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October 3, 2013

SAGE Story: Bringing LGBT Elder Stories to Life

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

Those moments when you share a personal story that you've held for years—and the listener connects beyond the intellectual—become gems. You remember them forever. Perhaps you open up about a long-held secret. Or you craft a story to revisit a grievance, impart how someone affected you for years, and ask for forgiveness or atonement. You recall a better track you once took—and why. You honor those special people in your life through a vignette; someone hears it and learns to move on.

Our stories connect us to our past and to our loved ones. We cannot transform the decision-makers of our world unless we recount what shaped our own tiny worlds.

SAGEStory_blogPostThe power of storytelling serves as the premise for SAGE Story, our acclaimed national digital storytelling program for LGBT older people. We have learned that a story can personify a complex policy issue and make it relatable. It dramatizes the human consequences of policy decisions, lifelong economic hardship or an incident of discrimination. And when people share their stories—in person or online—they come to terms with those memories and the process serves as catharsis. Those who hear the stories, in turn, grow more empathetic.

A colleague once remarked that our histories as LGBT people have so often been shaped by others—revised, ignored or erased—that we forget the importance of crafting our own stories.

In cities and towns across the country, LGBT older people are re-telling history. SAGE Story hosts workshops for LGBT elders that teach effective storytelling through essays, videos, podcasts and photography. LGBT elders who go through these workshops become storytellers in modern media, and more broadly, they become spokespeople on larger social issues.

This also means that the library of online stories collected through SAGE Story helps diversify media coverage, as well as the online strategies of advocates across the spectrum. When I designed this program in early 2012, I often encountered colleagues in other fields who craved LGBT elder stories to better tell their own narratives on caregiving, paid leave, marriage equality and more. SAGE Story meets this demand—and creates a cadre of trained advocates along the way.

SAGE Story workshops also help reduce isolation among older people, a phenomenon that leads to smaller support networks, loneliness and depression, and worse for millions of older people as they age. Because LGBT older people are more likely to be single and without children—and traditional supports in the aging and LGBT fields are generally not welcoming of LGBT elders—programs to reduce social isolation become vital to LGBT people. Arts-based therapy programs have been shown to support people in later life, and having the space to process difficult life stories with others can improve a sense of self and community—all important to LGBT people as they age.

The AARP Foundation invested in SAGE Story for these reasons—and this fall, SAGE’s affiliates will be hosting SAGE Story workshops in six sites around the country. LGBT people have long been innovators for the broader public good, and this program in the long-term has the potential to improve the lives and representations of older people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

And how can we each support LGB elders and their stories? SAGE maintains an online story display of LGBT elder stories as well as an online storytelling booth where LGBT people can share their stories across formats. Take a moment to read, watch and hear these brave stories—then share them with your friends and your colleagues. Help your broad social network better understand both the resilience and the hardship that comes with aging as LGBT people.

Or take a chance and share your own story. We continue to make history every day as LGBT people; let’s tell that story, person to person.


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good idea.

As a member of Senior Pride at Wingspan and a lesbian for over 81 years, I could not agree more. I have been a part of a speaker's panel for two different LGBTQ groups telling my coming-out story (which was in 1955). It is so important that as a group and individually, we record the impact of being lesbian, gay, or transgender has had on our lives.

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