60 posts categorized "Elders of Color"

March 15, 2016

Engaging Volunteers in Grassroots Awareness Building

This post originally appeared on Diverse Elders Coalition on March 15th, 2016. Read the original post here.

by Tim Johnston, Assistant Director of Social Enterprise and Training, and Sherrill Wayland, Manager of National Projects, at SAGE.

Sometimes it feels like every time we turn around, somebody is talking about working at the grassroots level. From grassroots education and political organizing to crowdsourcing and the hive mind, focusing on grassroots engagement is certainly popular, but what does it really mean, and why is it useful?

To us, grassroots engagement means engaging and supporting a diffuse and diverse network of volunteers; in particular, folks who are outside of our professional and personal networks. Here’s an example: we manage the largest LGBT aging provider training program in the United States. It’s our job to make sure that people all across the country know the unique needs and resiliencies of LGBT older adults and best practices for working with our communities. We have a group of tireless certified trainers, but several years ago we realized that if we really want to reach as many people as possible, we needed to start working at the grassroots level. There are LGBT older adults and allies across the country in places of worship, community centers, and advocacy groups, and we can’t reach all of these groups even with our committed, but limited, training corps. So we started thinking, how can we engage folks in communities all across the country and help them become advocates within their own networks? How can we raise awareness at the grassroots level?


This led to the creation of the Volunteer Education Ambassador Program. Ambassadors register on SAGE’s National Resource Center on LGBT Aging website and are given a toolkit including a PowerPoint presentation, a script, and a set of Frequently Asked Questions. Ambassadors are encouraged to use these materials to raise awareness about LGBT aging, and when we receive requests for speakers we can pass those requests along to Ambassadors. With 160 Ambassadors in 43 states, this program has proven to be a great way for us to get the word out about LGBT aging in areas and networks that we otherwise would not have been able to reach. The leadership of a community group in San Diego, Boise, or New Orleans might not respond to our call or email about LGBT aging, but they often are interested when approached by somebody they know.

At this year’s Aging in America conference we’ll be facilitating a workshop about “Engaging Volunteers in Grassroots Awareness Building” where we will discuss the successes and challenges we’ve experienced developing this program. We will be answering questions like, what can a grassroots program accomplish for your organization? Why do people volunteer, and how can you keep them engaged? If you are going to attend the conference please stop by, and if you are interested in becoming an Ambassador please register here!

TJohnston1-150x150Tim R. Johnston, PhD is the Assistant Director of Social Enterprise & Training at Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE). He is responsible for directing SAGE’s national training initiatives, developing training curricula, and providing consulting services to both aging and LGBT service providers. He tweets at @johnstontimr. 




S_wayland-1-150x150Sherrill Wayland is the Manager of National Projects at Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), where she manages the day-to-day operations of the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging (NRC) as well as working with SAGE’s National LGBT Elder Housing Initiative and other key national projects.





March 8, 2016

Remembering International Women’s Day

By Vera Lukacs 

In today’s world, women of all ages are largely overlooked, discouraged, and unsupported in accomplishing their goals. This is especially true in the LGBT older women’s community. It is critical that in the larger community we are empowering and elevating the voices of women of all ages and backgrounds. With this in mind, SAGE is celebrating the following individuals: 


Katherine Acey and SAGE's CEO Michael Adams at Creating Change-- Photo by Gretchen Rachel Hammond

Katherine Acey, recipient of the SAGE Award for Excellence in Leadership on Aging Issues, is exceptionally noteworthy. Acey, an Arab American, is a highly respected feminist in the LGBT older adult community. She was the executive director for Astrea Lesbian Foundation for Justice for 23 years. Two other notable heroes are Ruth Berman and Connie Kurtz, recipients of the SAGE Pioneer Award. Berman and Kurtz have been together for 42 years and married since July 26th, 2011— two days after New York recognized marriage equality. Featured in the documentary, Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House, the couple fights for the protection and equality of LGBT elders. 

Who are some of your favorite heroines? It can be a celebrity, a friend, or an inspiring family member like mine.  

When I was asked to write about the significance of Women’s History Month and SAGE’s work with women throughout the years, I spent days racking my brain trying to think of who I could claim as an inspiring female role model. I thought about women in history like Audre Lorde, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and CeCe McDonald. Or maybe I’d list some of my best friends, who are all doing incredible work for the women’s rights movement. While making burritos for my partner and I on a Sunday night, my mind suddenly went to my female role model: my 14-year-old cousin, Olivia Najarian.  

I first heard about the remarkable work Olivia is doing with the World Bicycle Relief through her mother’s Facebook. World Bicycle Relief is an organization that provides bikes to people in communities that are less fortunate. In April 2015, Olivia kick-started her work with the organization by writing an essay for their blog on why she wanted to fundraise for them, and the importance of certain disparities between western culture and that of other parts of the world. She is currently working on a project of her own called Good Spokes, a nonprofit that aims to provide safe access to education on health care for people in need. Olivia is just one example of what a young woman can achieve with a bit of support, encouragement, and a lot of determination. 

Vera Lukacs is SAGE's Digital Media Assistant. 

March 7, 2016

SAGE Story: Diversifying Public Narratives on Aging

12841378_10154197993090353_2398435676462151264_oThis week, thanks to the generous support of the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, SAGE Story continues to bring storytelling to LGBT older people around the country to address discrimination and reshape the narrative on aging in America.

Piloted in New York City and expanded to multiple sites in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and other states, SAGE Story draws on the unique life experiences of LGBT elders to diversify the public narratives on aging and LGBT rights. Stories this week include Gwendolyn in North Carolina, who discusses faith and how her relationship with God connects to members of the LGBT community. Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, Shelby shares her struggle with discrimination during her gender transition.

Follow #SAGEStory on social for more stories. To learn more about these and other stories, or to share your story, visit sageusa.org/sagestory.

February 29, 2016

The History & Future of the Black Trans Rights Movement

Presenters-- History and Future
Martin and Vazquez with SAGE event attendees

In honor of Black History Month, SAGE will be sharing a series of posts from partners and constituents sharing their stories. SAGE's Digital Media Assistant, Vera Lukacs, shares her experience from attending an event at the SAGE Center Midtown.

On February 23rd, 2016, Jevon Martin and Mya Vazquez hosted a talk on the History and Future of the Black Trans Rights Movement at SAGE Center Midtown. The speakers discussed the past, present and future of the black trans rights movement throughout history, while facilitating an ongoing discussion with those who attended. 

In recent years, the transgender rights movement has become more visible in the media and our everyday lives. However, trans people, and especially trans people of color, are being killed and discriminated at an alarming rate. According to the NCAVP’s Anti LGBTQ & HIV-Affected Hate Violence in 2014, 80% of homicide victims in 2014 were people of color. Furthermore, 55% of homicide victims were transgender women. “The transgender rights movement is something that feels new to a lot people, and to other people, it doesn’t feel that new. But we don’t tend to recognize just how far back it goes and how intertwined it is with the history of the entire LGBT movement.” said Pony Knowles, the program coordinator for the event. 

Sylvia and Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson (far left)

Jevon Martin, the NYS Chapter president of Black Transmen Inc., spoke about his own transgender heroes from the past, present, and his vision for the future. Martin began by showcasing transgender individuals such as Tracey Africa, a transgender African-American woman from New Jersey. She modeled all over the world from Milan and Paris, and eventually was the face of the Clairol Born Beautiful hair color boxes. Next on the list was Willmer “Little Ax” Broadnax, a famous musician born in Mississippi. It wasn’t until Willmer died that people found out he was assigned female at birth. Martin went on to talk about a few notable individuals, such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two of the most visible pioneers in the transgender rights movement and Stonewall riots. 

Some of Martin's and Vazquez’s current heroes are Miss Major Griffin-Gracy and Kim Watson (who was scheduled to be a speaker at this event, but was injured and unable to attend). Both Watson and Miss Major are influential leaders in the black transgender rights movement.  

Kim Watson is the Co-Founder of Community Kinship Life, an organization that is dedicated to “provide the trans community with the tools needed to achieve their personal goals while having a sense of community and kinship.” Griffin-Gracy is the Executive Director at Transgender GenderVariant Intersex Justice Project, an organization that serves trans people who are currently incarcerated or are former inmates.  
As the event drew to a close, it was clear the audience was left with an appreciation of a community they were not deeply familiar with prior to the meeting. This event, sponsored by SAGE, is part of a larger effort by the organization to bring visibility to the transgender community and create solidarity within the larger LGBT movement.  

February 16, 2016

Supporting Diverse Older Women Seeking Jobs

In honor of Black History Month, SAGE will be sharing a series of posts from partners and constituents sharing their stories. SAGE's partners at the Diverse Elders Coalition are pleased to present this guest post from Jenna McDavid, Communications and Logistics Associate, Diverse Elders Coalition.


I remember reading this article in the New York Times back in January – on New Year’s Day, no less; what a way to kick off 2016! – and thinking about the older women I’ve met and worked with at the Diverse Elders Coalition. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with elders at the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging and the Asian Counseling and Referral Services here in Seattle, and I was fortunate to observe a computer class at SAGE’s Midtown Manhattan Center in New York City when I visited their offices last year. In almost every instance, I heard about the bleak job-hunting prospects for diverse women over 50.

The New York Times article linked above offers some heartbreaking anecdotes of women who are unemployed and unable to find meaningful work; in addition to those who are counted on census data as “unemployed,” still more women are working but unable to make ends meet with low-paying, low-skilled jobs. Add in the multiple layers of racism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia that our elders of color and LGBT elders may face, and we find harsh employment reality for the communities we serve.

This graph from the New York Times shows long-term unemployment in older American women, but does not account for race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

This graph from the New York Times shows long-term unemployment in older American women, but does not account for race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

 So, what can we do to support the women in our communities who are looking for work? One solution comes from SAGE, whose SAGEWorks program provides education and training to LGBT job-seekers over 40. I love this program, because it offers support from start to finish through the job-hunting process, including technology and resume-building workshops, computer software and internet access, and job placement assistance.

A colleague at SAGE recently shared with me a recent video interview with Diane Wilson, a SAGEWorks participant from New York, and I was moved by Diane’s years of experience with unemployment and underemployment. She is trained in film and TV production but is currently working only part-time as a professor at a local university. Like so many of the women in the New York Times article and in our families and communities, Diane has skills, knowledge, and training in a specialized field that hasn’t manifested in steady employment, especially since the 2008 recession.

The economic security of our diverse elders is a key priority for our coalition; without steady work, retirement and financial planning, and money to keep a roof over our heads, our communities can neither survive nor thrive. We love what SAGEWorks is doing to support the diverse women who come to their doors seeking employment assistance. Other members of our coalition are fighting, too, to bring economic security to our communities: both NAPCA and NICOA both run successful Senior Community Service Employment Programs (SCSEP) that connects elders with job training and placement. NHCOA advocates for paid leave so that our community members never have to choose between their families and their jobs. And SEARAC has worked to support the economic empowerment of the Southeast Asian American communities across the country.

My resolution this year is to better support the older women in my communities who are seeking employment. Through my work with the DEC and in volunteering with programs like SAGEWorks, I hope that on New Year’s Day 2017, we’ll instead be reading articles about the employment gains being made by our diverse elders. I’ve already even worked out a headline: Baby Boomers Enjoy Employment Boom! New York Times editorial board, take note.

- See more at: http://www.diverseelders.org/2016/02/15/supporting-diverse-older-women-seeking-jobs/#sthash.oimp9DGL.dpuf


February 12, 2016

It’s Never Too Early To Start Retirement Planning…Is It?

In honor of Black History Month, SAGE will be sharing a series of posts from partners and constituents sharing their stories. SAGE's partners at the Diverse Elders Coalition are pleased to present this guest post from Vega Subramaniam of Vega Mala Consulting.

VegaSometimes I wonder if I’m being a bit too morbid, spending as much brainpower as I do thinking about end-of-life experiences. I’m not that old yet. People older than me who are smart and thoughtful about their lives are not thinking about post-retirement life yet. Actually, sometimes when I bring this up, friends will look at me like, “Vega. You’re 50. I think you’ll be working for maybe a year or two still.”

It’s not that I don’t know that I’ve got some employment time ahead of me. It’s that when I witness the stories of my elders, what keeps haunting me is premature death. And let’s be honest: every death is premature.

I think about my father-in-law, Raj: a public administrator, CPA, and active community member. Back in the late 1980s, he and a group of (South Indian Hindu) community members came together to begin conversations about their futures. He was among the oldest of the group, at the time being in his mid fifties. Some of the others were as much as ten or fifteen years younger.

What brought them together was a growing sense of urgency about having an end game in mind. They – their community – were the first generation of post-1965 immigrants from India. They were Hindu and well educated and came to the U.S. expecting to provide a strong education for their children – and then “go back home to India.” That was a dream cherished by probably the vast majority of those early arrivals.

And yet.

A decade, two, three went by, and they remained here in the States. They might have been doing fine financially, but when it came to their retirement – and beyond – they had no idea. In the India they left back in the day, they’d have moved into their oldest son’s home. Here? In the late 1980s? Not likely.

So what was left? What did they have? Each other, as it turned out.

So there they were, in the late 1980s, starting conversations with each other about their post-retirement plans. That led to research on retirement communities, which led to conversations with real estate agents and developers, financial advisors, lawyers – and which culminated in the early 2000s in plans to build a Hindu, vegetarian 55+ condo community on land adjacent to the Sri Shiva Vishnu Temple in Lanham, MD. The community was to be called Bhagya Village, and those initial community members all invested money toward making it happen.

Fast forward to 2008, when the economy was ripped out from under us. The Bhagya Village team had escaped losing money by virtue of a fortuitous decision to postpone buying land based on murmurings of a real estate crash. Averting that disaster, though, meant delaying development for years.

Fast forward to 2013. Raj was now 80 and newly diagnosed with Stage IV cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (i.e., emphysema). Bhagya Village had finally bought land and contracted with a developer. According to the timeline, the first units were due to open in the autumn of 2015. Raj died in December of 2013.

This story, which swirls in my head, is joined by others. One woman I know had a circle of friends who schemed together for their whole lives about their post-retirement adventures. By the time she did retire, she looked around and realized all of her friends had already passed away.

I want to honor and learn from these stories and lessons. So I reflect on them. What’s the lesson? Plan as obsessively and as early as possible so you can realize your dreams before you die? Carpe diem because you never know how long you have? Or are those the poles that we’ll inevitably swing between, like inhaling and exhaling?

There’s a model out there called polarity management, which notes that there are pros and cons associated with each end of any polarity. We’re drawn to the pros of one pole, but then the cons push us like a pendulum to the other pole – where it happens again.

My wife Mala and I are finding our own way through this polarity. Being the self-development process nerds that we are, we spend one weekend in January on an intentional life planning retreat, a practice we started in 2003. As part of that process, we connect with our mission and values, and sketch out our plans for the next couple decades until we (hope to, let’s see what happens) retire. And then we structure our days for this year, and this moment, firmly grounded in our values and long-term goals, regardless of our longevity. At least that way, we can take some comfort in knowing that we have a true north that we’re following.

I had hoped, now, to loop back to the beginning of this post, and offer closure to the question of how morbid I’m being and the stories of my elders that haunt me. But honestly, they still haunt me. For Mala, she’s more settled with the uncertainty, and finding a place in the polarity: carpe diem but feel at peace living intentionally, rooted in values, and heed the Bhagavad Gita: “Be intent on action, not the fruits of action.”


February 9, 2016

The Time to Act is Now! United for Paid Family Leave

In honor of Black History Month, SAGE will be sharing a series of posts from partners and constituents sharing their stories. SAGE's partners at the Diverse Elders Coalition and are pleased to present this guest post from Dr. Yanira Cruz, President and CEO of the National Hispanic Council on Aging.

YaniraThe time has come to make a change and support paid family leave for everyone. As President and CEO of the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA), the leading national organization working to improve the lives of Hispanics older adults, their families, and caregivers, I will be testifying in a public hearing for the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015 on Thursday, February 11, 2016.

Hispanic older adults face substantial challenges to aging in economic security and in the best possible health. Limited education and English speaking ability, combined with a lack of financial literacy, means that many Hispanics enter old age with little in the way of savings. In 2014, 80% of Hispanics lacked health insurance and 23.6% lived in poverty. Hispanics have the second highest labor force participation rate among non-Hispanic Whites, African Americans, Asian Americans, American Indians, and Native Hawaiians; however, they are over-represented in low-paying, physically demanding jobs that offer little in terms of health benefits or paid sick days.

Washington, D.C. and its Hispanic population need the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015. Many of the health and economic barriers that Hispanics face could be lowered by access to paid family leave. Not only will this policy encourage the use of affordable preventative health care, it will also keep workers healthy so they do not develop conditions that are expensive to treat. Paid family leave will help intergenerational households by allowing adult children to take time off to care for their parents or to take them to the doctor. They shouldn’t have to choose between their jobs and their families.

I invite you to join and support paid family leave for a better Washington, D.C. United, we can make a change!

February 6, 2016

Remembering Our Seniors on National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

In honor of Black History Month, SAGE will be sharing a series of posts from partners and constituents sharing their stories. SAGE's partners at the Diverse Elders Coalition and MetroWeekly are pleased to present this guest post from Earl D. Fowlkes, President/CEO of the Center for Black Equity. Read the original here.

Earl D. Fowlkes,
President/CEO of the Center for Black Equity

February 7, 2016 marks the 16th National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD), a national HIV testing and treatment community mobilization initiative targeted at Blacks in the United States and the Diaspora. This year’s theme is “We are Our Brother/Sister’s Keeper: FIGHT HIV/AIDS.” I had cause to take a moment to reflect on the impact that HIV/AIDS has on my life, particularly as a Gay Black Man. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has been with us since 1981, and I have worked in the HIV/AIDS prevention and care field since the mid-eighties as a caregiver, volunteer, service provider, and administrator. I have often referred to those days as the “time of darkness,” as an HIV diagnosis meant pain and heartache, both physical as well as emotional; at that time, there were very few medicines or medical interventions available. My mind floods with the names of friends, clients and loved ones who were taken far too soon.

Several months ago, a close friend who is in his sixties and lives in another part of the United States called to informed me he had tested positive for HIV. I was a bit taken aback: this friend had tested negative for years and understood HIV prevention practices. He was very upset but not for the reasons I would have thought. He complained that he didn’t feel supported on his journey for information and medical care. Most of the staff he encountered were in their 20’s and 30’s and could not relate to him being a sexually active senior. He was concerned about how his HIV diagnosis would impact his senior housing and how his neighbors would react if they found out. He said one younger staffer at the HIV/AIDS service provider treated him as if he was a “dirty old man.” I asked him if he knew about Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and he said he did but thought it was for younger Gay men. He said was shocked to find ageism so rampant as he tried to access care and treatment.

I gave him additional resources, and I also did a little research on the impact of HIV/AIDS on people over 50. In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated the rate of new HIV infections among people over 50 was 17%. Also, the CDC estimates that by 2020, over 50% of People Living with HIV/AIDS will be over the age of 50. In 2014, 44% of new HIV infections were African Americans, who only make up 12% of the population. These statistics and my friend’s call to me were stark reminders that we must include all parts of our community in our HIV/AIDS prevention outreach efforts, care, and treatment. Many of our seniors are sexually active and vulnerable to the same circumstances of the lack of information and support as the younger and more visible members of the community. On this NBHAAD, remember: we are our brother and sister’s keeper, from our teens to our seniors. Let’s fight HIV/AIDS together!


February 4, 2016

2016: A View of Hope

In honor of Black History Month, SAGE is publishing a series of posts from our diverse partners, constituents and allies. This post was originally published on the Diverse Elders Coalition's blog. Dr. Imani Woody is the Chair and Program Executive for SAGE Metro D.C. and is the Founding Director and CEO of Mary’s House for Older Adults.

I have been thinking about what it means to be me: an older, African American out lesbian, wife, mother, grandmother, caregiver, educator, and CEO, living and working in the United States. In 2008, the words Audacity of Hope and hopeful came to mind, in reference to then President-Elect Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope and my experiences.

Caregivers.-Office-on-Aging.-ImaniI was born in segregated Washington, DC in a time when nonwhites couldn’t eat in dining establishments; when people of color were treated at two medical hospitals, Freedman’s, the hospital for Negroes, or DC General, the city hospital. It was a time where my parents would have to go back “home” to North Carolina to vote for President, where a retired professional was found living in a chicken coop, and being outwardly gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or anyway same-gender loving carried a mentally ill diagnosis from the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-I).

Fast forward to the 1960s, which are indeed a time of hope. Mary Church Terrell has won her lawsuit and leads a successful movement to desegregate public facilities in Washington, DC; Ethel Percy Andrus, after finding a retired woman living in a chicken coop, leads two organization to create decent living conditions and financial stability to elders, and Bayard Rustin, an openly, gay, Black man and confidante to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is one of the key organizers of the 1963 March on Washington. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 becomes the law of the land. The audacity of hope – things can change.

The 70s bring marriage and a son, and I open an independent Black school for young people to learn African history; DC has its first gay pride march and the APA removes homosexuality from the DSM. The 80s bring the enactment of the Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is dedicated in DC, and I join more than 5 million people to make a chain in the Hands Across America campaign to fight hunger and homelessness. Me, I recognize my love for women, come out to my son, and divorce my husband.

In the 90s, Clinton signs “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” into law; I find an increased commitment to advocate for people of color, elders, women, children and people who identify as lesbian and gay. I volunteer and sit on boards and committees of organizations to promote the health and wellbeing of people who look like me.  The audacity of hope – things can change.

Early in the new millennium, Washington, DC adds sexual orientation and gender identity to its Human Rights law, Massachusetts is the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, and I start working at AARP, joining the small, dedicated and growing movement working to embrace LGBT into the meaning of its “whole person” inclusiveness. At AARP, I work to change policy to include domestic partnership for staff and members, organize the first AARP LGBT 50+ reception at a LIFE @50 event, and sponsor Services and Advocacy for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Elders’ (SAGE) 30th Birthday Conference Celebration. I become the chair of SAGE Metro DC, an affiliate of SAGE, in part to reflect the presence of older, gay, Black people. Older out LGBT people are visible at AARP. Older, out Black LGBT people are visible at SAGE.  The audacity to hope – things can change.

However, the more things change the more things remain the same. Black elders as a whole are still over represented in the lower economic strata. Elderly Black people are being pushed out of the public housing that they have lived in for decades. The Supreme Court voids the formula that protects voting rights. LGBTQ elders are going back into the closet because it’s too hard to be old and gay. Workers are still marching and campaigning to receive a decent living wage. Black men, women and children are being killed by the police in record numbers. LGBTQ people continue to be killed at an alarming rate and the murder of Black transgender women is still the highest.

This brings me again to the audacity to hope, that things can change and that things do change. Amid racial tension and atrocities, a Black man is completing his second term as the President of the United States of America. A police officer was indicted for killing an unarmed black person – in Georgia. Senator Elizabeth Warren, along with other white, Black, Asian, Jewish, Muslim, Spanish, female, male, Transgender, older, younger, middle class, working poor, retired, truck drivers, teachers, students, professionals, housekeepers, parents, children, politicians, actors, undocumented residents, and citizens created a hue and cry to remind everyone that Black Lives Matter.

As an older, African America, out lesbian, wife, mother, grandmother, caregiver, educator, and CEO, living and working in the United States, I have witnessed events that give meaning to Jesse Jackson’s “Keep Hope Alive.” I am forever grateful to stand on the shoulders of Black folks like Sojourner Truth: “Ain’t I a Woman Too?” W.E.B. Dubois: “Either the United States will destroy ignorance or ignorance will destroy the United States.” Fannie Lou Hammer: “…And whether you’re from Morehouse or Nohouse, we’re still in this bag together.” Maya Angelou: “And Still I Rise.” Nikki Giovanni: “Show me someone not full of herself and I’ll show you an empty person.” Audre Lorde: “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” Barbara Smith: “One of the greatest gifts of Black feminism to ourselves has been to make it a little easier simply to be Black and female.” And Eleanor Holmes Norton’s (“You can’t win what you won’t fight for”) audacity to hope, to advocate for action that leads to change. Such change, in turn, leads to an audacity to hope.

Note: This is an adaptation of a piece written in 2008 for The Spectrum Newsletter Fall/Winter Vol II Issue 3.

August 25, 2015

Connecting the Dots Creates New Leadership

This post, written by SAGE Executive Director, Michael Adams, was originally featured on Gay City News on Augut 20, 2015

Michael Adams, SAGE Executive Director

After the Supreme Court’s decision for marriage equality in late June, 26 million friends of the LGBTQ community showed their support — at least on that issue —by putting a rainbow filter over their Facebook profile picture. Ultimately, the freedom to marry and #LoveWins became a “sexy” way for new allies to express their solidarity en masse. It was easy — by clicking a button the supporter and supported both could feel good basking in the glow of new equality and community. I won’t critique the value of the effort– – I have to admit that when I saw the rainbow over the face of my staunchly Catholic straight cousin, it meant a lot.

But the gritty work that forges equity at the deepest crossroads of disenfranchisement and marginalization in our society often isn’t so sexy. What it takes to be an ally isn’t as easy as momentary solidarity and the click of a button. It takes commitment and sacrifice — putting a real stake in the ground. That’s why it’s noteworthy that at SAGE in recent years we’ve seen the emergence of true new leaders in the struggle for dignity and equity for LGBT elders. Even more importantly, some of the most game-changing new leaders have come from outside LGBT communities.

These stories of new leadership are a tribute to the courage and vision of new leaders for our cause — individuals who know how to “connect the dots” of social justice and are willing to do so. The stories also reflect emerging strategies of SAGE and other diverse elder communities — strategies that recognize how systems of oppression and privilege intersect, and turn that recognition into powerful action for change and greater equity.

Stepping Out for LGBT Elders of Color in New York
It’s not surprising that the country’s first full-fledged senior center for LGBT elders is located in Chelsea. The historical roots of New York City’s modern LGBT community, and of SAGE itself, are located right down the street in the West Village. Many elders from the Stonewall generation still live, as they have for decades, in the rent-controlled walk-up apartments that remain in these neighborhoods. While this is SAGE’s historical backyard, we also recognize that many of those who most need senior center services are LGBT elders of color — who live at the intersection of LGBTQ identity, race, advanced age, and in many cases poverty. Yet, for the most part, that’s not who was using the SAGE Center in Chelsea. The fact is that, apart from the valiant efforts of GRIOT Circle, the country’s only LGBT elders of color organization, the needs of LGBT elders of color have largely been disregarded. Most elders want to age in place — by continuing to reside in their neighborhoods and communities. For the vast majority of New York City’s LGBT elders of color, that means Harlem, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens — not Chelsea.

SAGE’s recent advocacy efforts on behalf of low-income LGBT elders of color across New York City have attracted important new leaders to our cause. Support for our work historically has come predominantly from older white gays and lesbians and a small group of New York City Council members who make up the LGBT Caucus and understand the needs of the city’s LGBT communities. The successful advocacy for public funding for SAGE Centers across New York City broke the mold in part because the advocacy effort was led by Councilmember Ritchie Torres. True, Councilmember Torres is gay and a member of the LGBT Caucus. But he’s also young (at 27, the youngest member of the City Council), of Puerto Rican descent, a lifelong resident of the Bronx, and a champion of the city’s public housing that he was raised in. As somebody who connects the dots and understands the value of services that reflect the needs of diverse communities, Ritchie Torres clearly represents an important new leader for the cause of LGBT elders.

Even more striking is the crucial political support for the citywide LGBT elder initiative that came from the New York City Council as a whole, led by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. The speaker is not a member of the LGBT community. But she is a progressive Latina leader who has become a powerful and visible champion for a New York City that prioritizes the needs of low-income people of color and who has argued forcefully for an equitable allocation of resources across the city’s neighborhoods. The combination of the speaker’s intersectional values and SAGE’s intersectional strategies resulted in the City Council making an unprecedented $1.5 million investment to open five new LGBT senior centers in Harlem, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.

Diverse Elder Communities Stand Up for Each Other at the National Level
Fortunately, this isn’t just a New York City story. In 2010, SAGE joined with leading people of color aging organizations like the National Hispanic Council on Aging and the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging to form the Diverse Elders Coalition, a national collaborative that engages in policy advocacy and community education on behalf of low income LGBT and people of color elders. For participating people of color organizations, the formation of the Coalition represented a decision to formally embrace LGBT older people and their needs as an important part of a diverse elder agenda.

For SAGE, joining the Coalition meant that issues like immigration reform, language competency in aging services, and disenfranchisement of Native American elders needed to become part of our advocacy agenda. Thus, when the National Indian Council on Aging and other people of color aging organizations confronted serious threats to elder workforce programs for their communities, SAGE made protection of those programs one of our policy priorities.

Similarly, people of color organizations in the Diverse Elders Coalition have strongly supported SAGE’s efforts to make the federal Older Americans Act LGBT-inclusive.

Here again, new leaders from beyond the LGBT community have emerged to take up the cause of LGBT elders. Dr. Yanira Cruz, the head of the National Hispanic Council on Aging, has personally championed the first-ever needs assessment of Latino LGBT elders and has participated in LGBTQ conferences across the country. Quyen Dinh and Doua Thor, the present and former heads of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, have been powerful and vocal advocates for LGBT-inclusion in national coalition work in the aging sector. These new leaders for SAGE’s cause have emerged not only as a result of their personal courage and values, but also as a consequence of an intentionally intersectional approach by SAGE and our sister organizations in the Diverse Elders Coalition.

So, we celebrate the 26 million rainbow profile photos on Facebook. But at SAGE, we save our deepest awe and respect for leaders like Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Dr. Yanira Cruz, and Quyen Dinh, who have put a powerful stake in the ground for LGBT elders living at the intersection of sexual and gender identity, race, age, and class.