Advocating for Change: Notes from SAGE Portland
Today's post comes to us from Glen Ulmer, a longtime volunteer at our SAGENet affiliate in Portland, Oregon. Learn more about SAGENet and find the affiliate nearest you online here.
I’ve been involved at SAGE Metro Portland (SMP) since its prior incarnation as a local group called “Gay & Grey”—a title that was pretty descriptive of the organization's members, the population it serves, and of me. I was retiring from my career in tax law and I was excited to become involved in an organization focused on improving the lives of LGBT elders.
I’ve volunteered in a few different roles over the years, as a fundraiser, friendly visitor, and committee member. However, I really didn't feel that I had found my calling until I was asked to serve on the Advocacy committee. With my background in law and accounting, I really loved the opportunity to help identify relevant issues and advocate on behalf of local LGBT elders.
SMP is a program of Friendly House, which is a neighborhood center serving all ages, cradle to grave, located in Northwest Portland. As I’ve learned from Mya Chamberlin, the Friendly House Director of Community Services, SMP takes a three pronged approach to advocacy:
1) Advocating for individuals who are confronting a specific challenge or injustice though our case management services, friendly visiting, and calls to action. A great example of this is helping a transgender participant raise funds for a gender affirming surgery that Medicare won’t cover.
2) Shedding light on the experiences of LGBT older adults by creating opportunities to share their stories. Visibility for LGBT older adult issues in mainstream settings and/or youth focused LGBT settings helps build community and understanding.
3) Affecting change in rules, laws, policies or practices that negatively impact LGBT older adults. SMP staff and volunteers have had the opportunity to participate in national, state and local dialogs including the National LGBT Housing Summit and Aging In Place discussions.
Our work in all of these areas has been reinforced through our affiliation with SAGE. Not long after I joined the Advocacy Committee, Lauren Fontanarosa, SAGE Metro Portland's Coordinator, was contacted by Aaron Tax, the Director of Federal Government Relations for SAGE. Aaron is based in Washington, D.C. and wanted to let us know that an Oregon Congresswoman, Representative Suzanne Bonamici, made a statement at a hearing in support of LGBT older adults and made it her goal to include them as a "group of greatest social need" in the Older Americans Act ("OAA") reauthorization.
Aaron asked us to have some constituents call her Portland and Washington, DC offices and express our thanks. He also asked us to mention that it is important that the law require the collection of data about the participation of LGBT individuals in the activities carried out by the OAA and the effectiveness of these activities in reaching LGBT older adults. Finally Aaron also asked us to mention that we would like Representative Bonamici to recommend permanently establishing the LGBT Center on Aging, which is housed at SAGE in New York. Lauren immediately rallied the troops and calls were made to Representative Bonamici's offices locally and in Washington, D.C. We were also pleased to discover that SAGE Metro Portland is actually located within Bonamici’s district! It was just the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
On February 28th, Aaron called again--Representative Bonamici had introduced her bill, and it contained all the priorities that Aaron suggested. We rallied our people once again and called her offices to express our appreciation, and ask how we could offer help. After some discussion, we realized that the stories of our participants could be a powerful resource, so we arranged an afternoon of conversation between Representative Bonamici and a group of participants—a terrific opportunity for Bonamici, and the media, to hear SAGE stories firsthand and to reinforce how the OAA provides vital support to all of us as we age.
I’ve continued to work with Representative Bonamici on this issue, and I think we've established a great relationship with our Congresswoman and with her staff. It’s deeply is rewarding to have a Representative who listens, cares and gets engaged.
This is just one remarkable story from my time working with SAGE Metro Portland. I feel sure that I'm making a valuable contribution to our community, and I can hardly wait for the next opportunity! In fact I'm working on one now. But more about that later....
-- Posted by Glen Ulmer