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5 posts from August 2014

August 26, 2014

Recognizing Women's Equality Day

Index
5 years before suffrage.
Image from NYPL Digital Collection

Anyone over the age of 50―as I am―can realize how short a span, historically, a century is. And that makes one marvel that major events, like the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution granting women the right to vote, happened so recently. In fact, it was less than a century ago―August 26th, 1920―when Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed this amendment into law! It took 72 years from the time of the first major women’s rights conference in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848 to achieve this legal milestone. Of course, this represented significant progress for women’s rights, but was hardly tantamount to full equality.

To put the amendment’s passage in perspective, consider how much earlier other nations provided for women’s suffrage (which in some cases was not universal). For example, as early at 1718 Swedish taxpaying women who were members of city guilds were granted the right to vote locally and nationally (although the right was rescinded later). The United Kingdom in 1869 granted local voting rights to women (almost 60 years later, in 1928, the right was granted universally).

So when we mark the not-so-widely known Equality Day this August 26th, we may still claim, as the early feminist Alice Paul did after the 19th Amendment passed, that voting rights do not denote genuine equality. The right to vote is merely a step in the right direction. True equality would mean that all would be treated equally before the law regardless of race, gender, gender identity, national origin, color, ethnicity, religion, disability and other traits, without discrimination.

In order to rectify the limitations of the 19th Amendment, in 1923 Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman introduced the “Lucretia Mott Amendment,” later known as the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Although it passed both houses of Congress in 1972, it did not gain the needed ratification of 38 states to become law by the deadline in 1979. In fact, after 35 states did ratify the ERA, five of them later rescinded their votes. The major part of the ERA text concisely stated that “Equal rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.”

How can we mark Equality Day in the absence of legal protections like those that would’ve been afforded by the ERA? Our equality may still be imperfect, but this is an ideal moment to remind ourselves of the ideals we’re striving for, and what we have yet to achieve. Women remain underpaid and underprivileged socially and politically; despite our progress, many LGBT people also live with daily discrimination and prejudice; these experiences are often amplified for the people of color in our communities.

Now, as we evolve in this 21st century, let us dedicate ourselves to full equality for ourselves (marriage equality represent an excellent step, but it’s not the only one) and for others experiencing prejudice. In this effort, let us embrace those in our own community―such bisexual and transgender men and women―who emerge from another closet.

As the English author Gilbert K. Chesterton wrote, in another context, “We are all in this together and owe each other a terrible loyalty.”

--Posted by Felicia Sobel, Women’s Programming Coordinator

August 21, 2014

Rethinking the Term “Senior Citizen”

Today is National Senior Citizen’s Day, which is a great opportunity to look at the role age and aging play in all of our lives. Many people are familiar with terms like racism or sexism—but here at SAGE we spend a lot of time thinking about ageism. Ageism is the act of stereotyping and forming prejudices about people or groups based on their age. It can take many forms, from assuming that all teenagers are irresponsible to passing over an older adult’s job application because of their age.

Video-games-club-001

One important way that we combat these different ‘-isms’ is to learn how to speak to others with respect and understanding. The language we use in our everyday lives has a tremendous impact, not only on our personal relationships, but on the national conversation around diversity and inclusion. For example, when I’m conduction our LGBT cultural competency trainings, I have all the participants say ‘LGBT’ out loud four of five times. After this activity people that have never even said the word LGBT can say it smoothly and without stumbling over the letters, which is an important way to demonstrate that you’re an ally to the LGBT community!

Given the power of language, today is a great time to explain why SAGE chooses not to use the term “senior citizen” in our work. Calling someone a senior citizen places them into a category simply based on their age. Along with this category come many other assumptions about what older adults can and cannot do.

‘Senior citizen’ is just one of a few terms used to describe older adults that are increasingly rejected. A 2012 article in the New York Timesdiscussed this shift in language, noting that other terms like ‘elderly’ are also falling out of favor.

Whatever the label, anytime you see someone first and foremost as a member of a group, it makes it more difficult to see that person in all of their uniqueness. At SAGE we strive to see everyone as individuals with their own strengths and weaknesses, not just as members of a certain generation. Removing ageist assumptions or language for our collective vocabulary is an important part of doing our work, and that’s why we don’t call our constituents senior citizens.

There may be times when it’s very important to talk about older people as a group, and in those moments we prefer the term ‘older adults’. It allows us to speak to a set of shared experiences, without bringing along a lot of the baggage and stereotypes associated with ‘senior citizens’.

After all, as one style guide points out, we don’t refer to people under age 50 as ‘junior citizens,’ so why create a special category just for older people?

What term do you use to describe yourself? Which terms do you love, and which do you dislike? Let us know in the comments! 

--Posted by Tim Johnston, PhD

August 14, 2014

A Quick Chat with SAGE Participant Dorrell Clark

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 Dorrell Clark, a 62-year-old retired train operator who lives in the Bronx with her wife. When she’s not at SAGE, Dorrell also dabbles in dance and acting.

Thanks for talking with me Dorrell. How long have you been coming to SAGE?

Oh a long time—for over ten years. I participate in the women’s meeting in Harlem, also Fabulous Fridays, and the bereavement group, which is a great support system. Recently I also went to the Saturday Cool Out gathering. We talked and shared old pictures—it was a joy! The programs are gratifying to attend because you’re in your own place—you’re safe. It’s always good to be with people like you because they know where you’re coming from.

Dorrell Clark

So, what do you do professionally?

Well, I’m a retired MTA train operator.

That sounds fascinating! Did you enjoy it?

Absolutely! I loved it. The best thing was that every day I went to work I learned something new. I was a work train operator. We worked with the people who repaired tracks and stations.

In your opinion, how has being LGBT changed since you came of age?

I identify as an aggressive. Back in the day, if you could pass as a male (and I sometimes do), people wouldn’t bother you. Even today people call me sir until they look close. But nowadays, it doesn’t matter. Women walk down the street holding hands, and no one bothers you! Back in the day you couldn’t do that—you’d get harassed.

Most of the time, no one disputes that my wife and I are married. But she has been sick and at the hospital recently, there was this one nurse who looked at me and said “Who are you?!” and I said, “I’m her wife.” The nurse answered, “Well, I have to ask her,“ meaning my wife, who confirmed—she will tell you she’s my wife before I tell you I’m hers! But then the nurse asked her “Do you feel safe?” as in, “Do you feel safe with her?” That hurt—the cancer had put her in the hospital, not me. But in general, things are better than they were.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk, Dorrell!

Thanks for calling!

--Posted by Kira Garcia

Happy Birthday Social Security! Talking with Congressman Mark Takano (D-CA)

TakanoOn the occasion of Social Security’s 79th birthday on August 14th, we had a conversation with Congressman Mark Takano (D-CA) about how the Windsor decision impacted Social Security benefits for older adults. Last month, Takano introduced the Social Security and Medicare Parity Act, which would help couples in non-marriage states qualify for benefits even if the state they reside in doesn’t recognize the marriage.

Why is Social Security such an important program for older adults?

Millions of Americans contribute to Social Security during their working years and deserve to receive the benefits they have earned to help them manage their retirement. With the decline of defined benefit pension plans, Social Security benefits are a becoming even more of a lifeline for seniors from all walks of life. No senior should be denied these full benefits because of who they love.

Aren’t many LGBT older adults very well-off?   Do they even need Social Security?   In other words, why is Social Security so important for married same-sex couples?

The myth that LGBT seniors are better off is patently false. Statistics show that a lifetime of discrimination actually hurts earning power, makes LGBT seniors less likely to have a spouse’s income they can count on, and less likely to have children to help care for them in their old age. LGBT couples, just like all other Americans, have paid into Social Security and Medicare and deserve to receive the benefits they have earned in their retirement.

Didn’t the Windsor decision ensure that the federal government would treat married same-sex couples equally, regardless of where they live in the United States?

The Windsor decision was an historical day that paved the way for equal rights for all Americans no matter who they love. However, Windsor could not change everything overnight. While it overturned section three of the Defense of Marriage Act, the Department of Justice just concluded a year-long review of what the decision means for other federal statutes. While I and others continue to believe that the Social Security Administration has the discretion to provide spousal and survivor benefits regardless of where a same-sex couple lives, the Justice Department and the Social Security Administration have concluded that eligibility for benefits be based on the state in which the couple resides. That means that couples living in non-marriage states are still prevented from getting the benefits they have earned.

Can you please explain what issues married same-sex couples who live in non-marriage states currently face?  

Not only are couples in non-marriage states ineligible for certain Social Security and Medicare benefits, but a whole other host of federal benefits and protections. They don’t yet qualify for family medical leave to take care of a sick spouse, and veterans and their spouses don't receive the same spousal and survivor benefits as heterosexual couples.

Continue reading "Happy Birthday Social Security! Talking with Congressman Mark Takano (D-CA)" »

August 7, 2014

SAGEWorks Boot Camp – A Pilot Program in NYC

Greg_quoteUnemployment and underemployment are major barriers to health and happiness at any age, but for LGBT older adults, a job search can be especially challenging. Anti-LGBT bias is still a reality in the workplace, but long-term unemployment and age can be even greater barriers to landing a job. Being LGBT is not obvious on a resume, but lack of employment and age are immediately apparent.

Our new SAGEWorks Boot Camp program will address these issues and offer an affirming boost to older LGBT job seekers. The Boot Camp program will provide a rigorous and comprehensive approach to workforce readiness.  This free two-week program will be piloted in our New York City location, and is designed to help participants address obstacles to employment.  The program application process will mirror the hiring process to help participants understand clearly what is expected by employers in today’s job market.

Certain program elements will be specifically designed to address multiple barriers many SAGEWorks participants face, including long-term unemployment. Training components of the program will be concentrated, intense, and encouraging with clear expectations for participants in each step.

The course curriculum will be taught by Howard D. Leifman, Ph.D., a renowned Human Resource/Training Consultant and Career/Executive Coach.  Formerly the National Director for Strategic Staffing and Recruiting at the global HR consulting firm William M. Mercer, Inc., Dr. Leifman will offer his extensive HR and employment counseling skills to Boot Camp participants.

The curriculum will include lessons on:

  • Taking Assessments
  • Realities of Today’s Job Market
  • Resume & Interview Instruction
  • Conducting a Modern Job Search
  • The Hidden Job Market
  • Social Media & Networking
  • Stress & Anger Management
  • Communication Skills & Selling Yourself

Applicants must have basic computer skills and be willing to commit to the two-week/5 day a week program schedule. The best candidates will be those who are most motivated to find a job.  Applications can be submitted online here.

--Posted by Michele D'Amato