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12 posts from July 2013

July 31, 2013

Five years of political progress for LGBT older people—but more remains

Robert EspinozaToday’s post is from Robert Espinoza, Senior Director for Public Policy and Communications at SAGE. Follow him on Twitter.

When I began my role at SAGE nearly four years ago, I sensed the tipping point that SAGE had animated—and which would eventually transform the field of LGBT aging.

In April 2010, I was hired to create and oversee SAGE's national policy advocacy program. As the Baby Boomer generation entered retirement age, aging advocates were increasingly discussing the implications of a quickly aging country. LGBT aging issues were becoming more salient—thanks in large part to SAGE’s leadership, organizations such as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and the work of local advocates around the country—yet LGBT aging remained largely marginalized in the policy discourse and in the broader cultural narrative.

In response, SAGE had steadily built the infrastructure to imagine the large-scale, national strategies that millions of LGBT older people deserved. In the months prior to my arrival, SAGE issued a landmark policy report on LGBT older adults, in partnership with a few leading national organizations. It opened an office in Washington, DC; joined the influential Leadership Council of Aging Organizations as its only LGBT organization; and received a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to seed the creation of what would later become SAGE’s National Resource Center on LGBT Aging.

Our political charge then was to make policy issues visible and relevant to leaders in government, the aging field and the LGBT rights movement. Our charge was to begin changing the representations of what it means to age as LGBT people. We sought transformational change.

This summer, as SAGE celebrates five years of achievements under the previous strategic plan, I reflect on what has changed politically for LGBT elders.

Here are seven ways in which SAGE dramatically improved the policy conversation—and the political realities—for LGBT older people over the last few years:

  1. A heightened visibility of LGBT aging in the policy discourse. Through our leadership on reauthorization of the Older Americans Act (OAA)—developing original policy analysis, holding Congressional briefings, persuading the aging network to support our goals, and more—SAGE brought considerable attention to the omission of LGBT elders from the OAA, which awards more than $2 billion annually to aging services nationwide, yet allocates very little to LGBT aging. Currently less than $2 million of OAA funding reaches LGBT aging programs. In May of this year, a bill was introduced to make the OAA more inclusive of LGBT people—a top policy goal for SAGE as reauthorization heats up.

  2. Robust and original knowledge on the wide array of policy barriers facing LGBT older people. Since SAGE released our first major policy report in early 2010, we continue to highlight policy remedies for addressing the challenges facing LGBT elders, including landmark reports on transgender aging, spousal impoverishment, economic security and health equity, among others. In 2011, we partnered with the National Academy on an Aging Society to produce an LGBT aging-themed issue of Public Policy & Aging Report, marking the first time a mainstream aging organization issued a comprehensive policy report on LGBT aging.

  3. A stronger grassroots infrastructure of local and state organizations that engage and advocate with LGBT older people. The grassroots centerpiece of SAGE’s advocacy program is SAGENet, our network of local and state affiliates around the country. Since January 2010, SAGENet has grown remarkably—from 14 to 24 affiliates (a 71 percent increase). These local advocates in every region of the country provide critical services to LGBT older people in their communities and advocate for policy change. In 2011, many of these leaders launched statewide efforts to secure Medicaid protections for same-sex couples as part of SAGE’s multi-state initiative.

  4. A visible aging field that addresses LGBT issues and champions our efforts. In 2011, SAGE was a prominent player in the first-ever White House LGBT Conference on Aging. Additionally, our partnership-approach has influenced aging leaders to take public stances on LGBT issues—from a series of widely distributed LGBT-supportive recommendations from the Leadership Council on Aging Organizations, to a media event showcasing the aging network's support of marriage equality (weeks before the historic SCOTUS opinions), to a Congressional briefing on marginalized elders with the country’s leading aging organizations working in communities of color—and more.

  5. A firm spotlight on racial inequality and its effects on LGBT elders of color. Our involvement in the Diverse Elders Coalition (DEC) has focused attention on the shared barriers facing marginalized communities as they age: widespread discrimination, housing and employment insecurity, a dearth in government funding, and more. SAGE helped launch a website on these barriers and issued an original policy report. And in April of this year, as part of National Minority Health Awareness Month, we released a policy report on the health issues facing LGBT elders of color, which reached the wide array of national advocates working in health, aging, LGBT rights and racial justice.

  6. Enhanced representations of LGBT older people in the media and in social change advocacy. The number of news stories on LGBT aging has surged since 2010, reflecting the growing visibility of these issues, as well as the dedicated attention that SAGE has placed in reshaping the media narrative. Our large-scale marketing campaigns have reached millions and won multiple awards from GLAAD and the International Academy of the Visual Arts. In January 2013, SAGE launched SAGE Story, a national digital storytelling and advocacy program for LGBT elders, funded generously by the AARP Foundation. And our online presence has exploded; today SAGE reaches more 70,000 people online per month—up from 6,000 people per month in January 2010.

  7. Public policies that better support LGBT older people, and ultimately, their physical and material conditions. Our ultimate goal is to change the public policies that govern our lives. SAGE maintains a year-by-year listing of these policy achievements on our website, which includes multiple policy wins in areas such as Social Security, Medicaid, HIV and aging, and federal definitions of "greatest social need," among many others. This work is made possible by dedicated SAGE staff and our national partners.

Our policy successes in the last few years are impressive and wide-reaching—but work remains to be done. In September of this year, SAGE will unveil its new strategic plan for the next three years, and I'll offer a preview of the policy goals we seek to achieve in that time frame.

In the meantime, here’s a toast to everyone who supported our advocacy vision, helping make our aging realities more hopeful. Here’s a toast to LGBT older people, who helped our movements pave the way. And here’s a toast to achieving progress and sparking change.

Stay tuned—we’ve only just begun.

Read more about SAGE’s successes over the last five years in our latest issue of SAGEMatters.

July 29, 2013

Extra! Extra!

Read the latest issue of SAGEMatters, Summer 2013 edition! We've got articles on LGBT affordable housing, a rundown of our achievements over the past 5 years, features on our national programs and more! Download your own copy or use the Issuu reader below.

 

July 26, 2013

The Personal is Political: Eleanor’s Story

In honor of the 23rd Anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, SAGE is pleased to share Eleanor Smith's story. Eleanor is the founder of Concrete Change, a disability rights organization in Decatur, GA. This is an excerpt of a speech she gave at SAGE’s LGBT Elder Institute, held in Atlanta, on January 24, 2013. Visit SAGE Story to listen to her full presentation.
 

Eleanor
Eleanor Smith
(image from Measure up the North
At my one of my first disability rights actions, in Washington DC about 30 years ago, as I was marching along in my wheelchair with a few hundred  others, a fellow marcher pulled up beside me in his power wheelchair and said, “Are you one of those old time dykes?”  I laughed and answered affirmatively. He could probably tell by the flannel shirt.  Later I got to know Eric better, and I learned from him that he was a female to male trans person. What a lot of guts he was showing back then in the 1980s to be a severely mobility-impaired person who also changed his gender. Back then Eric and I were young people with disabilities. Now we’re old people with disabilities. Today I’m going to talk about the intersection of aging and disability and the wisdom of older gays and people with disabilities working more closely together.

 

I have noticed how old people and their organizations and younger disabled people and their organizations often work quite separately from each other, and are unaware of each others’ work.  This is the case even though many of the same issues affect both groups.

We have been taught over the years to realize that all oppressions operate in similar ways. Ageism and ableism are even more closely intertwined that most oppressions. For instance, both older people and disabled people are often devalued because our bodies or minds deviate from the norm by being—or perceived as being—weaker and less functional.   And the physical attributes of both old people and people with disabilities of all ages are considered by many to be ugly, or grotesque. So we all need to be liberated to see old or disabled bodies as beautiful in their own way.

Continue reading "The Personal is Political: Eleanor’s Story " »

July 23, 2013

Social Security Benefits Post DOMA

On Wednesday, July 17, 2013, the Social Security Administration (SSA) posted new guidance on its website regarding the implications of the Supreme Court’s Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) ruling for Social Security benefits. 

SSA states in its press release: “We encourage individuals who believe they may be eligible for Social Security benefits to apply now, to protect against the loss of any potential benefits.”  SSA will process the claims when it receives final instructions on how to do so. 

SSA posted two related frequently asked questions on its website:

Q1:     What should I do if I think I might be eligible for benefits?

A1:     If you think you might be eligible for benefits, we encourage you to apply right away.  Applying now will preserve your filing date, which we use to determine the start of potential benefits.

Q2:     When will SSA begin paying benefits to same sex couples?

A2:     We will move swiftly to process claims once we have finalized instructions for our personnel.

Stay tuned to the SAGE website for the latest information as the federal government navigates the implications of the DOMA ruling for LGBT older adults.

 

 

July 19, 2013

The Importance of Visitation Rights

Charles_douglas2On June 28, 2013, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a “reminder” to State Survey Agency Directors about access and visitation rights in long-term care (LTC) facilities.

The gist of the memo was to clarify that the 24-hour access and visitation rights residents already have include access and visitation by same-sex spouses and same-sex domestic partners. As the memo stated, “Residents must be notified of their rights to have visitors on a 24-hour basis, who could include, but are not limited to, spouses (including same-sex spouses), domestic partners (including same-sex domestic partners), other family members, or friends.” (Emphasis added.)

Denial of visitation rights to same-sex spouses and same-sex domestic partners is still a sad reality for many LGBT older people. The story of Charles and Douglas, found below, illustrates this point. (Note: while the CMS memo refers to LTC facilities, and Charles and Douglas’ story took place in a hospital, the underlying theme is the same, an utter lack of respect for a same-sex couple’s relationship by the people who should have been supporting them.)

By reiterating resident rights concerning access and visitation, CMS has sent a strong message not only to those who run LTC facilities but also to LGBT older adults, their family members, and friends that LGBT older adults and their loved ones must simply be treated the same as everyone else.   

Charles and Douglas’ Story

Like newlyweds the world over, Charles and Douglas were flying high on their return trip to Salt Lake City following their joyous marriage celebration in New York City in 2011. Hand in hand, they were still glowing after the ceremony that sealed the bond of their 12-year relationship. But onboard the flight back to Utah, a sobering thought began to sink in for Charles—the sad recognition that marriage equality was still something that existed only in a few states. He pulled aside a flight attendant and asked, “Will you let us know when we cross over into Pennsylvania? Because after that, we are no longer legal.”

Continue reading "The Importance of Visitation Rights" »

July 17, 2013

SAGE and The Moth Present....

Did you know that SAGE and The Moth colloborated in two SAGE Story workshops this Spring and Summer? The Moth, an award-winning storytelling program, taught SAGE members how to craft and share their own personal story in a unique and vibrant way. Today, we share a special slideshow of the two workshop finales and the stories of two members, Frans Bloem and Charles Fattone. Watch, like and share!

Interested in learning more about SAGE Story? Visit us on the web and share your story today

 

 

July 12, 2013

A New Documentary on LGBT Aging

BeforeYouKnowIt-460x460Near the end of June, SAGE had the pleasure of screening the film, Before You Know It, at The SAGE Center, just a few days after its New York City premiere at Lincoln Center. This moving documentary follows three older gay men from different parts of the country, painting portraits of three very different lives.  The film’s Facebook page describes its subjects this way:

“Born before the Civil Rights era, these men have witnessed unbelievable change in their lifetimes, from the Stonewall Riots and gay liberation, to the HIV/AIDS pandemic and Queer Nation, to gay marriage and Lady Gaga, and have lived to become part of an unprecedented ‘out’ elder generation. BEFORE focuses on the lives of these three gay seniors, but reminds us that while LGBT elders face a specific set of issues, aging and its challenges are universal. An affirmation of life and human resilience told with a refreshing humor and candor, BEFORE confirms that you are never too old to reshape society.”

Before You Know It holds a special place in SAGE’s heart, because one of the three men starring in the movie is SAGE’s very own Ty Martin, Harlem Community Liaison at SAGE Harlem in New York City. Over the course of a couple of years, the film’s director & producer PJ Raval and producer Sara Giustini, along with their film crew, spent quite a bit of time with Ty, constituents of SAGE Harlem, and in the Harlem LGBT community. What emerges is a story of an incredibly warm and supportive community, joyfully celebrating advances for LGBT equality while acknowledging the difficulties and struggles of being gay, older and African American.

PJ, Sara and their crew took incredible care with Ty’s story, and presumably took the same care with the stories of the film’s other two protagonists, Robert and Dennis. Robert is from Galveston, Texas, where he owns the state’s oldest gay bar. Dennis splits his time between Florida and Portland; a widower in his 70s, he has only just started to explore his sexual identity. Together, these three men’s experiences weave a picture of strength, resilience, and the importance of being surrounded by friends and peers who understand and support each other. The film also provides a window into the diverse lives of LGBT older adults, busting through common ageist stereotypes and showing viewers that there is no singular “LGBT elder story.”

Visit the official site of Before You Know It to view the trailer. Before You Know It will be screened next in Los Angeles at OutFest, on July 14. Other screenings in July include Philadelphia, Dallas, Galveston, and Denver. If you’re in one of these cities, get your tickets now and see this film!

July 10, 2013

LGBT Senior Living: Challenges and Change in Nursing Home Settings

Written by Anila S. Venkat, this post was originally featured on the ElderBranch blog. ElderBranch provides unbiased information on senior care providers. 

BlogpostlivingfacilitiesAs described in ElderBranch’s initial piece on LGBT senior living, elder care facilities and other health care settings are often unwelcoming towards LGBT older adults or insensitive to their needs and circumstances.

As a result, LGBT elders generally tend to delay seeking health care for fear of discrimination and mistreatment. At the same time, they are less likely to rely on family members for caregiving for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, together, this may lead to LGBT older adults needing institutional care more frequently, or sooner in their lifetimes, as they may find that their health deteriorates more rapidly.

ElderBranch interviewed Hilary Meyer and Aaron Tax of Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) to explore this issue and discuss SAGE advocacy efforts aimed at encouraging system-wide change.

Hostile Health Care Environments

In its report, LGBT Older Adults and Inhospitable Health Care Environments, SAGE details how health care settings are often challenging environments for LGBT elders. These seniors may face outright discrimination, or it may be that the staff in these settings is not trained to deal with this population of elders.

Though some health care environments are starting to change, the scars of previous negative experiences leave many seniors reluctant to pursue care unless absolutely necessary. In fact, the SAGE report quotes a 2006 study that found that less than half of lesbian and gay Baby Boomers were strongly confident that health care professionals would treat them with dignity and respect.

However, in delaying the pursuit of health care, LGBT older adults often find themselves in a position where their health deteriorates more suddenly and sooner than expected, and then they end up requiring institutional care – such as nursing home care.

Challenges in Nursing Home Settings

In nursing home settings, LGBT seniors often face discrimination not only from staff members, but also from other residents and residents’ family members. Hostility from a variety of angles can lead to LGBT elders keeping to themselves and limiting interaction with others.

Staff members have been known to deny same-sex partner visitations, prevent same-sex couples from sharing rooms and even refuse the participation of a same-sex partner in the medical decision-making of the resident.

When faced with harassment by other residents and their family members, nursing homes are often ill-equipped to confront these situations. Staff members sometimes react by isolating the LGBT individual – which can be devastating for that resident when he or she is already withdrawn and isolated socially.

Effecting Change – SAGE Advocacy

SAGE is very deeply engaged in advocacy efforts to support the needs of LGBT older adults. Though it is difficult to target long-term care settings more generally (assisted living, retirement communities), due to lack of one governing body or set of rules, facilities that accept Medicare or Medicaid funding – such as nursing homes – are more easily addressed.

SAGE advocates on a number of key issues pertaining to care in nursing home settings, which begin to address some of the challenges described above that arise when LGBT seniors access nursing home care.

Cultural Competency Training

It is critical that nursing home staff appreciate the specific needs of LGBT older adults, including recognizing diverse family structures and providing medically appropriate care for transgender people.

In this regard, Aaron Tax explains, “We and our LGBT-aging allies are currently working with CMS [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] on an LGBT cultural competency training for employees in long-term care facilities, targeting nursing facilities certified by CMS for Medicare and/or Medicaid and state-licensed residential care facilities. We also believe there are places where LGBT curricula can and should be added to staff trainings or integrated into existing trainings for care providers.”

To this end, SAGE offers comprehensive cultural competency trainings through its National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, for staff at nursing homes and other aging service providers. Interested parties can request a training through the SAGE website.

Updating Forms and Broad Definitions of Family

LGBT people and their families often have difficulty ensuring access for partners and children who do not have legally recognized relationships. For example, LGBT elders should be allowed to list their partners on forms where heterosexual couples list spouses, list their non-biological and non-adoptive children as well, and be permitted visitations from their partners and non-biological/non-adoptive children.

“We and our LGBT-aging allies have recommended that CMS and AoA [Administration on Aging] review and revise existing regulations, as appropriate, to incorporate inclusive definitions of family. We and our LGBT-aging allies have also urged that CMS and AoA take actions to encourage state agencies to review and revise their own regulations and forms as needed,” details Aaron.

The LGBT movement’s efforts in these arenas are evidently paying off. On June 28, 2013, CMS issued amemorandum to State Survey Agency Directors, reiterating resident rights surrounding access and visitation.

The memo states that long-term care facilities must ensure that all visitors be given full and equal visitation privileges. Most significantly, the memo states that residents must be notified of their rights to have visitors on a 24-hour basis, who could include, but are not limited to, spouses (including same-sex spouses), domestic partners (including same-sex domestic partners), other family members, or friends.

While many challenges remain ahead – for example, LGBT older adults need to be able to feel comfortable reporting violations to their rights – these changes represent significant steps in the right direction.


July 9, 2013

SAGE’s Weekly Writing Workshops Thrive

Kristina
SAGE Volunteer, Kristina Villarini
Today’s post is from Kristina Villarini, creativity enforcer and a New York Writer's Coalition volunteer at SAGE. Follow her on Twitter

 

It can begin with a prompt. Or not.

The prompt is like a shadow. It is a welcome breeze on a summer day. It is a catalyst; one used to flow the writer’s juices. It serves to inspire and engage, and then it’s gone, and the real work begins.

For the last year, I have spent my Mondays with SAGE, as a creative writing workshop leader from 3pm to 5pm, thanks to a partnership with the New York Writer’s Coalition. I have said to the group, on more than one occasion, that writing with them every week has become one of the most fulfilling things I do.

The NYWC’s guidelines set the parameters for the workshop: positive feedback only, treat all work as fiction, refer to the author as “The Narrator,” etc. This acts as a mean for novices and published, professional writers. I would like to believe, as I’m sure any good workshop leader would, that the SAGE Lounge during my workshop is the safest place in the world to be.

There is an equal respect for the storyteller, the poet, the actor, the novelist, the professor and the playwright in that light-filled room. I’ve watched as people closed their eyes to visualize a piece of work being read aloud.

You can hear desire, conflict, and jubilation in the work. You can hear pieces about picnics in New York spring or hear about two lovers meeting for the first time in the 19th century. All little sparks of joy dancing across blank canvases. The same blank canvas that we submit willingly to every week. We are unafraid of what’s to come.

In the last year, I’ve watched as a myriad of guests passed through a frosted glass door, “our room,” for a singular purpose: to write. Are they fables? Was that a journal entry? We never know. All that remains is the passionate exchange of energy between creators, navigating their own resistance to contribute to a little piece of legacy.

For two hours every Monday, I am guaranteed to be in awe of one of the greatest things humans have ever done: sharing and exchanging stories. Anyone can write, anyone can share, and during the workshop, we are whoever we want to be.

I hope you’ll consider joining us for the next full session during the winter. To find out more information about the New York Writer’s Coalition and their phenomenal work, please visit them on the web.

July 8, 2013

Pride 2013 Video Recap!

Sometimes it's nice to relive a particular amazing day. This Monday afternoon, we are looking back at the NYC Pride Parade and sharing our memories with our readers. Enjoy!