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6 posts from September 2014

September 23, 2014

A Quick Chat with Natalie Kenvin

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 people who make up our community. This month, we spoke with Natalie Kenvin, a 72- year-old Chicago resident who has been a SAGE participant through Chicago’s Center on Halsted for about four years.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Natalie. When did you first become aware of SAGE, and how are you involved?

About four years ago. I walk through the door [of the Center on Halsted] and all pretenses are gone—it feels like a second home. I’m part of the Senior Action Group there. I’d like to see a little more activist presence, so I’m building a link between the Center on Halsted and local activist communities. I’m trying to get people more involved with the Jane Addams Senior Caucus [a senior activist organization in Chicago].


Natalie


What kinds of issues are you working on?

Well, through the Jane Addams Caucus we are trying to get an ordinance passed to better regulate federal housing money in Chicago, to improve access to housing for low-income seniors. We have more than 13,000 people waiting for low-income housing in Chicago! When Cabrini-Green [the Cabrini-Green Public Housing Project, now demolished] came down, everyone was promised housing. But they never got anything. People who are not people of color, and who are middle class, don’t have this problem.

That’s amazing! Housing is such a critical issue for people across the country right now. Can we get to know you a bit better? Where are you from originally?

I was born in Philadelphia, but my family moved frequently. We lived in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Canada, and Michigan—Detroit. It was an intellectual family but also one that was violent.

When I hit adolescence we were living in a run-down area in Detroit, but I was going to a kind of snobby girls’ school. During that time I really exploded sexually, and my grades started to slide. So my parents took me to psychologists who gave me two diagnoses: depression and gender confusion. I ended up being hospitalized in a state institution. I remember a psychologist saying, ‘I bet you spend all your time playing basketball with the boys!’ I was totally uninterested in basketball!

But then I caught a break. The psychologist changed and the person I got was a wonderful man. He layed off of the ‘gender confusion’. I had taken a test to see whether you were gender-confused and I saw the result [in my file]. It said “Patient is Pathologically Female”! It had questions like, “I like to wear flowered dresses—true or false?”

[Natalie and I both cracked up at the thought of this]

My parents would visit and they’d get so upset. The doctor said to me, ‘you’re not going to see them and you’re not going back to that—you’re going to college.’ I went to Wayne State in Detroit.

And you went on to have relationships with women, men, or both?

With women and men. When this came up, I thought I must be the worst person in the world. That I must be crazy—‘I’m attracted to women and men!’ I thought of it as a pathology. I married a man early on and when that began to disintegrate I began relationships with women.

Are you in a relationship now?

No. I wish! I have a girlfriend but she doesn’t want to make it a sexual relationship. When she said that I thought ‘Oh dash it all!’ She is a lovely, positive, life-loving woman. She’s my age and came from a background like mine. We are both bisexual. When we first met she said ‘I have something to tell you—I’m bisexual.’ And I said ‘me too!’ we laughed and high-fived. 

And what about work—are you currently working, or are you retired?

I taught English; my degrees are in Comp Lit. I won an NEA award for my writing [in 1995]. I've worked less since I’ve been ill in recent years but now I’m feeling better and having a bit of a renaissance.

You are doing amazing work! I wish you the best of luck. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your story, Natalie!

Thank you!

--Posted by Kira Garcia

September 22, 2014

What’s New on the National Stage

SAGE continues to lead federal efforts to improve the lives of LGBT older people, alongside our national partner organizations in the LGBT and aging fields. This summer, we collaborated with other advocates to win Medicare coverage for transgender older people, FMLA benefits for same-sex couples and an executive order that extends more protections to LGBT people. Learn more about new federal policy updates below.

Executive Order to protect LGBT Workers
SAGE was privileged to be in the room with President Barack Obama on July 21, when, with the stroke of a pen, he put in place protections that will help millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults.  In the executive order that he signed that day, he ensured that transgender federal workers are protected against job discrimination based on gender identity.  He also ensured that LGBT employees of federal contractors will be protected against discrimination, which, according to the UCLA’s William’s Institute, protects 34 million of these workers today. Many LGBT older adults, after facing a lifetime of discrimination and lower earnings across the lifespan, continue to workto maintain their economic security.  We welcome the news that this generation--who fought to help many LGBT people out of “the closet”--will be able to bring their full selves to work, at more workplaces, without fear of discrimination.

Medicare Will Cover Transition-Related Care
In May, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Department Appeals Board (DAB), an independent federal appeals board, ruled that Medicare must cover medically necessary care for individuals with gender dysphoria, just as it does for those with other medical conditions.  In short, Medicare will now cover transition-related care for transgender older adults.  SAGE applauds our advocacy partners—GLAD, the ACLU, Lambda Legal, and NCLR—for  their tireless advocacy on this issue.  It was a life-changing victory for transgender older adults, who are finally on a more level playing field with other Medicare recipients.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Benefits Extended to Same Sex Spouses
The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees to take 12 weeks of leave from their jobs without pay for family and medical reasons.  With the Windsor decision in place (the Supreme Court case that cleared the way for the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages), the Department of Labor (DOL) announced in August 2013 that it would recognize same-sex marriages, but only those of couples who live in a state that recognizes their marriage.  In June of this year, the DOL announced a proposed “place of celebration” rule, meaning regardless of where a couple lives or moves, the DOL would recognize that same-sex marriage for FMLA purposes.  If and when the rule becomes final, it would ensure that LGBT individuals who take professional leave to care for a sick spouse will enjoy job security—and a little more peace of mind. 

Social Security

With the Windsor decision in hand, President Obama directed the Department of Justice (DOJ) to review every federal law, rule, policy and practice implicating marriage. On June 20, 2014, nearly a year after the date of the Windsor decision, DOJ completed its comprehensive, year-long review, providing guidance to federal agencies on Windsor implementation.  What does this mean? According to the review, all federal agencies have now implemented Windsor, meaning they are treating married same-sex and opposite-sex couples the same, to the fullest extent possible, under the law.

But what about Social Security benefits for same-sex couples? Here are a few points to help answer this complex question:

 

  • If you are married and living in a state that recognizes marriage equality, generally speaking, SSA (the Social Security Administration) will recognize your marriage.
  • If you are in a Civil Union or Registered Domestic Partnership and living in a state that provides those forms of relationship recognition, generally speaking, SSA is going to recognize your relationship as if you were married.
  • If you are married and were living in a state that recognizes marriage equality when you applied for Social Security benefits, or while your application was pending, SSA will honor your marriage even if you move.
  • If, however, none of the above apply (for example, if you’re married but have always been living in a state that does not recognize marriage equality), you will not receive spousal SSA benefits.  For example, if you have always been living in Biloxi, Mississippi, but flew to Washington, DC, just to get married, SSA will not recognize your marriage.

 

One final important message on this issue:  regardless of where you live, we recommend you apply for spousal Social Security benefits, as new or increased benefits will be granted retroactively.  If the law changes through legislation or litigation, you should get SSA benefits retroactive to the date of your application.

--Posted by Aaron Tax

September 18, 2014

HIV, Aging and LGBT people: A Metamorphosis

HivHead

On April 3, 2008, my longtime friend Don (last name withheld) tested positive for HIV, the same day as his mother’s 56th birthday. He remembers the day vividly. “I had given blood to my doctor and a couple weeks later, I still hadn’t received a call. I called my doctor’s office and they said, ‘There’s an anomaly with your blood.’ I immediately freaked out and thought, ‘God, this is it.'” Don took the last appointment of the day and a few hours later received his diagnosis, along with a few referrals. He went home “to pull myself together, call my mom and wish her a happy birthday.” He wouldn’t share his HIV status with his mother for several years.

“It stopped me dead in my tracks,” he says of that day. “And even though having an HIV diagnosis isn’t the same as it was 15 or 20 years ago, I immediately saw the end. I had dreams where I would see this road that said: ‘dead end.'”

At 42, Don represents a notable demographic segment of the U.S. population living with HIV/AIDS. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),the highest rates of HIV prevalence, by age group, are among people ages 45-49 and ages 40-45—20% and 16%, respectively. As these people in their 40s and their older peers age, spurred in large part by medical advances, people age 50 and older will make up roughly 70 percent of Americans with HIV by the year 2020.

Yet aging with HIV can be especially difficult. Older adults with HIV report high levels of isolation, yet few community spaces embrace their full identities as older people, people with HIV and, in most cases, given the epidemic’s prevalence, LGBT and people of color. Additionally, medical research has found multiple health concerns related to aging with HIV—and the psychological dimensions of living with HIV, or a new diagnosis, can spur its own storms. Without a large-scale, dedicated response, the “younger” end of this older adult spectrum, including Don, will join their older peers over the next decade in entering an aging system unprepared to meet their unique needs, despite their overwhelming numbers.

Continue reading "HIV, Aging and LGBT people: A Metamorphosis" »

September 12, 2014

Moving Non-discrimination Protections through Storytelling

SAGE Story is a national digital storytelling program for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) elders. The initiative brings together sites in North Carolina and Pennsylvania to build their capacities as LGBT aging advocates and to collect stories on the ways in which discrimination has affected LGBT older people.

This collaboration is designed to capture the critical voice of LGBT elders on LGBT equality advocacy struggles—from efforts to pass state and local nondiscrimination laws, to policy initiatives for relationship recognition, to campaigns to encourage pro-equality public opinion.

To prepare them to lead this work, our LGBT aging advocates will receive a custom training in non-discrimination messaging and framing from Jace Woodrum, Director of Communications for the Gill Foundation and Roey Thorpe, Director of Advocacy Programs for the Equality Federation. The training is based on new research, conducted by the Equality Federation and the Movement Advancement Project.

Recently, SAGE's Serena Worthington, Director of National Field Initiatives, spoke with Jace Woodrum to learn more.  

Jace-Woodrum-Headshot-for-BlogCan you tell me a bit about the research process?

When we do polling around non-discrimination laws both in local communities, state-wide and at the national level, we see high levels of support, oftentimes in the 70th and 80th percentile, but when we get into the midst of a campaign around non-discrimination—our opponents use some very hurtful scare tactics to stir up concerns in the public which can make it tough to keep the support that we start with. Our research is focused on understanding the real concerns people have and developing messaging that helps people navigate those concerns and remain supportive.

How was the research conducted?

The process began with one-on-one interviews with LGBT people to understand their experiences of discrimination. Then, we went into some exploratory focus groups to learn about how people think about non-discrimination laws. Over the course of the project, we honed in on trans issues, and we also looked separately at employment non-discrimination and housing and public accommodations. We have done dozens and dozens of focus groups, polls, and some online surveys as well.

Why is this project important?

We know that we are making, as a movement, huge advances on marriage, but our progress on non-discrimination has stalled at the state-wide level. Advancing non-discrimination laws and ensuring basic legal protections for LGBT people is critical because even as we’re winning marriage, our community still faces discrimination, especially transgender people who are especially vulnerable to unfair treatment at work and in our communities. Once we secure the freedom to marry nationwide, it’s only going to get more complicated. For example, we are seeing this play out right now in Pennsylvania, a state that has marriage equality but doesn’t have critical non-discrimination protections.

What are some key ways that framing and messaging have changed based on research?

For years, we talked about marriage as a set of rights and benefits that same-sex couples wanted to access. Then, through research, we learned that our way of talking about marriage as a set of critical rights was not building support among the public and was not accurately depicting why same-sex couples wanted to marry: for love and commitment. So we shifted our messaging, and we’ve seen huge gains in public opinion and in the number of states allowing same-sex couples to share in the freedom to marry. We’ve had similar breakthroughs from this non-discrimination research project, and we’re learning more and more everyday.

SAGE Story is funded by the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund

North Carolina Sites

SAGE Raleigh at the LGBT Community Center of Raleigh
SAGE Wilmington of the Cape Fear Coast
The Freedom Center for Social Justice


Pennsylvania Sites
SAGE Western Pennsylvania at Persad Center
SAGE Philadelphia at William Way LGBT Community Center

--Posted by Serena Worthington, Director of National Field Initiatives. Follow her at @SerenaWorthy

September 8, 2014

Successful Aging: Preparing for a Happier, Healthier Older Adulthood

When you think of getting older, what comes to mind? Possibilities, new adventures, a second or third chance to pursue a lifelong dream? Or is it anxiety, anticipation, hope, fear—or a mix of these emotions? The subject of aging can stir up different feelings for all of us, but one thing’s for sure: we all want to remain healthy, happy and independent as long as possible. With this in mind, SAGE is thrilled to announce today’s launch of Successful Aging, a new initiative to support LGBT people age 45 and older in shaping their legacies—defined by how we live and what we give back to our communities.

 

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Through in-person convenings, educational seminars and a library of online lessons, Successful Aging brings together people to connect the dots between the choices they make early on in life with their life and career aspirations as they age across the lifespan. Our vision is to ensure that every one of us ages successfully—financially secure, surrounded by loving and supportive friendships and family, and treated with fairness and respect in all aspects of our lives. We’ve released the first of our online lessons today—we hope you’ll take a look and share your thoughts in the comments section, or via Facebook.

The first of our in-person gatherings will be held in Washington, DC this November and in South Florida in February 2015. We’ll be scheduling events in New York City and Los Angeles soon as well. To learn more, contact SAGE’s Director of Legacy Planning, Jerry Chasen.

Successful Aging aims to create community and to open up a space where we, as LGBT people, can connect and learn about the choices we can make to enhance our retirement years. We hope you’ll join the conversation!

September 2, 2014

Finding Pride and Home: A Look at Housing for Older LGBT Adults

DavesingletonAuthor Dave Singleton doesn't want one more older LGBT adult to face rejection and discrimination at work or home. But rejection and discrimination are still much too prevalent for many LGBT seniors in need of assisted living. Finding Pride and Home: A Look at Housing for Older LGBT Adults illustrates the growing need for LGBT housing options. Read the original article here.

Moving to an assisted living home should never mean stepping back into a closet.

That seems obvious to those of us living out and proud lives in post-Stonewall Riots America. But fears of rejection and of being ostracized are ever-present realities for many seniors in -- or considering moving to -- shared senior living communities.

One Man's Fear

I saw the fear firsthand when I volunteered at a senior living community in Washington, D.C., a few years ago. Steven was 71 then, with round John Denver glasses, longish silver hair, and an agile mind, but he was dealing with the aftermath of two strokes, which left him unable to walk and in a wheelchair. I said hello and, after a few minutes of small talk, he told me he was gay and uncomfortable in what he thought was a homophobic environment.

"I lived the last 25 years of my life as an openly gay man in Dupont Circle," he said. "Then I came here this year because there was nowhere else to go, and I'm scared to be myself. Gay people are either invisible to, or unwanted by, the people here. So I stay quiet."

I asked the management if they specifically trained the staff to support LGBT residents, and the director nodded in somber admission of the problem. "We're working on it," she said.

The Rise of LGBT Senior Housing Options: A Clear Need

She's not the only one "working on it."

LGBT senior housing options have gained steam in the last decade, led by the rise of older LGBT baby boomers.

"I get calls from LGBT seniors who ask, 'Where can I go where I know I will be safe and treated fairly?" says Chris McLellan, writer and coordinator of Senior Services for SunServe Social Servicesin Broward County, Florida, which serves the LGBT-dense population of Fort Lauderdale.

Of course, this forward-thinking movement to create LGBT-friendly retirement communities, with built-in acceptance and a supportive environment, makes sense. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force estimates 3 million LGBT elders live in the United States, and that number will double by 2030.

"There is a real need for this housing," Michael Adams, executive director of SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders), told the New York Times recently. The need isn't just based on numbers. He was commenting on the results of a recent study in which the Equal Rights Center in Washington enlisted testers in ten states to pose as either gay or straight couples and make phone calls to senior living facilities. In almost half of the cases, the same-sex couples faced discrimination from housing agents, who didn't mention the vacant units presented to straight couples.

Once you're actually living in a home, it's often the little things that are troubling. "For example, someone sits down at dinner at a typical home and asks you on the spot about your wife and kids," says Steve Krege, COO of Northstar Senior Living, which manages the LGBT-focused Stonewall Gardens in Palm Springs, California, set to open in September 2014. "Do I tell the truth or not? Will they think differently of me? You don't want to put someone in that situation, especially when the majority of 70- to 80-year-old residents may still feel the pull of the closet."

 

Continue reading "Finding Pride and Home: A Look at Housing for Older LGBT Adults" »