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8 posts from February 2014

February 26, 2014

Edie Windsor: One of the LGBT Elders Being Honored by Jewish Home Lifecare

Today's guest post is from Deirdre Downes, Corporate Director of Social Work Initiatives at Jewish Home Lifecare (JHL). JHL received the Aging Services Leadership Award at the 2013 SAGE Awards and will be honoring Edie Windsor next week.

SAGE Gala & Awards 2010 138When LGBT trailblazer Edie Windsor is honored at Jewish Home Lifecare's "Eight Over Eighty" gala on March 5, it will be a thrilling evening and the latest reminder of Jewish Home’s embrace of the LGBT community.

The 165-year-old nonprofit provider of eldercare services has been working hard to become a place where LGBT elders can live openly and proudly, knowing that they will be treated with complete respect at all times.

The issue is critical. A 2011 survey by the National Senior Citizens Law Center revealed that fewer than 25% of LGBT older adults felt they could be open about their identities with the staff of their long-term care facilities.

Things are very different at Jewish Home Lifecare.

SAGE, which honored Jewish Home with its Aging Services Leadership Award in October, is partnering with the organization on a multi-year, institution-wide training program. The goal is to make sure every staff member understands and is sensitive to the needs and concerns of LGBT residents.

That Jewish Home's "cultural competency" is already in a good place is clear from its plans for a new residence that will open in 2018. The residence is being developed as a GREEN HOUSE® facility, meaning that the focus, in design and operation, will be on dignity and autonomy for all residents in all things. Green House facilities operate as collections of small, nurturing households (apartments), each with individual bedrooms/baths clustered around a shared living/dining space. Among the 22 households in the new facility will be an all-LGBT apartment that LGBT adults can opt for if they wish – the first time this option is being offered in a NYC skilled nursing facility.

Long overlooked, aging LGBT adults face distinct challenges. Most live alone, they are less likely to have partners or adult children to care for them and advocate on their behalf, and they often face discrimination in health insurance, medical care, social services, and housing. Unlike married heterosexual couples, LGBT elders living in nursing homes do not usually have the right to stay in the same room.

We are proud to be changing all that.

February 25, 2014

Aging Out: Exploring Ageism and Heterosexism Among African American Lesbians and Gay Males

In honor of February being African American History Month, SAGE has been highlighting our diverse programs, constituents and stories relevant to black aging. Look back at our featured stories for the month. For our last post of the month, Dr. Imani Woody of SAGE Metro D.C. and  is the founding director and CEO of Mary’s House for Older Adults, a developing LGBT friendly residential housing in Washington, DC, explores issues on ageism and heterosexism in the African American lesbian and gay communities.

ImaniPeople are complex, and African-American older LGBT adults are no exception. They live at the intersection of multiple identities experienced over the life span, in a culture steeped in racism, sexism, ageism, heterosexism and homophobia. African-American lesbian and gay males experience at a minimum two hostile environments: being lesbian or gay in a heterosexist society; being a person of color in a racist culture; being female in a sexist culture; and being old in a youth-worshipping culture.

Moreover, research shows that living with racism on a daily basis influences the health and well-being of African Americans, leading to major gaps in health and financial equality, higher levels of infirmity and chronic illness, even earlier death than other populations. African-American elders are likely to experience poverty at more than two times the rate of all other older Americans.

This article comes from research cited in Lift Every Voice: Treading our Path, (NGLTF Task Force, 2012) that tells the stories of lives lived and the very real problems of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender African Americans coming-of-age and how those experiences shaped their lives as they grew older. People remember being conflicted in telling family members their sexual orientation and sexual identity, fearing rejection and abandonment. A 66-year-old African-American lesbian woman described it this way:

  • “I knew I was different as a child. … But I guess I was in my early teens [before I knew the words], because you don’t know what the word is. When I was coming up, the word was bull dagger. It was so negative, so you still don’t know. You are a kid; you don’t know, there were no words for it, I hate that word. It’s just I’ve gotten older, I just, ugh. … That’s so derogatory. It’s negative.”

Many older African-American lesbian women and gay men have experienced a sense of grief and loss from being alienated within one’s own race and ethnicity because of perceived sexual identity and orientation. Often the disaffection happens early and scars last for life. Many elders speak of living in hostile environments within the African-American community. As this 63-year-old African-American man explains:

  • “I know I have an androgynous look, it was even more so when I was younger. So therefore, there was some discrimination against me by assumption rather than fact because they would look at me and because I am androgynous looking they would assume. … One of my issues being African American and looking like this was really when I came out in college in the late ’60s at the height of the Black Power Movement and I was distinctly told by a couple of Black organizations at the time, ‘we don’t want your kind here.’ ”

Suspicions of institutions and institutional care are a shared ancestry of African Americans. This is also a shared experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people coming of age in the decades of the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s. Institutional bigotry, hatred and stigma has led to medical classification and criminalization often resulting in forced psychiatric treatment of LGBT people, and loss of family, church, employment, housing and other community structures. Such bigotry is still found in the medical profession and in church. Listen to the stories of three African-American elders:

  • … You have to be careful with that [advising providers that you’re gay] because the minute you tell a medical person that you are gay, they automatically, in 90 percent of the cases, will assume you’re HIV positive and start to treat you that way.” (63-year-old African-American gay man)
  • I grew up in the church. I was baptized when I was about 11 in the Baptist church. I came to D.C. and joined a world-renowned Baptist church. I sang on two choirs, was a part of the missionary group. … I met a very nice young lady and we were going to get married so we sent some invitations to people at the church. … There were some people on the Deacon and Trustee Board who brought me before the church. … We got into this thing about what the Bible did and didn’t say, but they put me out anyway. … It still hurt me deeply. It was one of the deepest hurts I have had in my life to be put out of my church that I have put so much love and energy…” (72-year-old African-American lesbian woman)
  • In a workplace situation, for example, I might not get an assignment that I know I am qualified for, know that I’m the best person for it, and don’t get it. Is that because I am old? Is it because I am Black? Is it because I am gay? (69-year-old African-American gay man)

Continue reading "Aging Out: Exploring Ageism and Heterosexism Among African American Lesbians and Gay Males" »

February 24, 2014

SHE: Empowering Women Through Health and Fitness

Felicia_sobelFelicia Sobel joined SAGE in June, 2011 as its first Women’s Programming Coordinator.  A licensed clinical social worker, she welcomed the opportunity to embrace the goal of expanding programs and events for women in the lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.  The SAGE SHE (Strong. Healthy. Energized) program developed in conjunction with the Lewin Research Group, is a fitness program that is now in its second run. Read more about the group, co-faciliated by Felicia, below.

When I first learned that the federal Office of Women’s Health was providing funds earmarked for a fitness program just for lesbians and bisexual women, I wondered why these particular groups were being singled out. Then I learned that in fact there is a greater proportion of overweight women in this population than in its heterosexual counterpart.  In view of this finding, I realized this program could create a comfortable atmosphere for lesbian and bisexual participants who may feel reluctant to join a gym or other exercise program and knew it could be beneficial to SAGE members.

In planning meetings with an advisory council, including Lewin staff and several professionals representing various health disciplines, as well as myself, the potential of this offering came to light as a truly innovative, holistic approach to health and fitness and weight problems.  The emphasis would not be on losing pounds, but rather on acquiring habits that would lead to improved fitness and health

Each of the 12 sessions of the first program at The SAGE Center included exercises, led by Ruth Gursky (a personal trainer), a discussion group component, and information on nutrition–including pointers on reading food and drink labels, and cooking.

She_felicia

Each participant was given a Fitbit—a pedometer and activity tracking device, along with encouragement to keep track of the steps she took each week. All were invited to go on walks, usually on the Highline, after the weekly sessions.  At each session after submitting their weekly step-tracking forms, participants received step goals for the following week.  Raffles were provided based on attendance and submission of the step data.  Midway through the program and at its conclusion, there were substantial monetary rewards.  Other prizes included Trader Joe’s gift cards, fanny packs and SHE tee-shirts. A major ongoing plus was a healthy dose of fun!

There was a concerted effort to obtain participants’ feedback.  Focus groups were held and the comments were largely positive. Some participants enjoyed the general benefits, such as an improved sense of well-being. Others were  quite specific in what parts of the program helped. One reported having a change of heart about the importance of reading food labels in order to understand what she was actually consuming and how it could affect her health. As one woman said, “For me, a crucial feature of the program was the tone in which the material was presented: warm, supportive, non-judgmental and psychologically healthy.”

The first round of the SHE program, which ran from this past October through early February, yielded sufficient success to warrant a spring version. An informational session will be held on March 5 from 2-3PM and the program will begin its 12-week start on April 2 (2-3:30 PM). To RSVP for the March 5 session or to request more information, please email me at fsobel@sageusa.org.

 
February 18, 2014

George Stewart: A Champion of Change for Black History Month

In honor of February being African American History Month, SAGE will be highlighting our diverse programs, constituents and stories relevant to black aging. Check back for featured stories every Tuesday, with additional posts throughout the month.

George_headshot2 (1)George Stewart, 82 years old, has led a life full of change and surprises. He served in the Army, both in the U.S. and overseas, was a hospital aide during the AIDS crisis in the 80's and surprisingly became an out-LGBT spokesperson when he was an honored speaker at The SAGE Center's ribbon-cutting ceremony in 2012. These are his words.

In celebration of Black History Month, I would like to honor my heroes. Right now, they are President Obama, and, of course, Nelson Mandela. They made history in their movements and they have accomplished a lot of things that we, as African Americans, never thought would be done. Especially Mandela, who suffered in prison and left without being angry and just completed the job he set out to do. His passing was a blow to me, but the way the world united in honoring him was inspiring. President Obama's speech at the ceremony was truly moving and he, making history as the first African American president of the United States, is another man that I think our community can emulate. Those  men are my heroes. 

I would like to say that my life two years ago was very different. You could say SAGE outed me! I wouldn't say I was closeted at the time, but looking back, I suppose I was. Since I was one of the speakers at The SAGE Center grand opening, I received a lot of media attention. I had a brief interview with NY1 and that was it! Some of my neighbors saw me on television and I was willingly outed. My life is 100% more interesting! I feel much more free in my thinking and what I enjoy. I really feel like I'm being myself. I've lost a couple of friends, but that's their problem, not mine. I've gained more friends than I've lost - that's a plus! I also have a job, people who rely on me and care about my opinions, so I am pretty happy right now.

Looking back at the past two (out) years of my life, what really stands out for me was my trip to Washington, D.C. Through SAGE, I submitted my story to the White House LGBT Champions of Change contest, and was a finalist! Me and a couple of SAGE staffers traveled to D.C. for the ceremony and it was wonderful. I was on a panel with some extraordinary people who were all doing work for the LGBT movement. It was a great experience and I met so many wonderful people. I honestely didn't realize how big the movement was until I was on that panel and learned about what they were all doing around the country! All of the other Champions of Change, along with groups like PFLAG and AVER...I didn't realize all of those people were working for the same cause - LGBT rights and equality.

I've been motivated to work for this cause because of SAGE.  I believe everyone should be happy in what they want to do in their lives. I myself have become more open-minded and free because of learning more about the LGBT community. I would like to see this country be more tolerant of other peoples' lifestyles -- especially, for me, the black church. I love my church. I sing in the choir and we have a wonderful congregation. However, the belief system that is engrained is very homophobic. The best way to fight the homophobia is to stay in the church and be a positive presence -- because God loves us all. 

Watch George's winning White House Champion of Change video below.

February 13, 2014

Hot in Miami

Since the SAGE offices in New York City are suffering from Winter Storm Pax, we're reliving our SAGE & Friends event that was held in Miami, Florida on January 31st! 


SAGE & Friends
was SAGE's first ticketed event outside of New York City and held in conjunction with our triannual national board meeting. Over 100 supporters came together to kick off and celebrate the New Year and mixed and mingled with the board of directors and Executive Director Michael Adams while enjoying cocktails, hors d'oeuvres and Miami pianist Sam Garner.  SAGE & Friends was a huge success for the organization as SAGE spread our message on LGBT aging to new supporters and friends.

February 11, 2014

Four Amazing Women of Color Share Their Stories

In honor of February being African American History Month, SAGE will be highlighting our diverse programs, constituents and stories relevant to black aging. Check back for featured stories every Tuesday, with additional posts throughout the month.

Our stories connect us and allow us to share common bonds through the use of words, pictures, music and video. Today, we would like to share stories from four African American women from around the country. Each of their voices and stories are different, but all share the desire for recognition and hope for the future. If you have a story to share, please tell us by visiting our SAGE Story portal on the SAGE website.

Cheryl & Elizabeth, SAGE Wilmington of the Cape Fear Coast, North Carolina
The two tell us about how despite growing up in faith-based traditions that did not affirm their being lesbians, they somehow met at church. They explain how their faith joined them together and how 10 years later, they are still together and still in church and are accepted in their community!


FrancesFrances, SAGE Harlem, New York City
Frances, 72, is a lover of Zumba and food! She shares her experience of having a stroke and how her lover of 20 years was so supportive and caring of her in the hospital. She wants women to know that they have the power and strength to get better after a debilitating situation such as herself. Listen to her story, recorded in 2013 for SAGE Story, below.

 


Helena Bushong2Helena, SAGE Center on Halsted, Chicago
Helena, a transgender older adult diagnosed with HIV, shares her powerful story in a wonderful essay. She writes, "the most important thing I learned in accepting myself as transgender and also living with HIV/AIDS was about stigma.  I realized that my fear of disclosing my HIV/AIDS status was extremely unhealthy and only contributed to my loneliness and isolation, and would cause me to indeed die faster." Read an excerpt below and the whole story here.

My name is Helena and I am a 60-year-old transgender female living with HIV. I am not a victim. An HIV/AIDS diagnosis is NOT a death sentence, but is similar to living with breast cancer or diabetes, which through some lifestyle changes, are manageable diseases.

I was diagnosed with HIV and AIDS in 2002, and was told I would not live more than six months, and at best, a year. Along with my doctors, I believe that I was a "late tester," meaning because I was diagnosed with AIDS—a late stage infection—and not HIV, I likely contracted HIV 15 to 20 years before showing any sign or symptoms. Because people can carry HIV/AIDS asymptomatically, it is important to be tested on a regular basis to avoid a late test and spreading the disease.

Read her whole story here.

February 7, 2014

Fighting HIV/AIDS: National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Badge-national-black-hiv-awarenessWhile we honor our heroes and LGBT constituents for Black History Month with a series of events and future online profiles, we must also recognize the impact that HIV/AIDS has on the African American community. Today is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and if you don't think that's a big deal, check out the stats. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) fast facts:

  • African Americans are the racial/ethnic group most affected by HIV.
  • The rate of new HIV infection in African Americans is 8 times that of whites based on population size.
  • Gay and bisexual men account for most new infections among African Americans; young gay and bisexual men aged 13 to 24 are the most affected of this group.

SnapshotHIVAIDS

Ten-Things-Every-LGBT-Older-Adult-Should-Know-About-HIV-and-AIDS-1These statistics don't take into account the issues facing LGBT older adults and HIV/AIDS. For example, older adults are often not tested for HIV because of providers' misconceptions that they are no longer sexually active.  Research also shows that by 2015, one in two people with HIV/AIDS will be age 50 and older. Overall, the rates of HIV/AIDS among older adults 50+ have increased more than 61 percent from 2001 to 2007. Interested in learning more? Check out our Ten Things Every LGBT Older Adult Should Know About HIV and AIDS. You can also read about how "HIV/AIDS is Still an Issue for Older Gay Black Men" and words from Helena Bushong: "I am a 60-Year-Old Trans Female Living with HIV."

As part of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, we urge people to spread the word and to get tested. To find a testing site near you, call 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636), visit the National HIV and STD Testing Resources page, or text your ZIP code to KNOW IT (566948). You can also use one of the two FDA-approved home testing kits available in drugstores or online.

February 4, 2014

SAGE Celebrates Black History Month

February, in addition to being LGBT History Month in the U.K., is African American History Month. SAGE will be celebrating with a variety of programs designed by The SAGE Center and our SAGE Harlem teams. We will also be highlighting the stories of our SAGE members from around the country in the next few weeks, so be sure to bookmark the SAGE Blog and visit often!

Patricia_fraserThe following post was written by Patricia Fraser-Morales, SAGE Harlem Program Assistant.

SAGE Harlem is working on some exciting offerings to commemorate Black History Month. Our staff and volunteers have created an art exhibition on the walls of the Harlem Center to showcase the diverse talents of our constituents. This begins an initiative we hope to continue all year long, with revolving art pieces and poetry selections to illustrate our chosen theme: “Life in Harlem.”

 To keep consistent with the arts theme, SAGE Harlem is collaborating this month with the Romare Bearden Foundation, located on the second floor of the historic Hotel Theresa Building.  We will be offering small group tours of the Bearden archive, which features art pieces, writings, and other memorabilia of the famous artist. 

More Black History Month Events:

All of SAGE has been invited to attend a special afternoon screening of The New Black at the Film Forum. The New Black is a documentary that tells the story of how the African-American community is grappling with the gay rights issue in light of the recent gay marriage movement and the fight over civil rights. SAGE is planning to have a Q&A with the creators of the film at a later date.

SAGE Harlem is offering multiple screenings of the classic Paris is Burning at the Harlem Center.  On February 18, there will be a presentation on the history of the ballroom scene given by scholar/activist Michael Roberson, who is the Father of the House of Garcon.

Harlem Nights_piece by Harlem Constituent Frances Gordon
Harlem Nights, painted by SAGE Harlem Constituent, Francis Gordon

Our regular programming for the month includes all support groups and activities:

  • Women’s 40+ Support Group on Friday, February 7
  • Latino Men’s Group on Tuesday, February 11
  • Men’s 50+ Support on Friday, February 14
  • Grief Group on Saturdays, February 8 & 15
  • New Beginnings every Tuesday afternoon
  • AA Meditation every Monday night
  • Spirituality Group on the 2nd and 4th Mondays
  • Buddy to Buddy on Thursday, February 20

The H.E.A.T. Meeting and Social Hour on Friday, February 21st, and Fabulous Friday on Friday, February 28th round out the month-long celebrations.  Please “like” us on Facebook, and check out the website for more information on dates, times and more offerings.