September 2, 2014

Finding Pride and Home: A Look at Housing for Older LGBT Adults

DavesingletonAuthor Dave Singleton doesn't want one more older LGBT adult to face rejection and discrimination at work or home. But rejection and discrimination are still much too prevalent for many LGBT seniors in need of assisted living. Finding Pride and Home: A Look at Housing for Older LGBT Adults illustrates the growing need for LGBT housing options. Read the original article here.

Moving to an assisted living home should never mean stepping back into a closet.

That seems obvious to those of us living out and proud lives in post-Stonewall Riots America. But fears of rejection and of being ostracized are ever-present realities for many seniors in -- or considering moving to -- shared senior living communities.

One Man's Fear

I saw the fear firsthand when I volunteered at a senior living community in Washington, D.C., a few years ago. Steven was 71 then, with round John Denver glasses, longish silver hair, and an agile mind, but he was dealing with the aftermath of two strokes, which left him unable to walk and in a wheelchair. I said hello and, after a few minutes of small talk, he told me he was gay and uncomfortable in what he thought was a homophobic environment.

"I lived the last 25 years of my life as an openly gay man in Dupont Circle," he said. "Then I came here this year because there was nowhere else to go, and I'm scared to be myself. Gay people are either invisible to, or unwanted by, the people here. So I stay quiet."

I asked the management if they specifically trained the staff to support LGBT residents, and the director nodded in somber admission of the problem. "We're working on it," she said.

The Rise of LGBT Senior Housing Options: A Clear Need

She's not the only one "working on it."

LGBT senior housing options have gained steam in the last decade, led by the rise of older LGBT baby boomers.

"I get calls from LGBT seniors who ask, 'Where can I go where I know I will be safe and treated fairly?" says Chris McLellan, writer and coordinator of Senior Services for SunServe Social Servicesin Broward County, Florida, which serves the LGBT-dense population of Fort Lauderdale.

Of course, this forward-thinking movement to create LGBT-friendly retirement communities, with built-in acceptance and a supportive environment, makes sense. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force estimates 3 million LGBT elders live in the United States, and that number will double by 2030.

"There is a real need for this housing," Michael Adams, executive director of SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders), told the New York Times recently. The need isn't just based on numbers. He was commenting on the results of a recent study in which the Equal Rights Center in Washington enlisted testers in ten states to pose as either gay or straight couples and make phone calls to senior living facilities. In almost half of the cases, the same-sex couples faced discrimination from housing agents, who didn't mention the vacant units presented to straight couples.

Once you're actually living in a home, it's often the little things that are troubling. "For example, someone sits down at dinner at a typical home and asks you on the spot about your wife and kids," says Steve Krege, COO of Northstar Senior Living, which manages the LGBT-focused Stonewall Gardens in Palm Springs, California, set to open in September 2014. "Do I tell the truth or not? Will they think differently of me? You don't want to put someone in that situation, especially when the majority of 70- to 80-year-old residents may still feel the pull of the closet."

 

Continue reading "Finding Pride and Home: A Look at Housing for Older LGBT Adults" »

August 26, 2014

Recognizing Women's Equality Day

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5 years before suffrage.
Image from NYPL Digital Collection

Anyone over the age of 50―as I am―can realize how short a span, historically, a century is. And that makes one marvel that major events, like the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution granting women the right to vote, happened so recently. In fact, it was less than a century ago―August 26th, 1920―when Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed this amendment into law! It took 72 years from the time of the first major women’s rights conference in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848 to achieve this legal milestone. Of course, this represented significant progress for women’s rights, but was hardly tantamount to full equality.

To put the amendment’s passage in perspective, consider how much earlier other nations provided for women’s suffrage (which in some cases was not universal). For example, as early at 1718 Swedish taxpaying women who were members of city guilds were granted the right to vote locally and nationally (although the right was rescinded later). The United Kingdom in 1869 granted local voting rights to women (almost 60 years later, in 1928, the right was granted universally).

So when we mark the not-so-widely known Equality Day this August 26th, we may still claim, as the early feminist Alice Paul did after the 19th Amendment passed, that voting rights do not denote genuine equality. The right to vote is merely a step in the right direction. True equality would mean that all would be treated equally before the law regardless of race, gender, gender identity, national origin, color, ethnicity, religion, disability and other traits, without discrimination.

In order to rectify the limitations of the 19th Amendment, in 1923 Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman introduced the “Lucretia Mott Amendment,” later known as the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Although it passed both houses of Congress in 1972, it did not gain the needed ratification of 38 states to become law by the deadline in 1979. In fact, after 35 states did ratify the ERA, five of them later rescinded their votes. The major part of the ERA text concisely stated that “Equal rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.”

How can we mark Equality Day in the absence of legal protections like those that would’ve been afforded by the ERA? Our equality may still be imperfect, but this is an ideal moment to remind ourselves of the ideals we’re striving for, and what we have yet to achieve. Women remain underpaid and underprivileged socially and politically; despite our progress, many LGBT people also live with daily discrimination and prejudice; these experiences are often amplified for the people of color in our communities.

Now, as we evolve in this 21st century, let us dedicate ourselves to full equality for ourselves (marriage equality represent an excellent step, but it’s not the only one) and for others experiencing prejudice. In this effort, let us embrace those in our own community―such bisexual and transgender men and women―who emerge from another closet.

As the English author Gilbert K. Chesterton wrote, in another context, “We are all in this together and owe each other a terrible loyalty.”

--Posted by Felicia Sobel, Women’s Programming Coordinator

August 21, 2014

Rethinking the Term “Senior Citizen”

Today is National Senior Citizen’s Day, which is a great opportunity to look at the role age and aging play in all of our lives. Many people are familiar with terms like racism or sexism—but here at SAGE we spend a lot of time thinking about ageism. Ageism is the act of stereotyping and forming prejudices about people or groups based on their age. It can take many forms, from assuming that all teenagers are irresponsible to passing over an older adult’s job application because of their age.

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One important way that we combat these different ‘-isms’ is to learn how to speak to others with respect and understanding. The language we use in our everyday lives has a tremendous impact, not only on our personal relationships, but on the national conversation around diversity and inclusion. For example, when I’m conduction our LGBT cultural competency trainings, I have all the participants say ‘LGBT’ out loud four of five times. After this activity people that have never even said the word LGBT can say it smoothly and without stumbling over the letters, which is an important way to demonstrate that you’re an ally to the LGBT community!

Given the power of language, today is a great time to explain why SAGE chooses not to use the term “senior citizen” in our work. Calling someone a senior citizen places them into a category simply based on their age. Along with this category come many other assumptions about what older adults can and cannot do.

‘Senior citizen’ is just one of a few terms used to describe older adults that are increasingly rejected. A 2012 article in the New York Timesdiscussed this shift in language, noting that other terms like ‘elderly’ are also falling out of favor.

Whatever the label, anytime you see someone first and foremost as a member of a group, it makes it more difficult to see that person in all of their uniqueness. At SAGE we strive to see everyone as individuals with their own strengths and weaknesses, not just as members of a certain generation. Removing ageist assumptions or language for our collective vocabulary is an important part of doing our work, and that’s why we don’t call our constituents senior citizens.

There may be times when it’s very important to talk about older people as a group, and in those moments we prefer the term ‘older adults’. It allows us to speak to a set of shared experiences, without bringing along a lot of the baggage and stereotypes associated with ‘senior citizens’.

After all, as one style guide points out, we don’t refer to people under age 50 as ‘junior citizens,’ so why create a special category just for older people?

What term do you use to describe yourself? Which terms do you love, and which do you dislike? Let us know in the comments! 

--Posted by Tim Johnston, PhD

August 14, 2014

A Quick Chat with SAGE Participant Dorrell Clark

SAGE offers hundreds of programs every month, throughout the country. Our monthly “Quick Chats” with SAGE participants offer a first-person perspective on these programs, and a little more insight into the remarkable folks who make up our community. This month, we spoke with Dorrell Clark, a 62-year-old retired train operator who lives in the Bronx with her wife. When she’s not at SAGE, Dorrell also dabbles in dance and acting.

Thanks for talking with me Dorrell. How long have you been coming to SAGE?

Oh a long time—for over ten years. I participate in the women’s meeting in Harlem, also Fabulous Fridays, and the bereavement group, which is a great support system. Recently I also went to the Saturday Cool Out gathering. We talked and shared old pictures—it was a joy! The programs are gratifying to attend because you’re in your own place—you’re safe. It’s always good to be with people like you because they know where you’re coming from.

Dorrell Clark

So, what do you do professionally?

Well, I’m a retired MTA train operator.

That sounds fascinating! Did you enjoy it?

Absolutely! I loved it. The best thing was that every day I went to work I learned something new. I was a work train operator. We worked with the people who repaired tracks and stations.

In your opinion, how has being LGBT changed since you came of age?

I identify as an aggressive. Back in the day, if you could pass as a male (and I sometimes do), people wouldn’t bother you. Even today people call me sir until they look close. But nowadays, it doesn’t matter. Women walk down the street holding hands, and no one bothers you! Back in the day you couldn’t do that—you’d get harassed.

Most of the time, no one disputes that my wife and I are married. But she has been sick and at the hospital recently, there was this one nurse who looked at me and said “Who are you?!” and I said, “I’m her wife.” The nurse answered, “Well, I have to ask her,“ meaning my wife, who confirmed—she will tell you she’s my wife before I tell you I’m hers! But then the nurse asked her “Do you feel safe?” as in, “Do you feel safe with her?” That hurt—the cancer had put her in the hospital, not me. But in general, things are better than they were.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk, Dorrell!

Thanks for calling!

--Posted by Kira Garcia

Happy Birthday Social Security! Talking with Congressman Mark Takano (D-CA)

TakanoOn the occasion of Social Security’s 79th birthday on August 14th, we had a conversation with Congressman Mark Takano (D-CA) about how the Windsor decision impacted Social Security benefits for older adults. Last month, Takano introduced the Social Security and Medicare Parity Act, which would help couples in non-marriage states qualify for benefits even if the state they reside in doesn’t recognize the marriage.

Why is Social Security such an important program for older adults?

Millions of Americans contribute to Social Security during their working years and deserve to receive the benefits they have earned to help them manage their retirement. With the decline of defined benefit pension plans, Social Security benefits are a becoming even more of a lifeline for seniors from all walks of life. No senior should be denied these full benefits because of who they love.

Aren’t many LGBT older adults very well-off?   Do they even need Social Security?   In other words, why is Social Security so important for married same-sex couples?

The myth that LGBT seniors are better off is patently false. Statistics show that a lifetime of discrimination actually hurts earning power, makes LGBT seniors less likely to have a spouse’s income they can count on, and less likely to have children to help care for them in their old age. LGBT couples, just like all other Americans, have paid into Social Security and Medicare and deserve to receive the benefits they have earned in their retirement.

Didn’t the Windsor decision ensure that the federal government would treat married same-sex couples equally, regardless of where they live in the United States?

The Windsor decision was an historical day that paved the way for equal rights for all Americans no matter who they love. However, Windsor could not change everything overnight. While it overturned section three of the Defense of Marriage Act, the Department of Justice just concluded a year-long review of what the decision means for other federal statutes. While I and others continue to believe that the Social Security Administration has the discretion to provide spousal and survivor benefits regardless of where a same-sex couple lives, the Justice Department and the Social Security Administration have concluded that eligibility for benefits be based on the state in which the couple resides. That means that couples living in non-marriage states are still prevented from getting the benefits they have earned.

Can you please explain what issues married same-sex couples who live in non-marriage states currently face?  

Not only are couples in non-marriage states ineligible for certain Social Security and Medicare benefits, but a whole other host of federal benefits and protections. They don’t yet qualify for family medical leave to take care of a sick spouse, and veterans and their spouses don't receive the same spousal and survivor benefits as heterosexual couples.

Continue reading "Happy Birthday Social Security! Talking with Congressman Mark Takano (D-CA)" »

August 7, 2014

SAGEWorks Boot Camp – A Pilot Program in NYC

Greg_quoteUnemployment and underemployment are major barriers to health and happiness at any age, but for LGBT older adults, a job search can be especially challenging. Anti-LGBT bias is still a reality in the workplace, but long-term unemployment and age can be even greater barriers to landing a job. Being LGBT is not obvious on a resume, but lack of employment and age are immediately apparent.

Our new SAGEWorks Boot Camp program will address these issues and offer an affirming boost to older LGBT job seekers. The Boot Camp program will provide a rigorous and comprehensive approach to workforce readiness.  This free two-week program will be piloted in our New York City location, and is designed to help participants address obstacles to employment.  The program application process will mirror the hiring process to help participants understand clearly what is expected by employers in today’s job market.

Certain program elements will be specifically designed to address multiple barriers many SAGEWorks participants face, including long-term unemployment. Training components of the program will be concentrated, intense, and encouraging with clear expectations for participants in each step.

The course curriculum will be taught by Howard D. Leifman, Ph.D., a renowned Human Resource/Training Consultant and Career/Executive Coach.  Formerly the National Director for Strategic Staffing and Recruiting at the global HR consulting firm William M. Mercer, Inc., Dr. Leifman will offer his extensive HR and employment counseling skills to Boot Camp participants.

The curriculum will include lessons on:

  • Taking Assessments
  • Realities of Today’s Job Market
  • Resume & Interview Instruction
  • Conducting a Modern Job Search
  • The Hidden Job Market
  • Social Media & Networking
  • Stress & Anger Management
  • Communication Skills & Selling Yourself

Applicants must have basic computer skills and be willing to commit to the two-week/5 day a week program schedule. The best candidates will be those who are most motivated to find a job.  Applications can be submitted online here.

--Posted by Michele D'Amato

July 23, 2014

President Obama Signs Executive Order on LGBT Job Discrimination

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SAGE was privileged to be in the room with President Obama on July 21, 2014, when, with the stroke of a pen, he put in place protections that will help countless of LGBT older adults.  In the executive order he signed, he ensured that transgender federal workers would join their lesbian, gay, and bisexual brothers and sisters in being protected against job discrimination based on their gender identity.   He also ensured that LGBT employees of federal contractors will be protected against discrimination.  Many LGBT older adults, after facing a life of discrimination and lower earnings, continue to work, to maintain their economic security.  As a result, it is welcome news that this generation, who fought to get out of the closet, will be able to bring their full selves to work, at more workplaces, without fear of discrimination.

--Posted by Aaron Tax

July 17, 2014

Advocating for Change: Notes from SAGE Portland

Today's post comes to us from Glen Ulmer, a longtime volunteer at our SAGENet affiliate in Portland, Oregon. Learn more about SAGENet and find the affiliate nearest you online here

I’ve been involved at SAGE Metro Portland (SMP) since its prior incarnation as a local group called “Gay & Grey”—a title that was pretty descriptive of the organization's members, the population it serves, and of me. I was retiring from my career in tax law and I was excited to become involved in an organization focused on improving the lives of LGBT elders.

I’ve volunteered  in a few different roles over the years, as a fundraiser, friendly visitor, and committee member. However, I really didn't feel that I had found my calling until I was asked to serve on the Advocacy committee. With my background in law and accounting, I really loved the opportunity to help identify relevant issues and advocate on behalf of local LGBT elders. 

Portland
Celebrating Pride in Portland

 

SMP is a program of Friendly House, which is a neighborhood center serving all ages, cradle to grave, located in Northwest Portland. As I’ve learned from Mya Chamberlin, the Friendly House Director of Community Services, SMP takes a three pronged approach to advocacy:

1) Advocating for individuals who are confronting a specific challenge or injustice though our case management services, friendly visiting, and calls to action. A great example of this is helping a transgender participant raise funds for a gender affirming surgery that Medicare won’t cover. 

2) Shedding light on the experiences of LGBT older adults by creating opportunities to share their stories. Visibility for LGBT older adult issues in mainstream settings and/or youth focused LGBT settings helps build community and understanding.

3) Affecting change in rules, laws, policies or practices that negatively impact LGBT older adults. SMP staff and volunteers have had the opportunity to participate in national, state and local dialogs including the National LGBT Housing Summit and Aging In Place discussions.  

Our work in all of these areas has been reinforced through our affiliation with SAGE. Not long after I joined the Advocacy Committee, Lauren Fontanarosa, SAGE Metro Portland's Coordinator, was contacted by Aaron Tax, the Director of Federal Government Relations for SAGE. Aaron is based in Washington, D.C. and wanted to let us know that an Oregon Congresswoman, Representative Suzanne Bonamici, made a statement at a hearing in support of LGBT older adults and made it her goal to include them as a "group of greatest social need" in the Older Americans Act ("OAA") reauthorization. 

Aaron asked us to have some constituents call her Portland and Washington, DC offices and express our thanks.  He also asked us to mention that it is important that the law require the collection of data about the participation of LGBT individuals in the activities carried out by the OAA and the effectiveness of these activities in reaching LGBT older adults.  Finally Aaron also asked us to mention that we would like Representative Bonamici to recommend permanently establishing the LGBT Center on Aging, which is housed at SAGE in New York.    Lauren immediately rallied the troops and calls were made to Representative Bonamici's offices locally and in Washington, D.C. We were also pleased to discover that SAGE Metro Portland is actually located within Bonamici’s district! It was just the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

On February 28th, Aaron called again--Representative Bonamici had introduced her bill, and it contained all the priorities that Aaron suggested.  We rallied our people once again and called her offices to express our appreciation, and ask how we could offer help. After some discussion, we realized that the stories of our participants could be a powerful resource, so we arranged an afternoon of conversation between Representative Bonamici and a group of participants—a terrific opportunity for Bonamici, and the media, to hear SAGE stories firsthand and to reinforce how the OAA provides vital support to all of us as we age. 

I’ve continued to work with Representative Bonamici on this issue, and I think we've established a great relationship with our Congresswoman and with her staff.   It’s deeply is rewarding to have a Representative who listens, cares and gets engaged.

This is just one remarkable story from my time working with SAGE Metro Portland.  I feel sure that I'm making a valuable contribution to our community, and I can hardly wait for the next opportunity!  In fact I'm working on one now.  But more about that later.... 

-- Posted by Glen Ulmer

 

July 14, 2014

A Quick Chat with Jayadeva

SAGE offers hundreds of programs every month, throughout the country. Our monthly “Quick Chats” with SAGE participants offer a first-person perspective on these programs, and a little more insight into the remarkable folks who make up our community. This month, we spoke with Jayadeva (also known as Jay) a 60 year-old dancer, yoga teacher, and SAGE participant whose travels have taken him all the way to India.  

Thanks for speaking with me Jay! How long have you been in New York?

I’ve been in New York City for 40 years, but I’m originally from Wisconsin -- I suppose that makes me a Dairy Queen (groan).

  Jay2

That’s great! And what brought you to the city?

I went to NYU for theater. I was a production assistant at the Circle in the Square theater—It was quite a time; I got to work every day with legends like Maureen Stapleton, Vanessa Redgrave, and Syliva Miles ("you like my wardrobe with a view, honey?") … my method acting teacher was the marvelous Madeleine Sherwood -- "Sister Woman" in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  Paul Newman would drop by, Al Pacino would drop by, Tony Randall -- they were all super nice, super generous of spirit -- magical people.  I remember my first week there George C. Scott walked into the lobby -- a formidable superstar at that time, a tough guy anti-hero leading man -- and I blurted out, "Oh my god it's George C. Scott!"  He walked right over to me and growled, “What the $#@% is wrong with you, you little $#@%?!” I cringed in adolescent terror.  Then he laughed and said, “Just kidding, kid -- I'm George.  Nice to meet you!” He shook my hand, and offered much encouragement. 

I worked as an actor for a few years but left early on.  I studied dance and started getting asked to appear with small companies, supporting myself with freelance computer work.  I ended up running a database at the United Nations in the late 1980s and mid 1990s. The UN is an interesting show every day!  I tried to start an LGBT organization there.  It was clear I was gay as I never hid the fact -- I mean my boyfriend would pick me up at work.  I was perceived to have AIDS after an extreme weight loss -- hysteria ensued, then a garden variety yet effective cover-up.  The old story.  

Were there many out gay people there in those days?

Not that I know of!  It was very “don’t ask, don’t tell" before that phrase was coined.  Lots of old school, quaint creeping around though, of course.  Oh yeah, and death threats.  Lots of intrigue and dysfunction at the United Nations.  A tale for another time perhaps ... 

And what did you do after the UN?

I lived in yoga ashrams and became a teacher. I had practiced yoga since I was a little kid -- a wonderful guru named Richard Hittleman had a TV show on NET (before there even was a PBS) in the early 1960s, and from the time I was six or seven years old my little boyfriend and I would watch him and practice the poses. 

Wow, that’s impressive! I do yoga too.

You can say ‘I do yoga’, or you could say ‘I seek yoga’, since it’s a practice of moving toward communion with the Divine, a realization of your own true divine nature.  All are divine, some just don't know it yet. 

That makes perfect sense.

Yes! I’ve gone deeply into Hindu philosophy since my awakening to the enormity of confusion among the powerful in the material world. I've had several extended stays in India and have actually thought of relocating there— my Indian friends keep urging me on Facebook to "come home." But it’s a matter of where I can be most useful. For several years in the late 1990s and early 2000s I led a group of yoga practitioners in Chelsea we called "Midnight Yoga for Men”— a transcendent little tribe. As an important part of our practice we met naked in the style of the Sadhu monks, the original yogis, renouncing all material attachments.  After we got public attention several entrepreneurs imitated the idea, and emphasized the nudity aspect as a commercial lure.  Oh well.  I’d love to be able to do something like that again, but in the context of a Hindu temple among truly spiritual practitioners.  The "yoga industry" is a pernicious thing.  Cultural hijacking, cultural disrespect -- these things create confusion, obstacles to Self-realization. 

The literature of yoga is written in Sanskrit.  I recently fulfilled a long-held dream and did graduate study in Sanskrit at Harvard.  All part of my path toward truth. 

And what brought you to SAGE?

Well, first I just came for dinner and community. I’ve had some health problems in the last couple of years and was feeling a little isolated, in spite of cherishing the solitude of my spiritual practice. Then I saw there were all these workshops! I've written a proverbial show tune in 2/4 for the musical theater workshop and I’m going to present it tomorrow night!  Hey, never forget where you came from! 

That sounds fantastic! Good luck—or break a leg!

Thank you, dear!  Bless you!  Om Namah Shivaya! 

Oh and one last question--What's that design painted on your hand?

The Indian henna tattoo, mendhi, is a tradition observed by a Hindu bride on her wedding day.  It has filtered into general fashion, and boys in the West can have one too these days without much eyebrow raising.  This lovely example on my hand I got on the weekend at the Javitz Center.  Amma -- the famous "hugging mother" from Kerala state, India -- had her annual NYC love fest marathon there as she does every July.  Hugged thousands of people and showered us with flower petals.  Amma is regarded by her devotees as the embodiment of the goddess -- Devi.  But also her charities have done extraordinary humanitarian work, particularly for widows in rural India, who traditionally have been cast off.  She has hugged tens of millions of people around the world -- it's a powerful thing -- I strongly recommend!

-- Posted by Kira Garcia

July 8, 2014

Celebrating SAGE Pride Coast to Coast

SAGE celebrated Manhattan Pride on Sunday June 29 (check out photos online here), and the festivities will continue in New York City with Staten Island PrideFest on Saturday July 12 and Bronx Pride on Saturday July 19! Across the country, SAGENet affiliates participated in many other celebrations, from Portland, Oregon to Raleigh, North Carolina. 

We've collected some of the best photos from SAGE Pride celebrations coast to coast. View selections below, and see the complete series online here!

Chicago
Gathering in Chicago, Illinois



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Celebrating in the Hudson Valley, New York

 

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Cheering in Milwaukee, Wisconsin



-- Posted by Kira Garcia