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14 posts from October 2013

October 30, 2013

Senate Moves on Older Americans Act

FederalHeadToday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee began the process of marking-up (meaning debating, amending, or rewriting) S.1562, the Older Americans Act Reauthorization Act of 2013.

As you may know, the Older Americans Act (OAA) was scheduled to be reauthorized in 2011. This historically bi-partisan law, has, however, been trapped in the same partisanship that has gripped all of Washington.  

OAA is the most significant source of funding for programs that serve older Americans, and in 2011, when the reauthorization process began, SAGE and our advocacy partners, including HRC and members of the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, consistently advocated to make it LGBT inclusive. During the reauthorization process, there were some high points for the LGBT community.  In 2012, Senator Michael Bennet (D. CO) introduced the LGBT Elder Americans Act of 2012, a set of amendments to the OAA that would have for the first time made the OAA explicitly LGBT inclusive. Senator Bernie Sanders (I. VT) included Senator Bennet’s LGBT-inclusive amendments in his larger, Democratic bill that he introduced in the last Congress and reintroduced during  Older Americans Month (May 2013). SAGE acknowledges and appreciates Senator Bennet and Senator Sanders’s support for LGBT older adults and the leadership they demonstrated in fighting for inclusion of these amendments throughout the reauthorization process. We'd also like to thank Chairman Tom Harkin (D. IA) and Senator Tammy Baldwin (D. WI) for their continued support of the LGBT amendments.

Continue reading "Senate Moves on Older Americans Act" »

October 29, 2013

LGBT History Month: Rosita's Story

In honor of LGBT History Month, SAGE shares stories from our constituents. Watch them explain their experiences in the past and how it shaped their future.

Rosita Libre de Marulanda, an immigrant from Colombia, South America, is a lesbian widow after 18 years with her partner, mother of three lovely and smart daughters, grandmother to seven grandchildren and one cat.  In this video, she talks about all of these different facets of her life, how they affect her in her later years and the importance of SAGE. 

October 25, 2013

The 2013 SAGE Awards & Gala

On October 21, 2013, SAGE staff, board, supporters and constitutents gathered at Gotham Hall in NYC to celebrate another year of providing services and advocacy to LGBT older adults. We all extend a heartfelt thank you and congratulations to the honorees and supporters of the 18th Annual SAGE Awards & Gala.  With your support, we were able to exceed our fundraising goal of $500,000! Our honorees included the amazing Roberta Kaplan, Jay Lesiger, Chris Kann and Jewish Home Lifecare for all of the work they do on behalf of our LGBT older adult population.

October 24, 2013

LGBT History Month: Love in a Meat Truck

In honor of LGBT History Month, SAGE shares stories from our constituents. Watch them explain their experiences in the past and how it shaped their future.

This week, David Singh, shares his story about finding love in Chelsea—back when gay bars and Grindr were not de riguer.

October 23, 2013

"Why Do I Do This Work?"

Last week, 17 SAGENet affiliates from around the country met in Denver, Colorado for the Annual SAGENet Affiliate Meeting. Each year, our affiliates gather to connect, share ideas and learn more about the policy issues that affect LGBT older adults. In communities across the country, SAGENet is building a movement to reduce isolation, improve financial security and enhance the quality of life for LGBT older adults. The annual meeting is a way for SAGENet leaders to share ideas and best practices, study emerging policy issues, gain practical skills, and network. With the help of our local co-hosts SAGE of the Rockies and The GLBT Cennter of Colorado and with support from AARP Colorado and the Gill Foundation, we were able to hold another successful and informative meeting.

This year, we asked the question: "Why do I do this work?" Here are some answers:

October 18, 2013

LGBT History Month: Spotlight on Seniors

In honor of LGBT History Month, SAGE shares stories from our constituents. Watch them explain their experiences in the past and how it shaped their future.

This week, Jerry Hoose, shares his story about being a Stonewall Veteran and the first Pride March in New York City.

October 16, 2013

Open Letter to Health Reform Advocates: Pay Attention to Discrimination

This post, from Robert Espinoza, Senior Director for Public Policy and Communications at SAGE, was originally featured on The Huffington Post. Read the original post here and follow Robert on Twitter.

Usa_healthThe harms inflicted by discrimination reveal themselves in our bodies as we age -- as people of color, as poor and low-income people, and as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The symptoms manifest as higher rates of high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, depression, social isolation and more. In medical charts throughout the country, our bodies record what it means to survive a life shaped by perpetual poverty, higher concentrations in low-wage jobs with no health insurance, thin retirement options and inadequate protections in the workplace. They depict our fractured relationships to health care -- from cultural and linguistic barriers to overt bias and discrimination from health and aging providers, to a long-held, hard-earned distrust of medical staff internalized through years of differential treatment.

Our bodies confirm vividly the geographic dimensions of structural inequality, which can predict long-term health as early as childhood, based largely on where a person is born. We inhale the poison of inequality throughout our lives, and it inflames in our later years as a dismal diagnosis, a medical crisis or a preventable death. Yes, severe illness will surprise many of us at some point in our lives, and death is indiscriminate, but as empirical fact,poor health affects certain demographics disproportionately at earlier and higher rates, often the same people with no health coverage to manage the repercussions.

Continue reading "Open Letter to Health Reform Advocates: Pay Attention to Discrimination" »

October 15, 2013

SAGE Launches 1st National Storytelling Contest

SAGEStory_Facebook_GraphicWe know that LGBT older people have spent their lives building their own families and communities—the relationships that sustain us. Yet as we age, more and more of us begin to feel less connected.

But you can take the first step toward forging new connections by sharing your experiences with others. SAGE is now seeking stories for a nationwide contest that focus on how LGBT older people combat and conquer isolation, building the support systems they need to age well.

We want to know more about your family, friends, community, and what they mean to you. We want to know about a time when you may have felt alone but found a connection that sustained you. Or maybe a time when you built a circle of support for yourself or for someone else in need. Tell us:

What does “community” mean to you? How do you stay connected to the people who matter most to you?

Enter to win a $50 Amazon Gift Card and bragging rights!
October 11, 2013

'Coming Out' or 'Letting In'? Recasting the LGBT Narrative

This post, from Robert Espinoza, Senior Director for Public Policy and Communications at SAGE, was originally featured on The Huffington Post. Read the original post here and follow Robert on Twitter.

Robert_espinozaI came out as gay at age 20, first to my parents, who pushed me into therapy, and then to my sister, who was so unsurprised that she yawned for five grueling minutes. I came out over time to friends, family members and co-workers, and the response was generally the same: awkward yet loving questions, pseudoaffirmations and the routine confession meant to convey fraternity. One family member told me about her two-year affair with a married man. Another took me out for pie and recounted his sexual encounters with fellow Marines in the 1960s. Confessions are contagious, and I couldn't stop the divulging of secrets.

At the time, I was a student at a university caught up in the hotbed campus politics of the 1990s: preserving affirmative action; expanding financial aid; and establishing ethnic, women's and queer studies programs, to name a few of the issues. I soon aligned myself with a crew of progressive student activists with ties to the United States Student Association. I emerged as the queer, working-class, Chicano spokesperson. It was the year that Ellen DeGeneres came out, and the year before Matthew Shepard was murdered 135 miles north of my university. I learned early on that coming out means more than confessing a lifelong secret or managing the reactions of others. It means coming to consciousness about the political, economic and cultural systems that seek to regulate our sexuality and place our livelihoods at the mercy of a culture war. Coming out means naming the complicity of institutions and everyday people, often silent and well-intentioned, and at times violent and unrelenting. I came out as analytical and ideological, justice-minded and defiant. I came out eventually as queer, and this process has never stopped.

For me, despite its personal meaning, the coming-out narrative has always felt incomplete as the assumed rite of passage for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people. Yes, many have rooted their awakenings in coming out, which can build political will among those who come to know us, and millions have paved the way for queer rights around the world by naming their identities and challenging their circumstances. But the narrative doesn't work for all of us, and it hinders the dialogue on fluidity, life circumstance and gender variance. Also, coming out is more commonly portrayed as a psychotherapeutic exercise for affirmation and less as a tactic for altering the relations of power. In this context, on National Coming Out Day, I ask: Has a narrow conception of coming out done more to limit than to liberate our sense of community as queer people? And what should we come out in support of -- not just from?

In the public discourse, the coming-out narrative relies on a series of tropes: an early awareness of sexual or gender difference, years of navigating an intricate web of lies and codes, the fear of being discovered and rejected, and then, one day, the catharsis of confession. We can observe this stock narrative in news stories, movement history (recorded bravely and painfully across the decades), literature and entertainment. (Sometimes the coming-out narrative is used in non-queer story lines, as in Walter White's character onBreaking Bad, whose five-season story arc saw him negotiate a double life as a meth dealer whose lies spun increasingly out of control.) The coming-out narrative maps our trajectories of self-discovery, courage, disclosure and affirmation. The caterpillar turns into the butterfly, and eventually it flies.

But were we all once caterpillars? And where does the coming-out narrative miss the mark? Many LGBTQ people led lives that were less mired in secrecy, while others saw their sexual and gender identities shaped by a person or a situation. Chirlane McCray, the spouse of New York City mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, has spoken openly about her life as a lesbian, while noting that her 19-year marriage was made possible by "putting aside the assumptions I had about the form and package my love would come in." Love can destabilize our fixed, monochromatic notions of sexual orientation, monogamy and permanence. Yet how would the coming-out narrative make sense of these complexities? And if McCray never comes out as bisexual, would a faction of LGBTQ movement activists claim it as a loss?

These questions are rooted in a similar judgment that's unfairly cast on bisexual people who begin dating same-gender people later in life. My experience in the LGBTQ aging field has shown me that they are often typecast as former "closet cases" and affirmed for their new-found freedom. (Freedom from what, exactly?) It's no wonder that high percentages of bisexual people choose not to name it. We have no language for the liminal. "Love is an accident waiting to happen. Desire is a stranger you think you know," says a character in the play Closer, expressing a sentiment that's perhaps too nuanced for one-dimensional, identity-based constructs.

The choice to disclose one's sexuality or gender identity can also be ethically gray territory. Consider a transgender person who prefers not to disclose a transgender status and instead pass as male or female (or a more manifold expression). Or consider LGBTQ people who manage secret lives in the workplace for fear of losing their job security, or worse. Is that valid? It might also be that desire becomes more nuanced as we mature, and notions of privacy and identity become more profound, especially in a social media world. If we allow ourselves to mark which people see certain posts on Facebook, shouldn't we be allowed to exclude certain people from our queer lives? On this latter point, I level my critiques carefully. While I affirm a person's sexual and gender autonomy, as well as the importance of weighing the consequences of coming out, my activist heart lies with those who continually risk their well-being for society's benefit, and my existence owes a great deal to my elders and ancestors who lived and died for my right to live openly. Furthermore, experience has taught me that one person's right to privacy can often mean the invisibility of another person, such as a loving partner or an LGBT parent, as two examples. Finally, I recognize that many people cannot afford -- or don't even want -- to hide. I fight foremost for their rights.

But if our goals are to change minds and shift policies, and we recognize the power of storytelling in that pursuit, then perhaps we need a new dialectic frame. A colleague suggests that we reframe "coming out" as "letting in," as in letting others into our lives. He reasons that "letting in" better manages fluidity and the people we (surprisingly) love. The "letting in" frame allows for agency over what to disclose, to whom and when -- in gradations -- without assuming a fixed identity or that a private life conflicts with a public persona. If coming out is a confession, then letting in is a communion. We share our life stories, not just our secrets.

But storytelling changes minds, not necessarily politics. I propose that we think of coming out or letting in as a time for all of us to reflect on questions about the type of world we want to inhabit: What are the ways in which you've felt restrained by society's expectations regarding sex and gender? Did you ever meet someone who changed your life course and rattled you to your core? What are the sources and consequences of stigma, discrimination, rejection, violence and criminalization? Come out today as someone who will help rid society of these conditions, because whether we term it "coming out," "coming to terms," "coming to consciousness" or "letting people in" -- all frames worth contrasting -- we must ultimately correct what repressed us in the first place.

Start by telling your loved ones how you're unique. Tell them you have a story or two worth sharing. Ask for reciprocity. Remind them that you're not that dissimilar, and process those shared struggles. Tell them that the caterpillar knows its trajectory better than we think it does. Tell them that love emerges and flies. And we've got work to do.

October 10, 2013

The Power of Stories

Today’s post is by Nayoung Woo, who was placed at SAGE in spring 2013 through the Coro Fellows Program. She interviewed a number of LGBT couples for a SAGE Story marriage equality project. Nayoung’s experience illustrates the power of stories to move people on important issues. We hope after reading her story, you’re inspired to share your own—and now’s the perfect time to do it. SAGE has launched a nationwide contest to gather stories that relate how LGBT older people combat and conquer isolation, building the support systems we all need to age well. Enter today!

On my first day at SAGE, I ran into Pat and Barbara. An hour later, I found that they had so captivated my attention and imagination with the story about how they had met that I was squatting on the floor with a painful case of pins and needles in both feet.  

At one point in the conversation, Barbara asked me how old I was, and when I answered, “23,”she pointed at her shoes and said, “My shoes are older than you!" Everyone within hearing distance at The SAGE Center cracked up. That is the memory of SAGE that I will carry with me: of people who lived through magical relationships, both told and untold, and embraced all aspects of their identities, from being LGBT to being older.

But I also know that implied in that rose-colored memory are the pains of a collective that has fought for basic human rights for almost a lifetime, and even after that. For the sake of the legacy they have left me, where I can freely use the words "my partner" without fear of physical harm or legal offense, I will not only remember, but also take action.

Lynne & Cathy

For example, as a Christian, even though I had been an LGBT activist for a while, I had gone back and forth on the notion of same-sex marriage. I would see friends who would, and already do, make the best of spouses and parents, but the Word of God would always stare at me point blank in the face. But one day in April, I took a phone call interview for SAGE, and sobbed through almost an entire hour along with the interviewee, Lynne. She recalled for me the recent experience of losing her partner, and then losing most of the belongings and savings they had gathered together because federal law did not (yet) recognize their decades-long relationship.

After that phone call, I had to change how I thought about basic human rights: no God would have wanted such unfair and unnecessary suffering. When Section 3 of DOMA was eventually repealed in June, I celebrated full-heartedly, for the first time without any guilt from my faith, and I leveraged my conversation to educate and convince other Christians about the importance of legal, and perhaps in the future clerical, recognition of same-sex unions.

In small ways, I took action on my own belief system and of those around me for the sake of the pains that I learned about just by being around SAGE constituents. Now I can no longer consider marriage equality or other LGBT aging issues as contrary or irrelevant to me.

My hope is that I continue to collect valuable stories about a population that has, arguably, some of the richest stories to tell, and that one day I will no longer hear from the interviewees a short pause, a slight sigh, possibly accompanied with a forced grin, saying, "It is how it is," and "What can you do?" Rather, I want to hear more thundering and laughing, much as Barbara had done when she told me how she met Pat, because all their wisdom, survival, courage (and knitting) should be held with great respect.

Nayoung Woo served SAGE as a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs and is currently a Master's in Public Health Candidate at Columbia University.