message should Pastor Manning have placed on this sign to make it welcoming to all Harlem residents, including its LGBT members?" Below are their responses. Feel free to share your response in our comments section!
Our LGBT older adult population is especially at risk for diabetes, as well as a host of health issues, as tudies have shown they are less likely to access mainstream health care service providers, have health insurance, and seek treatment or care, putting them at greater risk for poorer overall health and developing chronic, but manageable, conditions.
According to the American Diabetes Association, National Diabetes Alert Day is a one-day "wake-up call" asking the American public to take the Diabetes Risk Test to find out if they are at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.
The good news is that if you are at risk for prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes, there are steps you can take to prevent or delay the onset of the disease. Check out our fact sheet (available in English and Spanish), “Ten Things Every LGBT Older Adult Should Know About Diabetes,” for more information.
In March 2014, the ATLAH World Missionary Church in Harlem, New York City posted a sign that reads: "Jesus Would Stone Homos. … Stoning is Still the Law," among other disturbing statements. The sign has elicited controversy and concerns from members of the Harlem community, as well as from news outlets and advocates throughout New York City and around the country.
In response to the sign, SAGE Executive Director Michael Adams has responded:
"The deeply offensive and bigoted signage of the Atlah World Missionary Church is the antithesis of the Harlem community that SAGE Harlem has been a part of for the past 10 years. Throughout SAGE Harlem’s existence, we have been proud to contribute to a community that has increasingly embraced and respected its LGBT members, including LGBT elders. To see the hateful Atlah signage just two blocks from our SAGE Harlem center is deeply disturbing. At the same time, we are reassured by the knowledge that this is a fringe group that does not represent the sentiments of the vast majority of Harlem community organizations and residents. In the face of this verbal assault on the human dignity of LGBT people, SAGE and SAGE Harlem will redouble our commitment to contributing to a Harlem community where all are welcome regardless of their sexual orientations or gender identities.
Since 2004, SAGE Harlem has helped ensure that LGBT elders in Harlem, East Harlem and the Bronx can benefit from culturally and linguistically appropriate services. Located in the historic former Theresa Hotel, SAGE Harlem offers bilingual information, referrals, services, programming, educational presentations and social activities for older LGBT residents in the community, and partners with local social service providers to expand access for LGBT consumers and sensitivity to their issues.
The SAGE social work staff, who deal with clients daily, observe first-hand how economic inequality affects our community. The loss of an apartment, not being able to pay a heating bill, finding care providers who are accepting of their sexuality, emotional support, grief counseling, social security and Medicaid issues are just a few reasons why LGBT older adults come to SAGE.
Our social workers go above and beyond a normal 9 to 5 job -- traveling to homes across the five boroughs, working late hours, pushing city and state government paperwork through various channels to get their client the help they need, calling doctors and care providers in order for clients to receive medical attention, in addition to offering their cellphone number and personal emails with the sincere plea for people to contact them at any time, are just a few things our SAGE team does for our clients.