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5 posts from July 2014

July 23, 2014

President Obama Signs Executive Order on LGBT Job Discrimination

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SAGE was privileged to be in the room with President Obama on July 21, 2014, when, with the stroke of a pen, he put in place protections that will help countless of LGBT older adults.  In the executive order he signed, he ensured that transgender federal workers would join their lesbian, gay, and bisexual brothers and sisters in being protected against job discrimination based on their gender identity.   He also ensured that LGBT employees of federal contractors will be protected against discrimination.  Many LGBT older adults, after facing a life of discrimination and lower earnings, continue to work, to maintain their economic security.  As a result, it is welcome news that this generation, who fought to get out of the closet, will be able to bring their full selves to work, at more workplaces, without fear of discrimination.

--Posted by Aaron Tax

July 17, 2014

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. 

Portland
Celebrating Pride in Portland

 

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

 

July 14, 2014

A Quick Chat with Jayadeva

SAGE offers hundreds of programs every month, throughout the country. Our monthly “Quick Chats” with SAGE participants offer a first-person perspective on these programs, and a little more insight into the remarkable folks who make up our community. This month, we spoke with Jayadeva (also known as Jay) a 60 year-old dancer, yoga teacher, and SAGE participant whose travels have taken him all the way to India.  

Thanks for speaking with me Jay! How long have you been in New York?

I’ve been in New York City for 40 years, but I’m originally from Wisconsin -- I suppose that makes me a Dairy Queen (groan).

  Jay2

That’s great! And what brought you to the city?

I went to NYU for theater. I was a production assistant at the Circle in the Square theater—It was quite a time; I got to work every day with legends like Maureen Stapleton, Vanessa Redgrave, and Syliva Miles ("you like my wardrobe with a view, honey?") … my method acting teacher was the marvelous Madeleine Sherwood -- "Sister Woman" in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  Paul Newman would drop by, Al Pacino would drop by, Tony Randall -- they were all super nice, super generous of spirit -- magical people.  I remember my first week there George C. Scott walked into the lobby -- a formidable superstar at that time, a tough guy anti-hero leading man -- and I blurted out, "Oh my god it's George C. Scott!"  He walked right over to me and growled, “What the $#@% is wrong with you, you little $#@%?!” I cringed in adolescent terror.  Then he laughed and said, “Just kidding, kid -- I'm George.  Nice to meet you!” He shook my hand, and offered much encouragement. 

I worked as an actor for a few years but left early on.  I studied dance and started getting asked to appear with small companies, supporting myself with freelance computer work.  I ended up running a database at the United Nations in the late 1980s and mid 1990s. The UN is an interesting show every day!  I tried to start an LGBT organization there.  It was clear I was gay as I never hid the fact -- I mean my boyfriend would pick me up at work.  I was perceived to have AIDS after an extreme weight loss -- hysteria ensued, then a garden variety yet effective cover-up.  The old story.  

Were there many out gay people there in those days?

Not that I know of!  It was very “don’t ask, don’t tell" before that phrase was coined.  Lots of old school, quaint creeping around though, of course.  Oh yeah, and death threats.  Lots of intrigue and dysfunction at the United Nations.  A tale for another time perhaps ... 

And what did you do after the UN?

I lived in yoga ashrams and became a teacher. I had practiced yoga since I was a little kid -- a wonderful guru named Richard Hittleman had a TV show on NET (before there even was a PBS) in the early 1960s, and from the time I was six or seven years old my little boyfriend and I would watch him and practice the poses. 

Wow, that’s impressive! I do yoga too.

You can say ‘I do yoga’, or you could say ‘I seek yoga’, since it’s a practice of moving toward communion with the Divine, a realization of your own true divine nature.  All are divine, some just don't know it yet. 

That makes perfect sense.

Yes! I’ve gone deeply into Hindu philosophy since my awakening to the enormity of confusion among the powerful in the material world. I've had several extended stays in India and have actually thought of relocating there— my Indian friends keep urging me on Facebook to "come home." But it’s a matter of where I can be most useful. For several years in the late 1990s and early 2000s I led a group of yoga practitioners in Chelsea we called "Midnight Yoga for Men”— a transcendent little tribe. As an important part of our practice we met naked in the style of the Sadhu monks, the original yogis, renouncing all material attachments.  After we got public attention several entrepreneurs imitated the idea, and emphasized the nudity aspect as a commercial lure.  Oh well.  I’d love to be able to do something like that again, but in the context of a Hindu temple among truly spiritual practitioners.  The "yoga industry" is a pernicious thing.  Cultural hijacking, cultural disrespect -- these things create confusion, obstacles to Self-realization. 

The literature of yoga is written in Sanskrit.  I recently fulfilled a long-held dream and did graduate study in Sanskrit at Harvard.  All part of my path toward truth. 

And what brought you to SAGE?

Well, first I just came for dinner and community. I’ve had some health problems in the last couple of years and was feeling a little isolated, in spite of cherishing the solitude of my spiritual practice. Then I saw there were all these workshops! I've written a proverbial show tune in 2/4 for the musical theater workshop and I’m going to present it tomorrow night!  Hey, never forget where you came from! 

That sounds fantastic! Good luck—or break a leg!

Thank you, dear!  Bless you!  Om Namah Shivaya! 

Oh and one last question--What's that design painted on your hand?

The Indian henna tattoo, mendhi, is a tradition observed by a Hindu bride on her wedding day.  It has filtered into general fashion, and boys in the West can have one too these days without much eyebrow raising.  This lovely example on my hand I got on the weekend at the Javitz Center.  Amma -- the famous "hugging mother" from Kerala state, India -- had her annual NYC love fest marathon there as she does every July.  Hugged thousands of people and showered us with flower petals.  Amma is regarded by her devotees as the embodiment of the goddess -- Devi.  But also her charities have done extraordinary humanitarian work, particularly for widows in rural India, who traditionally have been cast off.  She has hugged tens of millions of people around the world -- it's a powerful thing -- I strongly recommend!

-- Posted by Kira Garcia

July 8, 2014

Celebrating SAGE Pride Coast to Coast

SAGE celebrated Manhattan Pride on Sunday June 29 (check out photos online here), and the festivities will continue in New York City with Staten Island PrideFest on Saturday July 12 and Bronx Pride on Saturday July 19! Across the country, SAGENet affiliates participated in many other celebrations, from Portland, Oregon to Raleigh, North Carolina. 

We've collected some of the best photos from SAGE Pride celebrations coast to coast. View selections below, and see the complete series online here!

Chicago
Gathering in Chicago, Illinois



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Celebrating in the Hudson Valley, New York

 

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Cheering in Milwaukee, Wisconsin



-- Posted by Kira Garcia

 

July 1, 2014

"Generations of Pride" at the White House

On Friday, June 27, SAGE, StoryCorps and the White House co-hosted "Generations of Pride," an event held at the White House to honor the lives of LGBT older people and young people. SAGE’s Senior Director of Public Policy and Communications, Robert Espinoza, delivered the closing remarks at the event to commemorate the occasion.

On behalf of our board of directors, our staff and millions of LGBT older people around the country, SAGE would like to express our tremendous gratitude to the White House, StoryCorps and our esteemed panelists for this remarkable event this afternoon. In particular, we would like to acknowledge Gautam Raghavan at the White House; Administrator Kathy Greenlee, Edwin Walker and his colleagues at the Administration for Community Living; Robin Sparkman, Andrew Wallace and Jeremy Helton at StoryCorps; and to SAGE’s Director of Federal Government Relations, Aaron Tax. We are also grateful for the leadership and the work of countless others who made today possible.

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Aaron Tax and Robert Espinoza of SAGE, Edwin Walker, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Aging, and Andrew Wallace and Jeremy Helton of StoryCorps at the White House.

 

The stories we heard today are stories that have traveled decades; they span cities, town and states; they migrate continents, countries and cultures; they embody both the challenges and the resilience of LGBT people to survive, despite the odds. Harvey Milk once said, “Hope is never silent,” and these stories embody what it means to challenge the silence that so often aims to restrain us, and to engender the hope that could ultimately liberate us.

This afternoon we've heard stories that chronicle some of this country’s most historic cultural and political moments. We invoked the thousands of lesbian, gay, and bisexual troops who were discharged from the military under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the previous ban on open service, as well as the resilience of people who outlasted those discriminatory regimes. And we acknowledge there is still work to be done to allow our trans brothers and sisters to serve openly. In the room, we felt the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which ravaged and galvanized a generation; we heard about the conflicted role of the Church and of a hard-earned faith for LGBT people; we heard about the high rates of homelessness and the experiences in the foster care system and with bullying among LGBT young people; we felt what it means to age as LGBT with smaller support systems and in a long-term care system too biased for our own comfort; and we heard what it means to live as transgender and gender non-conforming.

In many ways, we’re still convincing a world to make sense of all of our realities -- that we deserve fairness, a quality of life, and unique supports. We know what it means to survive the prejudice, the abuse, the violence and the unrelenting road ahead. These stories can emerge from personal, raw and persistent conversations with our own families, as we heard in today's clips. LGBT people, our allies and "possibility models," to quote Laverne Cox, have consistently tapped their courage to create communities based on our values and to imagine solutions that transform our tinier worlds in unprecedented ways.

President Obama’s leadership and his administration should be commended for the remarkable progress they have made on various fronts related to LGBT rights. We know that the root of all great stories is a turning point where what transpired before is re-imagined into all that follows. The LGBT movement is that story about progress -- the before and the after -- it’s still evolving, for sure, but perhaps it's so multi-faceted, it requires every color in the rainbow to impart its meaning.

And this event speaks to all that remains to be done -- to protect our relationships, including our spouses, partners, children and families of choice; to erase violence and discrimination in our daily lives, in the workplace and everywhere under the law; to improve our health, our housing and our economic security; to honor the complexities of our sexualities, our gender identities and expressions; to pursue racial and economic justice, repairing the racism within our communities and the external structures of racism that have been embedded in American life; and to remove the age-related and disability-related biases and barriers that can target us as older people, people with disabilities and youth.

In every town and city, in every state, at the federal level and worldwide – we have so much to build upon. Our story unfolds -- and it's panoramic.

On a final note, SAGE is proud to be partnering with StoryCorps on StoryCorps OutLoud to gather the stories nationwide of LGBT people. You can hear these stories on Friday mornings on NPR and visit storycorps.org to listen and record your own stories. And you can visit sageusa.org to learn more about the lives of LGBT older people who paved the way for the rights we’re witnessing today, as well as SAGE’s National Resource Center on LGBT Aging at lgbtagingcenter.org for a clearinghouse of LGBT elder resources.

Thank you for your attention, your commitment to a better world, and for taking the time to honor LGBT history and the generations of pride who blessed us today.

-- Posted by Kira Garcia