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5 posts from November 2016

November 30, 2016

Yet We Rise: Remembering to Fight on Transgender Day of Remembrance—and Every Day

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By Pat Lin

Renée Imperato, lifelong transgender activist and SAGE participant, began the closing of SAGE’s Transgender Day of Remembrance ceremony with a wry yet passionate call to action. “Greetings to my collaborators in the enlightenment of the human condition,” Imperato said. “That should cover it. At least 5 genders of the Native People.” Sniffles and solemn faces filled the room, but the transgender elders present insisted on fighting as well as mourning, moving forward as well as remembering.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance was started by trans advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith as a vigil to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed in 1998. The vigil commemorated all the trans people lost to violence that year — an important memorial that later became the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Facilitated by Applied Theatre coordinators Christian Appel and Shanti Rose, the SAGE community used practices of ritual, performance and community organizing to plan this year’s ceremony. “All the ideas we had coming this year came directly from trans women,” said Appel. “We tried to make as many decisions be up to them. That is critical.”

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The ceremony began with readings of the biographies of those lost to violence. Participants discussed at length the themes they wanted to explore. Topics ranged from heavy to hopeful, from suicide as another prominent form of violence within the transgender community, to a reading of trans milestones in 2016.

As participants rose to give thanks, prayers, dedications and affirmations, mentions of the recent election permeated the room. Though worried, participants remained upbeat. “We have the 2nd man in charge who believes in conversion therapy. Well, I’ve converted,” participant Victoria Rose proclaimed to uproarious laughter. “And then we also have transitional therapy. Well I’ve transitioned, honey. I want you to humor me. We’re celebrating these people’s lives. Let’s not cry because I see myself in each and everybody here.”

The ceremony ended on a striking note with a fiery call to action. Imperato invoked the names of pioneering trans activists, such as Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Leslie Feinberg and more. She emphasized the intersectional component that’s so important to genuine progress, and mentioned the growing number of trans women of color in leadership positions. “If we don’t have that, we'll never be free. You’ll never be free until you shed free the chains of oppression that chain us all but they just chain people of color even more. Justice is coming. Oh, it’s coming. And when she gets here she’s going to be pissed off. So don’t mourn! Don’t cry! Fight back!”

Transition Anxiety

This post originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of SAGEMatters, and was later published by The Huffington Post, here.

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From L-R: Mara Keisling, Executive Director, National Center for Transgender Equality, Kate Kendell, Executive Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights and Carmen Vazquez, Coordinator, LGBT Health & Human Services Unit for the New York State Department of Heath’s AIDS Institute

As we come to the end Transgender Awareness Month, SAGE CEO Michael Adams shares an illuminating conversation he had early this fall with lesbian and transgender rights leaders about identity, inclusion and a movement in transition.

Michael Adams: Kate, in recent months, as more trans older people are getting involved in SAGE, we’ve had pushback from a small number of constituents who believe that transwomen should not take part in programs SAGE provides specifically for women and lesbians. In essence, they argue that transwomen haven’t had the same gender experiences as cisgender women, given their different life histories and relationships with patriarchy, and that including transwomen in this programming denies cisgender women the ability to share their experiences with others like them. As a long-time feminist and the head of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), what is your take on these arguments?

Kate Kendell: A dialogue about where there is allyship and commonality versus where there is difference is the place we should come from. All women, transgender or cisgender, approach any conversation in any space based on their own experiences. Rich women, whether cisgender or transgender, do not have the same experience around gender or patriarchy as poor women. Women of color do not have the same experience around misogyny, patriarchy and sexism as white women. It’s important that we do not have an oppression test, or some sort of code that you must conform to in order to be in a conversation as a woman. Approaching the conversation where women are open to accepting different perspectives is the way to overcome a sense of difference or alienation from each other. For example, some women of privilege may have blind spots, where they don’t understand the nuances of patriarchy. These blind spots exist for both cisgender and transgender women. In order for the space to feel open for all, there should be a cultural competency conversation about understanding how people come from different places.

Adams: Carmen, do these arguments surprise you? As a longtime activist and community intellectual, what’s your perspective?

Carmen Vazquez: It doesn’t surprise me at all. As a person who does not identify as transgender but is a gender-nonconforming person, I have been the target of individuals who have used my female masculinity as a counter to my feminism. I understand the places where some of these women come from. But I agree with Kate that a conversation about alliance and where we have commonality in terms of sexism in this society is much more useful than a conversation about differences. It’s really important that there be a way of understanding the place where these women live. I don’t know who they are or what level of privilege they come from, but there’s a conversation about gender that is very different from the conversation about the patriarchy 40 years ago. There is a desire to hang on to a perspective that isn’t looking at the reality of what our LGBT conversation and community is about in terms of gender.

We have to remember a time when “lesbian” wasn’t even a part of the lexicon. And we should remind our sisters of what it took to get to that place—the struggle with society to whom we were completely invisible. I certainly understand the necessity of bringing some intersectional analysis— also because I am a woman of color. We need to pay attention to what these women fear they will lose if they are in a place with transgender women.

Adams: Mara, SAGE’s organizational philosophy is that anybody who identifies as a woman is welcome in women’s programming, anybody who identifies as a lesbian is welcome in lesbian programming, and that we will not excludetrans people from any programming for which they otherwise qualify. NCTE is on the front lines of these kinds of conversations every day. Do we have it right, or is this approach and our thinking overly simplistic?

Mara Keisling: It’s easy to fall victim to a kind of transition anxiety—“transition” in the sense that society is changing. There is a new America emerging, and we’ve all been hesitant to say that because we’re afraid to face this transition anxiety. There are people who wouldn’t have been welcome in the world before who we want to make room for now. And that makes some people uncomfortable. Just when you think you’ve found your place in society, society changes again. And we’re seeing this now within the trans movement, and the trans communities (plural) where what it means to be trans is shifting constantly.

I don’t think your approach is too simplistic, unless you think it can be static. Because it feels like, at least for the foreseeable future, that nothing static will survive. Not only is society changing but the rules for how society changes are changing, and that’s exciting—when you can actually have a part in changing the rules. That’s where we can make some really big societal differences. Sometimes it’s hard as a marginalized person to be sensitive to other marginalized people, but we have a lot in common. No matter which group of us you separate out and look at specifically, that group is really not homogeneous at all. I think being as welcoming as possible will always be the right thing.

Adams: Kate and Carmen both noted this notion of the value of looking for the spaces of alliance and commonality for dialogue and discussion. I’m wondering, have any of you seen examples of similar situations that started in a fierce and oppositional place but ultimately became conversations that focus on alliance and commonality?

Vazquez: Part of the problem we have, and some- thing I think we are moving away from, is that ours has been an identity-based politics forever, not a politics framed by human rights. When things center on identity and people feel that their identity is somehow being trampled on or taken away, they get defensive. That needs to change. To give you an example of where I thought a successful transition was made is what used to be called the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center. When we were in the process of rebranding in 1994, we focused on our core ideals, vision and values (which included inclusion). It became increasingly clear that we could not say that those were our core values unless we changed our name to be inclusive of an emerging community that needed an enormous amount of support and a space to claim as its own. We did eventually become the LGBT Community Services Center. That was an important process to go through.

We cannot underestimate the importance of shifting the conversation away from identity and towards what our vision is of an inclusive SAGE or an inclusive movement, and what role all of us play in creating that space for inclusion of transgender people. Not just a support group here and there but to have transgender people woven into the fabric of SAGE as an organization. Also, when we talk about SAGE, it’s an organization about people dealing with oppression on the basis of age. That is some- thing that’s common to all older women. A politics of gender and sexual rights is something SAGE should champion and be at the forefront of.

Keisling: What Carmen just said is so important. We have so many different kinds of oppression we have to battle right now. We should be trying to eliminate the oppression and not each other. That should always be the goal—to start thinking about the oppressions and not the identities.

Kendell: Also, sexism and misogyny exist so deeply for a queer-identified people. If we can make the world safe for a transgender woman of color in some small rural town, then lesbian, gay and bisexual people will be far better off. Recognizing the enemy of our liberation as the same enemy of transgender individuals puts us in a much better place now than we were when this conversation started.

Adams: Kate, you’ve been the head of the National Center for Lesbian Rights since 1996. Currently at NCLR what are the trans projects that are front and center in your mind, and where do you hope to be in the near future?

Kendell: One question we always ask at NCLR is: who is being left behind? The second question is: what kind of country do we want to live in? Neither is particularly driven by identity. Although the first one is connected to identity to some degree, because in a nation that still has white supremacy at its core—and racism obviously still entrenched everywhere, and transphobia and homophobia—I think there is still a place for understanding that there will be individuals whose very identity makes them more of a target for oppression.

November 14, 2016

SAGEMatters Fall 2016: Lives of Boundless Opportunities

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SAGEMatters Fall 2016: Lives of Boundless Opportunities

As we share the latest SAGEMatters with you, we are living through a period of unprecedented change. Perhaps nothing reminds us of this more sharply than this year’s high-stakes elections, which have turned long-standing political and social assumptions on their heads.

This theme of change runs powerfully through the features in this issue of SAGEMatters. Inside, you’ll find George Takei’s take on personal evolution; learn how Jeffrey Erdman has taken the LA leather scene by storm in his 50s; and follow an inspiring conversation with Kate Kendell, Mara Keisling and Carmen Vazquez about the changing landscape of gender identity. You’ll also learn how the federal government (after a lot of pushing by SAGE) is moving to transform publicly-funded aging services to make them more LGBT-friendly. Join us in celebrating the realization of a decades-long dream for our communities in New York City, as SAGE announces the construction of the first two LGBTfriendly elder housing communities in the Big Apple. And so much more.

This time of great change and evolution sets the stage for the launch of SAGE’s new strategic plan. The overriding goal of the plan is to dramatically expand the impact of SAGE’s work so that LGBT people can grow older with boundless opportunities for growth and enrichment. We believe that we can achieve this transformative vision by tapping into our legacy of “taking care of our own,” by building ties across generations, by encouraging communities to become LGBT age-friendly and by convincing partners of all kinds to get involved. This issue of SAGEMatters includes a special feature on our new plan—we hope you’ll be as excited as we are.

For me, all of this has a special personal significance as I celebrate my 10th anniversary at the helm of this amazing organization. I’m so proud of the great progress that we have made together on behalf of our LGBT elder pioneers. And I’m tremendously passionate about the next chapter of SAGE’s work.

I know that as you read through this latest SAGEMatters it will be even clearer to you why SAGE’s efforts matter more than ever. Let’s keep working together so that all LGBT elders have the support they need to live lives of boundless opportunity.

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Michael Adams
Chief Executive Officer

SAGEMatters is the biannual magazine of Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE). View and download the expanded Fall 2016 issue here.

November 10, 2016

SAGE Stands Firm on Agenda for LGBT Elders in Wake of General Election

Dear Friends,

At SAGE we see the results of this week’s election through our commitment to building an equitable world where all LGBT elders are valued and have boundless opportunities. SAGE’s commitment is shaped by our core values, which include diversity, respect and compassion.

With a corrosive election season behind us, we now must put aside divisive rhetoric and exclusionary proposals that fly in the face of our values in favor of a national governing agenda that addresses the pain and inequities that so many Americans face. One that honors all elders, including those who are LGBT. One that ensures that every older American can grow old free of discrimination. One that provides our elders with financial security, adequate health care, affordable and welcoming housing, and culturally competent services.

SAGE stands firm for a policy agenda that makes older Americans a national priority, and that ensures that LGBT elders and elders from all diverse communities – who are among the most vulnerable in our society – are at the center of that priority. SAGE will do everything in our power to advocate for such an agenda. We will vigorously oppose any effort to roll back progress. As is our tradition, we will combine our advocacy with a commitment to work in communities nationwide to ensure that LGBT elders have the services and supports they need.

This year’s campaign season has left many in our communities deeply fearful of what is to come. In the face of such fears, we at SAGE are inspired and fortified by the wisdom of our elders who have lived through decades of witch hunts, brutality, criminalization, stigma, AIDS and so much more. Our elders remind us that through all of these unspeakably difficult challenges, we always found hope, stood firm, and made progress. We do not know what is to come in the months and years ahead. But what we do know is that we will honor our elders’ example by continuing to build the equitable world that they, and we, deserve. 

Sincerely,

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Michael Adams

LGBT elders needing emotional support are invited to call the SAGE LGBT Elder Hotline, which went live on November 1. SAGE recently established the hotline to make sure that LGBT elders have support no matter where they live. Provided in partnership with the GLBT National Help Center, calls are being taken at 888-234-SAGE (7243) on Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to midnight and from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturdays.

November 1, 2016

Infographic: LGBT Elders Send Powerful Message to Federal Administration for Community Living

SAGE has published a new infographic outlining its involvement in the #TellACL comment period.

In 2016, SAGE delivered more than 2,800 comments to the Federal Administration for Community Living, regarding a plan that would guide state aging offices in allocating resources for diverse elders as they age – including, for the very first time, LGBT older people. The comments from SAGE’s members and allies were collected as part of a collaborative effort led by the Diverse Elders Coalition.

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