In response to the recent church sign posted by the ATLAH World Missionary Church in Harlem, New York City, SAGE recently asked its LGBT elder constituents that take part in its SAGE Harlem program to reimagine a more welcoming sign for the community.
We asked them: “What alternative message should Pastor Manning have placed on this sign to make it welcoming to all Harlem residents, including its LGBT members?" Below are their responses. Feel free to share your response in our comments section!
In March 2014, the ATLAH World Missionary Church in Harlem, New York City posted a sign that reads: "Jesus Would Stone Homos. … Stoning is Still the Law," among other disturbing statements. The sign has elicited controversy and concerns from members of the Harlem community, as well as from news outlets and advocates throughout New York City and around the country.
In response to the sign, SAGE Executive Director Michael Adams has responded:
"The deeply offensive and bigoted signage of the Atlah World Missionary Church is the antithesis of the Harlem community that SAGE Harlem has been a part of for the past 10 years. Throughout SAGE Harlem’s existence, we have been proud to contribute to a community that has increasingly embraced and respected its LGBT members, including LGBT elders. To see the hateful Atlah signage just two blocks from our SAGE Harlem center is deeply disturbing. At the same time, we are reassured by the knowledge that this is a fringe group that does not represent the sentiments of the vast majority of Harlem community organizations and residents. In the face of this verbal assault on the human dignity of LGBT people, SAGE and SAGE Harlem will redouble our commitment to contributing to a Harlem community where all are welcome regardless of their sexual orientations or gender identities.
Since 2004, SAGE Harlem has helped ensure that LGBT elders in Harlem, East Harlem and the Bronx can benefit from culturally and linguistically appropriate services. Located in the historic former Theresa Hotel, SAGE Harlem offers bilingual information, referrals, services, programming, educational presentations and social activities for older LGBT residents in the community, and partners with local social service providers to expand access for LGBT consumers and sensitivity to their issues.
In honor of February being African American History Month, SAGE has been highlighting our diverse programs, constituents and stories relevant to black aging. Look back at our featured stories for the month. For our last post of the month, Dr. Imani Woody of SAGE Metro D.C. and is the founding director and CEO of Mary’s House for Older Adults, a developing LGBT friendly residential housing in Washington, DC, explores issues on ageism and heterosexism in the African American lesbian and gay communities.
People are complex, and African-American older LGBT adults are no exception. They live at the intersection of multiple identities experienced over the life span, in a culture steeped in racism, sexism, ageism, heterosexism and homophobia. African-American lesbian and gay males experience at a minimum two hostile environments: being lesbian or gay in a heterosexist society; being a person of color in a racist culture; being female in a sexist culture; and being old in a youth-worshipping culture.
Moreover, research shows that living with racism on a daily basis influences the health and well-being of African Americans, leading to major gaps in health and financial equality, higher levels of infirmity and chronic illness, even earlier death than other populations. African-American elders are likely to experience poverty at more than two times the rate of all other older Americans.
This article comes from research cited in Lift Every Voice: Treading our Path, (NGLTF Task Force, 2012) that tells the stories of lives lived and the very real problems of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender African Americans coming-of-age and how those experiences shaped their lives as they grew older. People remember being conflicted in telling family members their sexual orientation and sexual identity, fearing rejection and abandonment. A 66-year-old African-American lesbian woman described it this way:
“I knew I was different as a child. … But I guess I was in my early teens [before I knew the words], because you don’t know what the word is. When I was coming up, the word was bull dagger. It was so negative, so you still don’t know. You are a kid; you don’t know, there were no words for it, I hate that word. It’s just I’ve gotten older, I just, ugh. … That’s so derogatory. It’s negative.”
Many older African-American lesbian women and gay men have experienced a sense of grief and loss from being alienated within one’s own race and ethnicity because of perceived sexual identity and orientation. Often the disaffection happens early and scars last for life. Many elders speak of living in hostile environments within the African-American community. As this 63-year-old African-American man explains:
“I know I have an androgynous look, it was even more so when I was younger. So therefore, there was some discrimination against me by assumption rather than fact because they would look at me and because I am androgynous looking they would assume. … One of my issues being African American and looking like this was really when I came out in college in the late ’60s at the height of the Black Power Movement and I was distinctly told by a couple of Black organizations at the time, ‘we don’t want your kind here.’ ”
Suspicions of institutions and institutional care are a shared ancestry of African Americans. This is also a shared experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people coming of age in the decades of the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s. Institutional bigotry, hatred and stigma has led to medical classification and criminalization often resulting in forced psychiatric treatment of LGBT people, and loss of family, church, employment, housing and other community structures. Such bigotry is still found in the medical profession and in church. Listen to the stories of three African-American elders:
… You have to be careful with that [advising providers that you’re gay] because the minute you tell a medical person that you are gay, they automatically, in 90 percent of the cases, will assume you’re HIV positive and start to treat you that way.” (63-year-old African-American gay man)
I grew up in the church. I was baptized when I was about 11 in the Baptist church. I came to D.C. and joined a world-renowned Baptist church. I sang on two choirs, was a part of the missionary group. … I met a very nice young lady and we were going to get married so we sent some invitations to people at the church. … There were some people on the Deacon and Trustee Board who brought me before the church. … We got into this thing about what the Bible did and didn’t say, but they put me out anyway. … It still hurt me deeply. It was one of the deepest hurts I have had in my life to be put out of my church that I have put so much love and energy…” (72-year-old African-American lesbian woman)
In a workplace situation, for example, I might not get an assignment that I know I am qualified for, know that I’m the best person for it, and don’t get it. Is that because I am old? Is it because I am Black? Is it because I am gay? (69-year-old African-American gay man)
In honor of February being African American History Month, SAGE will be highlighting our diverse programs, constituents and stories relevant to black aging. Check back for featured stories every Tuesday, with additional posts throughout the month.
George Stewart, 82 years old, has led a life full of change and surprises. He served in the Army, both in the U.S. and overseas, was a hospital aide during the AIDS crisis in the 80's and surprisingly became an out-LGBT spokesperson when he was an honored speaker at The SAGE Center's ribbon-cutting ceremony in 2012. These are his words.
In celebration of Black History Month, I would like to honor my heroes. Right now, they are President Obama, and, of course, Nelson Mandela. They made history in their movements and they have accomplished a lot of things that we, as African Americans, never thought would be done. Especially Mandela, who suffered in prison and left without being angry and just completed the job he set out to do. His passing was a blow to me, but the way the world united in honoring him was inspiring. President Obama's speech at the ceremony was truly moving and he, making history as the first African American president of the United States, is another man that I think our community can emulate. Those men are my heroes.
I would like to say that my life two years ago was very different. You could say SAGE outed me! I wouldn't say I was closeted at the time, but looking back, I suppose I was. Since I was one of the speakers at The SAGE Center grand opening, I received a lot of media attention. I had a brief interview with NY1 and that was it! Some of my neighbors saw me on television and I was willingly outed. My life is 100% more interesting! I feel much more free in my thinking and what I enjoy. I really feel like I'm being myself. I've lost a couple of friends, but that's their problem, not mine. I've gained more friends than I've lost - that's a plus! I also have a job, people who rely on me and care about my opinions, so I am pretty happy right now.
Looking back at the past two (out) years of my life, what really stands out for me was my trip to Washington, D.C. Through SAGE, I submitted my story to the White House LGBT Champions of Change contest, and was a finalist! Me and a couple of SAGE staffers traveled to D.C. for the ceremony and it was wonderful. I was on a panel with some extraordinary people who were all doing work for the LGBT movement. It was a great experience and I met so many wonderful people. I honestely didn't realize how big the movement was until I was on that panel and learned about what they were all doing around the country! All of the other Champions of Change, along with groups like PFLAG and AVER...I didn't realize all of those people were working for the same cause - LGBT rights and equality.
I've been motivated to work for this cause because of SAGE. I believe everyone should be happy in what they want to do in their lives. I myself have become more open-minded and free because of learning more about the LGBT community. I would like to see this country be more tolerant of other peoples' lifestyles -- especially, for me, the black church. I love my church. I sing in the choir and we have a wonderful congregation. However, the belief system that is engrained is very homophobic. The best way to fight the homophobia is to stay in the church and be a positive presence -- because God loves us all.
Watch George's winning White House Champion of Change video below.
In honor of February being African American History Month, SAGE will be highlighting our diverse programs, constituents and stories relevant to black aging. Check back for featured stories every Tuesday, with additional posts throughout the month.
Our stories connect us and allow us to share common bonds through the use of words, pictures, music and video. Today, we would like to share stories from four African American women from around the country. Each of their voices and stories are different, but all share the desire for recognition and hope for the future. If you have a story to share, please tell us by visiting our SAGE Story portal on the SAGE website.
Cheryl & Elizabeth, SAGE Wilmington of the Cape Fear Coast, North Carolina The two tell us about how despite growing up in faith-based traditions that did not affirm their being lesbians, they somehow met at church. They explain how their faith joined them together and how 10 years later, they are still together and still in church and are accepted in their community!
Frances, SAGE Harlem, New York City Frances, 72, is a lover of Zumba and food! She shares her experience of having a stroke and how her lover of 20 years was so supportive and caring of her in the hospital. She wants women to know that they have the power and strength to get better after a debilitating situation such as herself. Listen to her story, recorded in 2013 for SAGE Story, below.
Helena, SAGE Center on Halsted, Chicago Helena, a transgender older adult diagnosed with HIV, shares her powerful story in a wonderful essay. She writes, "the most important thing I learned in accepting myself as transgender and also living with HIV/AIDS was about stigma. I realized that my fear of disclosing my HIV/AIDS status was extremely unhealthy and only contributed to my loneliness and isolation, and would cause me to indeed die faster." Read an excerpt below and the whole story here.
My name is Helena and I am a 60-year-old transgender female living with HIV. I am not a victim. An HIV/AIDS diagnosis is NOT a death sentence, but is similar to living with breast cancer or diabetes, which through some lifestyle changes, are manageable diseases.
I was diagnosed with HIV and AIDS in 2002, and was told I would not live more than six months, and at best, a year. Along with my doctors, I believe that I was a "late tester," meaning because I was diagnosed with AIDS—a late stage infection—and not HIV, I likely contracted HIV 15 to 20 years before showing any sign or symptoms. Because people can carry HIV/AIDS asymptomatically, it is important to be tested on a regular basis to avoid a late test and spreading the disease.
The following post was written by Patricia Fraser-Morales, SAGE Harlem Program Assistant.
SAGE Harlem is working on some exciting offerings to commemorate Black History Month. Our staff and volunteers have created an art exhibition on the walls of the Harlem Center to showcase the diverse talents of our constituents. This begins an initiative we hope to continue all year long, with revolving art pieces and poetry selections to illustrate our chosen theme: “Life in Harlem.”
To keep consistent with the arts theme, SAGE Harlem is collaborating this month with the Romare Bearden Foundation, located on the second floor of the historic Hotel Theresa Building. We will be offering small group tours of the Bearden archive, which features art pieces, writings, and other memorabilia of the famous artist.
More Black History Month Events:
All of SAGE has been invited to attend a special afternoon screening of The New Black at the Film Forum. The New Black is a documentary that tells the story of how the African-American community is grappling with the gay rights issue in light of the recent gay marriage movement and the fight over civil rights. SAGE is planning to have a Q&A with the creators of the film at a later date.
SAGE Harlem is offering multiple screenings of the classic Paris is Burning at the Harlem Center. On February 18, there will be a presentation on the history of the ballroom scene given by scholar/activist Michael Roberson, who is the Father of the House of Garcon.
Harlem Nights, painted by SAGE Harlem Constituent, Francis Gordon
Our regular programming for the month includes all support groups and activities:
Women’s 40+ Support Group on Friday, February 7
Latino Men’s Group on Tuesday, February 11
Men’s 50+ Support on Friday, February 14
Grief Group on Saturdays, February 8 & 15
New Beginnings every Tuesday afternoon
AA Meditation every Monday night
Spirituality Group on the 2nd and 4th Mondays
Buddy to Buddy on Thursday, February 20
The H.E.A.T. Meeting and Social Hour on Friday, February 21st, and Fabulous Friday on Friday, February 28th round out the month-long celebrations. Please “like” us on Facebook, and check out the website for more information on dates, times and more offerings.
This post, from Robert Espinoza, Senior Director for Public Policy and Communications at SAGE, was originally featured on The Huffington Post. Read the original post here and follow Robert on Twitter.
The harms inflicted by discrimination reveal themselves in our bodies as we age -- as people of color, as poor and low-income people, and as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The symptoms manifest as higher rates of high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, depression, social isolation and more. In medical charts throughout the country, our bodies record what it means to survive a life shaped by perpetual poverty, higher concentrations in low-wage jobs with no health insurance, thin retirement options and inadequate protections in the workplace. They depict our fractured relationships to health care -- from cultural and linguistic barriers to overt bias and discrimination from health and aging providers, to a long-held, hard-earned distrust of medical staff internalized through years of differential treatment.
SAGE will be providing information throughout the month of September on the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Stay tuned weekly for videos, fact sheets and informational blog posts that will get you ready for the October 1 enrollment!
Beginning January 1, 2014, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires everyone to have health insurance or pay a financial penalty. To help individuals and their families find plans that fit their needs and budgets, states will run Health Insurance Marketplaces. The new Health Insurance Marketplace (“the Marketplace”) open enrollment period begins Oct. 1, 2013 and ends March 31, 2014.
The Diverse Elders Coalition (DEC) understands that enrolling older people and their families in health coverage plans is a key part of improving the health of our nation. The DEC represents some of our most vulnerable older adults: older people of color and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older people, many of whom begin dealing with the challenges of aging as early as their 50s. The Marketplace will impact uninsured or underinsured older people who are in the 50-64 age range differently than those who are 65 or older, many of whom are already covered by Medicare. Moreover, many elders age 65+ are confused on how the Marketplace and broader ACA implementation will affect them. Thus, there exists a need to educate them about new ACA benefits, such as expansion of Medicare benefits, lower-cost prescription drugs and free preventive services. And for uninsured older people 50-64 years old, they will need to actively interact with their Marketplace to find a health insurance plan that fits their needs.
This week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is highlighting how the Marketplace affects communities of color and, as part of these efforts, asked that the DEC describe how the marketplace will impact older people of color, a percentage of whom are LGBT. Here are five reasons:
The Health Insurance Marketplace offers affordable insurance to older people of color who face high poverty rates and are more likely to be uninsured than their peers—conditions that worsen with age. People of color are more likely to be poor and without health insurance coverage—they make up more than half of America’s uninsured. This demographic includes African Americans, Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and American Indians and Alaska Natives. In addition, the number of uninsured older adults age 50-64 continues to rise—from 3.7 million in 2000 to 8.9 million in 2010. These high rates of uninsured people are due in part to a history of low earnings, discrimination in health care practices and high or unaffordable premiums for health insurance for many people of color. The Marketplace will address these challenges by offering affordable coverage and financial assistance to those with lower incomes.
The Health Insurance Marketplace will help to ensure that older people of color no longer feel the need to postpone critical health care services. According to the Center for American Progress, being uninsured often means postponing necessary care—and chronically ill, uninsured patients are four to six times more likely than sick patients with insurance to have problems accessing care. That’s why people of color in the U.S. are diagnosed at more advanced disease stages, and once diagnosed, they receive poorer care. The Marketplace will allow older people of color to manage their health more proactively, and it will also cut high out-of-pocket costs associated with emergency room visits when a crisis hits.
The Health Insurance Marketplace can address the health disparities widely affecting older people of color, many of whom are LGBT. Research shows that people of color, across the age span, face significant disparities in physical and mental health. Additionally, many people of color delay care because of potential medical costs and out of fear of discrimination or cultural incompetence from medical providers. These issues are especially true for LGBT people of color who face challenges on multiple aspects of their identities. A recent research report highlighted the many ways in which policy makers and professionals can better support LGBT older people of color across areas related to health equity and health care access. It can start with making insurance more affordable and health care more prevalent.
The Health Insurance Marketplace ensures that no application for health insurance is rejected due to preexisting medical conditions, such as HIV, which disproportionately affects communities of color and older people. For example, research project that within the next few years, one in two people with HIV in this country will be age 50 or older. The HIV/AIDS epidemic that has also adversely impacted LGBT people, many of whom are people of color. Prior to the ACA most states allowed health insurers to charge higher premiums because of these conditions. Insurers who sell coverage in the Marketplace will be required to accept all applicants, including those with preexisting medical conditions.
The Health Insurance Marketplace supports the entire family unit, including families of choice, while honoring the role that elders play in our communities. The DEC knows well that older adults play an important role in our communities and in our families, broadly defined to include blood relatives, spouses and partners, caregivers and friends. The 2000 U.S. Census shows that 4.5 million children are living in grandparent-headed homes, many of whom are between 55 and 64. Thus, when the Marketplace supports the health and health care options of an older person of color, it also supports the lives of the many people in his/her family unit and broader ecosystem.
the end of June, SAGE had the pleasure of screening the film, Before You Know It, at The SAGE Center,
just a few days after its New York City premiere at Lincoln Center. This moving
documentary follows three older gay men from different parts of the country,
painting portraits of three very different lives. The film’s Facebook page describes
its subjects this way:
before the Civil Rights era, these men have witnessed unbelievable change in
their lifetimes, from the Stonewall Riots and gay liberation, to the HIV/AIDS
pandemic and Queer Nation, to gay marriage and Lady Gaga, and have lived to become
part of an unprecedented ‘out’ elder generation. BEFORE focuses on the lives of
these three gay seniors, but reminds us that while LGBT elders face a specific
set of issues, aging and its challenges are universal. An affirmation of life
and human resilience told with a refreshing humor and candor, BEFORE confirms
that you are never too old to reshape society.”
Before You Know It holds a
special place in SAGE’s heart, because one of the three men starring in the
movie is SAGE’s very own Ty Martin, Harlem Community Liaison at SAGE Harlem in
New York City. Over the course of a couple of years, the film’s director &
producer PJ Raval and producer Sara Giustini, along with their film crew, spent
quite a bit of time with Ty, constituents of SAGE Harlem, and in the Harlem
LGBT community. What emerges is a story of an incredibly warm and supportive
community, joyfully celebrating advances for LGBT equality while acknowledging
the difficulties and struggles of being gay, older and African American.
PJ, Sara and their crew took incredible care with Ty’s story, and presumably
took the same care with the stories of the film’s other two protagonists,
Robert and Dennis. Robert is from Galveston, Texas, where he owns the state’s
oldest gay bar. Dennis splits his time between Florida and Portland; a widower
in his 70s, he has only just started to explore his sexual identity. Together,
these three men’s experiences weave a picture of strength, resilience, and the
importance of being surrounded by friends and peers who understand and support
each other. The film also provides a window into the diverse lives of LGBT
older adults, busting through common ageist stereotypes and showing viewers
that there is no singular “LGBT elder story.”
With the rapid growth of our diverse population, our country is becoming more beautiful than ever. But unfortunately, there are still some groups that are not well understood by the nation’s service providers, or by local, state and federal governments. One of those groups is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) older adults. And in order to better understand the reality of this diverse community, the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) conducted an analysis through a literature review, focus groups (one was held at The SAGE Center; SAGE is fellow member organization of the Diverse Elders Coalition) and in-depth interviews with LGBT Hispanic older adults, including the service providers who work with them.
We have found that Hispanic LGBT older adults face challenges in the areas of economic security and health, often times because of the lack of research on the needs and perspectives of this population. This can be reversed if there is more knowledge on the specific health issues impacting Hispanic LGBT older adults and if policies are tailored to help Hispanic LGBT older adults achieve economic security. For example, policy makers can repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to allow Social Security to provide full spousal, survivor, and funeral benefits to married same-sex couples.