5 posts categorized "Older Americans Month"

May 31, 2016

Connecting Across Generations

By Timothy Wroten

Jay Kallio gained nationwide visibility in 2012 when he shared his story about navigating the healthcare system as a transgender man living with breast cancer. Now in the midst of a new battle, Jay talks about how a younger community of activists has connected him to newfound strength and courage.

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Photo Credit: Rosa Goldensohn/DNAinfo.com

Timothy Wroten: Earlier this year, you were diagnosed with a new condition: terminal lung cancer. Many of us would have given up. Where were you at this point?

Jay Kallio: Most terminal cancer patients go through a process called “purging” where they start giving away their possessions. I found myself doing the same thing through the “Queer Exchange” Facebook group. When folks came to pick up my castaways, I brought them downstairs because I was ashamed of my apartment’s terrible condition. I live in pub•lic housing, which entails a lot of delayed re•pairs and maintenance. I didn’t have money to do repairs myself like I used to. One of the people, Ella Grasch, was concerned and questioned me in detail about the apartment. I described how the bathroom ceiling was going to fall, that lights were out, fixtures had short-circuited, and that the plumbing was backed up—numerous problems.

TW: How did Ella and other young activists you met through Queer Exchange help you get what you needed?

JK: Despite being trained in activism, I was too sick to advocate for my own needs. They got to work and generated networks, resources, and money. Ella knew a wonderful woman named Brianne Huntsman who set up a fundraising campaign on GoFundMe. She works in social media marketing, so she had the skills to do it right. They raised money to repair my apartment and also to pay for some healthcare costs not covered by Medicare. People started to send in money, $10, $50, $100, $500…it was an enormous help. I couldn’t manage navigating the bureaucracy of my housing authority, either. I was overwhelmed by the bare minimum I needed to do to survive. Several young people be•came involved: social workers, someone who works in the mayor’s office, and others. They started making phone calls for me, knowing whom to call and how to get things done. My plumbing problems were soon taken care of. Slowly, many things improved.

TW: You said that meeting younger activists from around the country through Queer Exchange and GoFundMe fueled you to generate yet another bout of activist energy. Tell us about the campaign they helped you fight against your insurance company.

JK: My insurance company refused to cover an experimental cancer treatment—immunotherapy—because it cost too much. It was my only hope for remission. A number of younger activists got involved with my own organizing efforts. First, they joined me at this summer’s Pride March. It was amazing to see the older gener•ation of “ACT-UPers” pushing me in a wheelchair, alongside younger LGBT and health care advocates. Taking the money raised, we planned a rally in front of the insurance company. We videotaped it so we could do an online campaign. We used so many different campaign tactics including street theater, online petitions, and a Twitter war against the insurance HMO. We contacted politicians’ offices, which also added pressure. As we started the rally, one of the executives of the insurance company came to us and said, “Have you talked to your doctor yet this morning?” My doctor had already been e-mailed with an approval for my immunotherapy treatment. They had done a 180 on a life-saving treatment that had previously been denied. It’s because younger activists got involved and gave me a big shot in the arm that I can fight for myself again.

TW: In spite of this battle and other health concerns, your rebel heart still beats strong. How have you helped SAGE and other communities fight for better care and equity?

JK: I have worked with SAGE a lot on LGBT cultural competency and healthcare. I am writing chapters for a guidebook to help healthcare professionals better understand the needs of LGBT cancer patients. I have also presented at a few conferences to advance palliative care funding. I’m getting an awful lot done that will not only help LGBT cancer patients, but also Medicaid recipients and cancer patients across the board.

TW: How can young people join in this fight?

JK: After meeting so many young LGBT activists this year, I’ve said, “If you liked doing this with me, why don’t you consider volunteering with SAGE? We need your help. Beyond pushing us in the wheelchair at the next march, we need you to work with us on advocacy!” The fight goes beyond about being gay. It’s about supporting anyone who may be gay and vulnerable, which includes those who are also young, old, of color, or poor. We need cross-generational community and support for years to come. With our mutual vulnerability, we also share strengths to remedy that vulnerability. Activism works. Get involved.

Read about Jay Kallio and other LGBT trailblazers in the Fall 2015 issue of SAGEMatters. May is Older Americans Month. Connect on social media with #OAM16.

May 25, 2016

Pushing the Envelope of Progress

By Chris Delatorre

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From left: Barbara Satin (National LGBTQ Task Force), Sandy Warshaw, Dr. Imani Woody (Mary's House), and Michael Adams (SAGE).

As the first anniversary of Obergefell v. Hodges approaches, it’s a good time to recap a few developments that show continued progress since last June. In 2015, Jim Obergefell received the inaugural LGBT Pioneer Award for his courage and persistence, which inspired the Supreme Court to rule in favor of marriage equality, forever changing the landscape of LGBT social politics.

In an interview with SAGE last year, Obergefell said, "Our country still hasn’t lived up to the promise of equality that’s part of our shared American identity," adding that he would work toward passage of the Equality Act, a bill that would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include protections for LGBT people in employment, housing, public accommodations and other areas. The bill has since attracted significant Congressional support, including that of two main 2016 presidential candidates.

Of course, bills and resolutions are one way to sort social progress; as the old proverb begins, "give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day." If you teach a man to fish, however, you feed him for a lifetime — which basically translates to expanding leadership positions to include LGBT people, which helps to provide sustainable long term support for the community.

Consider LGBT servicemen and women. The nation has come a long way since "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" was repealed five years ago. On May 17 in what's been applauded as a historic step for the military, the U.S. Senate confirmed Eric Fanning as Army secretary, making him "the first openly gay person to lead a military service."

The transgender community is making strides as well. The U.S. military is now considering a policy that would allow transgender troops to serve openly, and despite recent setbacks in North Carolina and other states with discriminatory bills like HB2, transgender advocates led by Reverend Debra J. Hopkins and others, continue to push forward. Hopkins’ efforts have gained the support of allies like U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch who was described earlier this month as "the world's most powerful advocate for trans rights."

Also recently, President Obama appointed Barbara Satin to his Advisory Council on Faith-based Neighborhood Partnerships. Satin, who attended the White House Conference on Aging as a SAGE delegate last year, is the first transgender woman to serve on the advisory council.

In a blog for the National LGBTQ Task Force, Satin wrote, "As a trans woman activist and an old person (I turned 81 two days after the conference), I felt a special responsibility to give the reality of trans aging – our issues and needs – a high profile."

This is progress.

Chris Delatorre is the Senior Digital Content Manager at SAGE. Learn more about SAGE’s federal advocacy at sageusa.org/federal. May is Older Americans Month. Connect on social media with #OAM16 and join SAGE's #TalkB4UWalk campaign.

May 20, 2016

Giving Voice and Visibility to Everyday LGBT Older People

United_States_Capitol_-_west_frontThe recent reauthorization of the Older Americans Act left out LGBT older Americans.

On Thursday the Washington, D.C. Steering Committee of SAGE hosted its annual SAGE & Friends event, giving constituents an opportunity to engage individual and corporate donors, community partners, policy advocates and other SAGE supporters, in order to learn firsthand about the work SAGE is advancing on a national level and in the D.C. area.

With the recent reauthorization of the Older Americans Act (OAA), there is plenty to talk about in the nation’s capitol. While President Obama’s signature preserves a critical safety net for older Americans, LGBT-inclusive amendments in the House and Senate were overlooked. This means there is still work to be done on this front, and SAGE is committed to seeing that these provisions make it into the next iteration of the OAA.

As part of SAGE’s response to the reauthorization, CEO Michael Adams said that SAGE "will continue to draw attention to the unique needs of LGBT older adults and advocate aggressively so that all relevant federal laws and programs address their needs and enable them to age with the dignity and respect that they deserve."

As the country’s leading vehicle for delivering services to older people nationwide, the OAA aims to ensure that older people have the supports they need to age in good health and with broad community support. If this piece of legislation indeed places emphasis on more vulnerable elders who face multiple barriers and health challenges related to aging, then why overlook the needs of the LGBT community?

The LGBT population in the U.S. is growing and gaining visibility. Gallup numbers from 2015 estimate the national average of LGBT residents to be 3.6 percent, and by 2030 the number of lesbian, gay and bisexual people older than 65 will double to about 3 million people. The impact of these statistics becomes greater when we consider the human stories behind them.

Just days after the OAA reauthorization was signed, former U.S. Senator Harris Wofford (D-Pennsylvania) announced plans to marry a man in what CBS News calls a “moving” editorial for the New York Times. Wofford, 90, said, "I don’t categorize myself based on the gender of those I love. I had a half-century of marriage with a wonderful woman, and now am lucky for second time to have found happiness." Despite an apparent disregard of our nation’s growing LGBT older population, Wofford is an example of how LGBT elders are both present and prominent, even at the seat of government.

IMG_5690George Takei at SAGE & Friends in LA: "I'm grateful for what you've done."

The former senator isn’t the only prominent LGBT elder to come out at an older age. At SAGE & Friends LA in April, social media powerhouse and LGBT icon George Takei shared on what it meant for him to support the community from inside the closet for so long, before finally coming out in his 70s. Now approaching 80, the actor of Star Trek fame is bringing special attention to LGBT older people who have paved the way. "To those of you who have been in the trenches since '69 when Stonewall happened, we have a great profound gratitude to you but also I feel that we have a debt," Takei said. "I'm grateful to all of you for what you've done."

Learn more about SAGE’s federal advocacy at sageusa.org/federal. May is Older Americans Month. Connect on social media with #OAM16 and follow the SAGE blog for inspiring stories of our LGBT elders.

May 17, 2016

National Honor Our LGBT Elders Day: commemorating a lifetime of contributions made by LGBT older adults

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At SAGE & Friends LA in April, social media legend and LGBT icon George Takei echoed SAGE's sentiments toward LGBT elders when he said, "We have a great profound gratitude to you but also I feel that we have a debt… I'm grateful to all of you for what you’ve done."

It is the fearless lives of everyday LGBT Americans that inspired The LGBT Health Resource Center of Chase Brexton Health Care to help bring this special day to life, and the extraordinary courage and everyday authenticity of LGBT people everywhere are what drive SAGE to be the strongest advocate for LGBT older adults.

Help SAGE put the "LGBT" in Older Americans Month by posting a selfie on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #OAM16. Here are a few sent in by readers:

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As George Takei suggested, we do indeed owe our elders a great deal, and it's wonderful to see our government taking steps to bring more voice and visibility to America's older generations. President Obama recently declared May as Older Americans Month, and SAGE will continue to celebrate our elders by sharing unique stories from this diverse community of LGBT trailblazers.

Today, and for the rest of May and beyond, join SAGE as we celebrate and thank the individuals, known and unknown, who shouldered enormous risk to improve the world for all of us.

Chase Brexton will host a free event on May 17 in Baltimore to mark the occasion. Connect with SAGE on social media with #OAM16 and follow the SAGE blog this and every month for inspiring stories of our LGBT elders.

May 12, 2016

Older and Bolder: Starting a second or third chapter? Think big!

The 2016 theme of Older Americans Month is "Blaze a Trail" and we can't imagine a better way to celebrate then honoring the achievements of our LGBT elders. Stay tuned for a series of blog posts on SAGE's trailblazers throughout the month and follow the conversation at #OAM.

We’re taught that most people spend their retirement years baking cookies, tinkering in the garage, and playing dominoes. But a new generation of LGBT older people is thinking bigger and bolder. Fueled by increasing life expectancy many are now calling a “longevity bonus,” they are creating new narratives about what it means to be “SAGE age.” 


BrendaCullaneBRENDA CULHANE
is passionate about her pursuits. She’s a 75-year-old lesbian activist and SAGE constituent living in Portland, Oregon. Brenda plays a powerful role on a local housing committee in Portland and advocates for LGBT needs in assisted and independent living communities. She notes that “We’ve all had friends who have had to go into [these facilities] and do not feel safe coming out in that environment. It’s so sad.”

Brenda’s work doesn’t stop there, though—she also speaks about LGBT issues at civic events and local colleges. Students often want to know how and when Brenda came out, and what her parents thought. She responds with patience and honesty, and values the chance to turn her own life experience into a teachable moment.

 

 

Bruce_067sAdvocacy has also defined 68-year-old BRUCE WILLIAMS’ second chapter. His life changed dramatically in 2006 when he was fired from his longtime role as the executive director of a retirement community in Texas. Looking back, Bruce believes he was terminated because of his sexuality. It was a terrible blow, but he still remembers the work fondly. “I had the luxury of watching people go through the last third of their lives,” he recalls. “I saw commonalities and individualities, and the choices they made. Some were good, some were bad, some were frighteningly ugly.”

When Bruce relocated with his partner to South Florida in 2013, he began volunteering at the Pride Center at Equality Park. Given his background, he gravitated toward the issue of long-term care and reached out to local providers to find out which ones were LGBT friendly. After a rocky start and a lot of rejection, he hosted a small LGBT community health fair. Fast forward to 2015, and Bruce is now preparing for his sixth event as the Pride Center’s Senior Services Coordinator. He remarks that the Pride Center “wanted me to come to work as a gay man—that was the first time in 65 years that had happened!” He’s thrilled to be making an impact with his work, and has plans to do more. “No one’s written a guidebook for getting old—I think I’ll do that!”

DorrellClarkRetirement has put the spotlight on DORRELL CLARK’S creative side—literally! This 63-year old lesbian retired from a job as a subway train operator in 2011 and began volunteering at the Bronx Academy of Arts & Dance. “I am not an artist,” Dorrell says, “I’m a technical person. So to be in the same space as these creative souls was awesome!” She dove into new artistic pursuits, first taking the stage in a gender- bending role as a young gay man struggling to make peace with a homophobic brother. Later, some of her life stories were transformed into a dance performance by local artist Jessica Danser. What’s it like for Dorrell to fulfill a lifelong dream of creativity? “There are no words,” she says. “Seeing my work onstage, I had tears in my eyes.”

Connect with SAGE on social media with #OAM16 and follow the SAGE blog this and every month for inspiring stories of our LGBT elders.