Victories Large and Small: Five Years of Program Wins for LGBT Older Adults
Today’s post is from Catherine Thurston, Senior Director for Programs at SAGE.
This past June, the LGBT community across the country (and around the world) celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In the days following the decision, I heard many SAGE constituents say that this was as seminal a moment for the LGBT civil rights movement as the Stonewall Riots 45 years ago—and that they felt privileged to have witnessed both events. There is no doubt that this is true, and we at SAGE celebrated that victory joyously, especially because we have a long and deep relationship with the wonderful Edie Windsor. Yet as I thought about what SAGE has accomplished in these last five years, I realized that for the LGBT older adults we engage, SAGE has led victories that, while not as publicized, have been life-changing all the same. Here are four areas where LGBT older adults have seen—and helped make—significant changes in their lives and in their systems of support:
- The funding and launch of SAGE’s National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, a national training and resource center for aging providers, LGBT organizations, and LGBT older adults. As a Geriatric social worker, throughout my career I have heard incredible stories of where people were at pivotal moments in our history: when World War II ended, when JFK was assassinated, etc. While not quite as significant as these events, for many of us at SAGE, it felt like a historic, monumental and brave moment when we learned that the federal government—through the Administration on Aging in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—would be funding the creation of a technical assistance center for LGBT older adults. I immediately thought of all of the wonderful people I had met and worked with, constituents and staff, whose years of advocacy had helped lead us to the moment where our nation’s administration acknowledged that LGBT older adults existed, and needed specific resources. As the nation’s oldest and largest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT older adults, the challenge (and ultimate honor) of becoming the lead organization behind the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging has allowed us to create hundreds of resources, and train thousands of providers across the country, ensuring that LGBT people have access to information and culturally competent services to help them age in place, surrounded by their community.
- The creation and expansion of SAGEWorks, an employment support program for LGBT people age 40 and older. In 2010 SAGE created a comprehensive program aimed at assisting LGBT people to sharpen their career skills and advance their employment. SAGEWorks was launched simultaneously in New York City and at five SAGE affiliate sites across the country. Since its launch, SAGEWorks has helped hundreds of LGBT people assess their employment skills, provide training and job coaching and assisted with employment. In addition, SAGEWorks works with employers across the country to educate and inform them of the benefits of hiring LGBT older workers, as well as creating a pipeline for these employers of SAGEWorks graduates.
- The opening of The SAGE Center, the country’s first full-time innovative LGBT senior center—a center in New York City that will pave the way for LGBT-explicit programming in all parts of the country. In 2011, after years of local advocacy on the part of SAGE and our constituents, we opened The SAGE Center. Through an “Innovative Senior Center Initiative” created by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and funded in part by the New York City Department for the Aging, The SAGE Center provides LGBT older adults across the five boroughs of New York City with an array of programs that maximize their health, promote community building and allow them to age in place in their homes. Serving a dinner meal to more than 100 people per night, The SAGE Center also serves an ever-growing number of working LGBT adults in their 60s and 70s. In less than two years, since its launch in March 2012, more than 1,300 people have become registered members of the Center, which speaks to the need it has filled for many LGBT elders in the city. The success of The SAGE Center and our supportive relationship with the New York City Department for the Aging have created a framework for replication that we hope will take place across other Area Agencies on Aging and LGBT providers nationally. While we are the first such LGBT senior center, we recognize that we will not be the last.
- A more visible national (even international) dialogue about LGBT aging. As a result of our program growth and the evolution of LGBT aging as a subject of interest, we at SAGE have spoken and written extensively about the challenges facing LGBT older adults and the programs needed to support them. We have presented at countless national aging and LGBT conferences, often bringing the only LGBT aging voice to the venue, and this past year SAGE’s Executive Director Michael Adams spoke at the first International LGBT Aging Conference in Paris, France. The dialogue and visibility that these settings provide allows the stories of LGBT elders to be heard in new contexts, and help us make progress toward our ultimate goal: to create a large-scale, national network of LGBT-affirming services that would leave no “wrong doors” for LGBT older people who are seeking support.