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4 posts from December 2016

December 30, 2016

Live Long and Prosper with George Takei

This post originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of SAGEMatters.

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Takei speaks at SAGE & Friends LA Reception in April 2016.

Q. SAGE believes that we have a responsibility to make diversity and inclusion a centerpiece of our purpose, our people and our work. You once said "diversity is one of the strengths of our society." What does that mean to you?

George Takei: In addition to strength, with diversity we become a more vibrant, engaging and humane society. The community we live in gains strength by the power of the endowments of its members, be they muscular, intellectual or innovative. We also become richer for the performing, creative and artistic talents of the people. We become more vibrant by the inclusion of people of different cultures, histories, faiths and experiences. And we become a more humane society by embracing all people in need. As we say on Star Trek, "infinite diversity in infinite combinations."

Q. How has playing a starship helmsman on television and steering public opinion in real life contributed to your career revival? Any tips for older workers out there?

Takei: In show business, there is the term "to be between engagements." I don’t like not being engaged. All my life, I have not only pursued an acting career but have also created my own 'engagements' when not gainfully employed as an actor, whether it be political activism, public service, writing or, having discovered a fascinating advance in technology, social media. I don’t understand this thing called "retirement." I think life is to be lived.

IMG_5766Q. This summer marked the one-year anniversary of the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling—what you called a "landmark day for all Americans." What do you think the next frontier is for the LGBT community?

Takei: It is the backlash to nationwide marriage equality. Just as the Voting Rights Bill, which was signed by President Lyndon Johnson back in 1965, is still being resisted by those who are trying to place obstacles to access to the ballot box for minorities, the same kind of backlash is happening with nationwide marriage equality. The totally transparent cloak for this bigotry is the cry of "freedom of religion." And the battleground now is the bathroom, of all places! But, as in Indiana and Arkansas in 2015 and North Carolina and Mississippi now, ultimately we will have to rescind their hateful laws. The struggle continues.

Q. You came to Twitter and Facebook when you were 74 and you now have millions of followers. These platforms have allowed you to push for LGBT rights across the country. You were the public face of #BoycottIndiana after the state enacted a religious freedom law that allowed people to deny services to LGBT people based on their religious beliefs. You also led another social media charge against a similar law considered in Arkansas. Do you think we are going to be fighting bills like this for the next few years?

Takei: As I said above, the struggle for access to the ballot box is still being fought more than a half century after the Voting Rights Act was signed. But I also keep in mind that Loving v. Virginia, which granted interracial marriage, was ruled in 1967. When Brad and I were married in 2008, we were barely conscious of the fact that our marriage was interracial as well as same-sex. Our marriage was less than a half-century after Loving v. Virginia. I remain an optimist.

Q. SAGE’s mission is to advance successful aging for our LGBT elders so that they can live a vibrant life. Physical health and humor are both important to you. What principles of successful aging would you say make the most difference?

Takei: There is no one magic formula. It is a combination of many qualities. Physical health and good humor are important parts. Keeping the mind and body engaged, which means exercising both regularly—ideally daily—is also essential. Eating well and in moderation is also key. An optimistic view of life is vital. I rejoice in each and every birthday. It was my grandmother’s favorite hobby. She amassed a handsome collection—104 of them. She was a cockeyed optimist. My number one tip is to find joy in each and every day. Every morning, sunny or cloudy or rainy or torrid, is a wonderful gift. Enjoy it.

Read the interview on page 16 in the Fall 2016 issue of SAGEMatters.

December 20, 2016

Digital Activism Brings Elders into the Fold

This post originally appeared on Diverse Elders Coalition blog on December 13, 2016. Read the original post here.

By Jenna McDavid

Earlier this week, I attended a virtual town hall hosted by ColorOfChange.org, which brought together hundreds of people from around the world to learn and share the many ways in which communities of color will be pushing back against unfavorable changes in the political and social climate of this country. I was really inspired by the collective power of so many activists, advocates, allies, and community members getting together – without having to leave their houses! – to strategize and support one another. I also noticed that during the town hall, as participants were typing and chatting with each other, that a number of people identified themselves as Baby Boomers or Elders who wanted to get more involved in the fights to protect their communities. One person note that she is homebound and unable to volunteer outside of her house or participate in protests, but still wanted to take part in the movements that are shaping our future.

The Diverse Elders Coalition launched our civic engagement campaign earlier this year with that very goal in mind: getting elders of all ages, identities, classes, abilities, and locations involved with the programs and processes that impact their lives. We collected nearly 5,000 comments from individuals in all 50 states about the unique and unmet needs of American Indian/Alaska Native elders, Asian American, Pacific Islander American and Native Hawaiian elders, Black and African American elders, Hispanic elders, and LGBTQ elders. Those comments were submitted to the Administration for Community Living (ACL) along with a statement from our coalition, urging the ACL to incorporate our findings from these comments into their planning guidance for aging programs.

This campaign has been so inspiring to me, not only because of the incredible impact of our communities working together, but also because of how many people we were able to engage. Our members submitted comments both in-person and via the Internet; materials were distributed and comments were collected in six different languages, including English, Spanish, Korean, Mandarin, Vietnamese, and Hmong. And it wasn’t just elders who shared their stories with us: children, grandchildren, caregivers, and community activists also told us about the needs of the older adults in their lives. When we pool our resources and collaborate with each other, anything is possible.

Which brings me back to this virtual town hall that I had joined. It’s not always easy for people to get out of their homes and pound the pavement, particularly older adults in our communities, who may live alone, have difficulty accessing transportation, and/or struggle with illness or disability. But there are so many opportunities for us to connect through the internet. We are seeing proposals from members of Congress that will negatively impact our communities: large-scale deportation of immigrants, a Muslim registry, repeal of the Affordable Care Act, cuts to Medicare and Social Security. Our coalition will continue to push back against policies that hurt elders of color, American Indian/Alaska Native elders, and LGBT elders, and we will work to find innovative ways – including through phone- and internet-based advocacy – to get elders involved in these fights as well. After all, more older adults than ever are using the internet and social media to stay connected. Why not stay connected to community organizing and political advocacy efforts, too?

Some of our member organizations have already begun to do this. For example, the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) is hosting a series of monthly community calls, which bring together people from anywhere in the country to talk about the issues that impact Southeast Asian Americans. Anyone can join; all you need is internet access and a phone. And as we head into 2017, the Diverse Elders Coalition will want to connect our partners and community members with their Congressional representatives as well as with each other to ensure that we have as many voices as possible speaking up for the needs of diverse older adults.

For more information, contact the Diverse Elders Coalition here.

December 14, 2016

Why Mary’s House? (Again.)

This post originally appeared on Diverse Elders Coalition blog on September 29, 2016. Read the original post here.

 

Click to explore housing resources, news and LGBT age-friendly communities with SAGE’s housing portal and interactive map.

 

By Dr. Imani Woody

People often ask me, “Why do we need a place for LGBT older people to live? Don’t we have enough nursing homes and retirement homes for them to use?”

So I often share the story of John, a well-to-do gay elder who was found deceased — in his welcoming, upscale retirement complex. He had stopped going to church. He had stopped playing cards and going to the clubs. He had stopped interacting with his friends.

Or I sometimes share the sorrow of my older friend, Helen, who after the death of her partner, was asked by her partner’s siblings to leave the home they shared. And how she now lives with her brother, who “harasses me for my gay lifestyle.”

Aging as a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or same-gender loving (LGBTQ/SGL) person can bring different challenges than aging as a mainstream elder. Often, we don’t have the same support network of children and spouses — or the caregiving and financial support that they provide; we may be estranged from our families of origin; we have lost many of our peers and our friends through the HIV/AIDS epidemic; and we, as a group, are more likely to live alone. In addition, research is verifying what many of us have known for a while: that the stigma and discrimination associated with being old and being LGBTQ/SGL can be just too hard. It can be so hard, in fact, that many of us go back into the closet. As we begin to access the senior/wellness centers, retirement complexes and nursing homes, this fear of discrimination makes us unable to be our whole selves, increasing the potential of drug and alcohol addiction, neglect of our health issues, depression, and suicide. Increased social isolation among LGBTQ/SGL elders is at an all-time high.

Mary’s House for Older Adults, Inc. was organized to create welcoming environments for LGBTQ/SGL elders in their golden years. Our first major initiative is building a physical residence in Washington, DC for fifteen elders. However, we acknowledge that we cannot build enough LGBTQ/SGL welcoming spaces for all of the people who will need them. So, our mission also includes training and education for the staff and residents of existing spaces: senior wellness centers, retirement complexes and nursing homes that serve and house us. We also are involved in public policy advocacy that impacts LGBTQ/SGL older adults and elders locally and nationally. We invite you to join our small, mighty band of supporters and volunteers and help us CHANGE our city and the country, one residence, one elder at  a time! Feel free to reach out to me at info@maryshousedc.org to learn more about how to get involved. I look forward to hearing from you!

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.

December 1, 2016

Where Bigotry is Denied Entrance—Fighting HIV/AIDS Stigma in Housing

By Pat Lin

On this World AIDS Day, it’s important to commemorate how far we’ve come since the HIV/AIDS pandemic started. HIV isn’t the death sentence it used to be, but many long-term survivors of HIV continue to pay an emotional, physical and financial toll. In addition to managing the disease, HIV survivors still face stigma. As they get older and the effects of the disease compound the challenges of aging, they become more vulnerable. As the nation’s largest and oldest organization serving LGBT older adults, SAGE seeks to eradicate the stigma around HIV and to create welcoming spaces for long-term HIV survivors.

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"Peaceful Moment" by Lester Blum and Vladimir Rios from the I Still Remember exhibit on HIV/AIDS

When seeking specialized housing in a supportive and nonjudgmental environment, long-term HIV survivors, LGBT or not, face a huge hurdle. According to a 2014 poll conducted by SAGE, 1 in 8 LGBT adults and 1 in 4 transgender adults report experiencing discrimination in housing and long-term care environments. In an article addressing HIV stigma in housing options, Hilary Meyer, SAGE’s Director of Social Enterprise and Special Projects, said, "We certainly have experiences with hearing stories about caregivers not understanding how to work with HIV, appalling things such as concerns with contact. There's still very much a stigma and misinformation."

SAGE is working to create comfortable and inclusive environments for long-term HIV survivors. Last summer SAGE announced that two new LGBT age-friendly senior housing developments would be built in New York City. Along with these two developments in Brooklyn and the Bronx, SAGE is spearheading nationwide advocacy efforts against discrimination in housing. "The number one issue for our constituency is affordable housing," said Meyer. "Having a long-term disability just compounds the issue. It limits where they can live." Yet housing construction alone is not enough to solve the problem. As SAGE’s Director of Federal Government Relations Aaron Tax said, "We can’t build our way out of this. The wider housing stock has to be either affordable and/or targeted low-income, and be welcoming…If you're in New York City, perhaps you can get into an LGBT-targeted building, but there are plenty of people who won't be able to get into a building like that."

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Ingersoll Senior Residences in Brooklyn (L) and Crotona Senior Residencies in the Bronx

Who one lives with is just as important as where. Open, compassionate and culturally competent providers and staff who understand the specific needs of LGBT older adults and long-term HIV survivors are crucial to creating supportive environments. This is why SAGE started SAGECare, a training and consulting program on LGBT aging for service providers. SAGECare offers cultural competency training for all levels of employees, personalized consulting on LGBT aging issues, and full audits on LGBT-inclusive policies, procedures and best practices. Providers can earn Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum SAGECare credentials to signal their commitment to the best person-directed care for LGBT older adults.

Said one SAGE constituent, "I want to feel safe, housed in a place where bigotry is denied entrance." Long-term HIV survivors and LGBT elders deserve that safe space, and it’s up to people and organizations like SAGE to make sure that it happens.