May 20, 2016

Housing For Diverse Elders is a Public Health Issue

This post originally appeared on Diverse Elders Coalition on May 17th, 2016. Read the original post here.

By Dr. Imani Woody

Imani1Spring is here. The knockout rose bushes are in full bloom, the other flowers have begun to bloom in the garden. Old Man Winter has left and we can sit on the front porch. However, as I write this, I am in the house, bundled up in a turtleneck and cable knit sweater thinking Old Man Winter hasn’t gone far enough and I should perhaps turn on the heat. My mind automatically drifts to thinking about the older adults that are in need of warm, safe, decent, affordable housing, the increase of homelessness and the decrease of affordable housing among elders in the country and in my city.

We focus on “families and children” and rarely on older people who are homeless. Heck, as with many issues, older people are invisible. It is certainly the case when we speak of homelessness. Traditionally, there are two major paths to homelessness for people over 60. In the first, the person is classified as a product of chronic homelessness. That is, they have been homeless before they were old and are in a seemingly unbreakable cycle of housing instability. The second pathway is a much newer phenomenon and is increasing at an alarming rate. Older adults and elders who heretofore have lived independently, in their own private living spaces, are experiencing first-time homelessness. Research is identifying the following trends present and overlapping, contributing to homelessness of older adults and elders:

  • Living on a fixed income, using more than 30% needed to pay for housing,
  • Financial problems, including job loss, discontinued public assistance,
  • Disagreement with person with whom they were staying (relationship breakdown),
  • Physical and/or mental health problems, and
  • Lack of access to affordable senior housing.

The calls and emails I receive every month from people looking to live at Mary’s House confirm that there are many elders on the second path. Like the phone call I received from Frank*, an older gay man, who was completing the online Letter of Interest application (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8Nfql8mwj6rdnJQNW1ac05QSEE/view).

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“Dr. Woody,” he began, “I know Mary’s House has not opened yet, but I wanted to put my letter of interest in because I need the housing now. I am a white, gay man, and I am unable to afford my rent and the rising rent increases in the city. I have to find some other place to live. Do you have any ideas of where I can go?”  We speak a little longer, I collect some other information and promise to get back with him. Frank was really asking: Are there places that will accept the whole of me? The gay, male part of me? The old of me? The economics of me? A place that will accept my friends?

And Jane*, an older lesbian, who had lived with a friend and her friend’s dad for many years. She shared in the care of the friend’s dad for a long time, even after her friend died. However, at some point the siblings wanted Jane to move out. She had no place to go; her homophobic brother promised her violence if she brought “any of that homosexual s*** up there.”  Jane is a strong supporter of Mary’s House, stating, “I can’t wait for it to be built!”

Us either! With your continued help and support, and with a little luck, we will build the first Mary’s House in 2017!  And yes, there are around 6-8 brick and mortar residences in various stages of completion across the US that are LGBTQ-affirming. (To learn more, register for a free SAGE webinar on June 2: http://sageusa.org/newsevents/events.cfm?ID=2282).

However, it’s not likely that we will be able to build enough LGBTQ/SGL-affirming, affordable brick and mortar residences to stem the tide of increased homelessness for older adults. So, what can we do in the interim? One of the first things we can do is to acknowledge is that housing IS a determinant of health and therefore it is a Public Health issue. We are all familiar with the elder who has to make choices around medicine, food or rent. Or the elder like Frank, who is forced to use more and more of his resources to obtain shelter, making, affordability and accessibility equally important variables in the equation to stem the tide of increased elder homelessness.

As a Public Health issue, we can recognize that without stable housing, older adults and elders, like families and children, are prone to myriad health issues and their quality of life can suffer. Research has shown that “housing affordability shapes the neighborhood conditions and the ability of the person to make healthy choices.” Strategies must focus on the safety and quality of housing for everyone. They should include an awareness and acceptance of the culture of the individual as well as the neighborhood. By considering housing a Public Health issue, we can stimulate greater advocacy and address broader and more complex problems. Participation should be collaborative, from the individual, the community, the agency, the local and federal governments, and others working together to end current and potential disparities and create safety nets for those most vulnerable.

*pseudonyms

May 18, 2016

Annual Report: SAGE Seized Every Opportunity in 2015

SAGEAnnual20152015 was a remarkable year for SAGE and LGBT older people because it presented unique opportunities to advance our agenda—and we seized every last one of them. Indeed, over the past twelve months we have repeatedly demonstrated the remarkable difference we can make for older members of our community when we work together and energetically deploy the full range of tools at our disposal.

A few things made 2015 very special. In June, the Supreme Court decreed that marriage equality for LGBT people was a constitutional right. Then in July, there was the White House Conference on Aging, which takes place once a decade. Ten years ago at the 2005 White House Conference, SAGE made history by becoming the first and only official LGBT delegate to the Conference.

Last year, we took it to a whole new level by blanketing the Conference with the testimony of hundreds of LGBT elders from across the country and forging an overwhelming presence at the big event. Our efforts paid off big time, with the announcement by the U.S. Administration on Aging of an important new commitment to make its work more LGBT-inclusive.

SAGE also flexed our policy advocacy muscle in 2015, convincing the U.S. Department for Housing & Urban Development (HUD) to issue a bold new directive to federally supported senior housing providers across the country to eliminate discrimination against LGBT older people. Of course, putting the right rules in place is only half the battle—bringing those rules to life is where the rubber hits the road. That’s why the powerful advances SAGE engineered last year in its LGBT cultural competency training for aging service providers is so important.

Much of the important progress we made last year was thanks to SAGE’s relentless commitment to collaborate with key partners who can make an important difference for LGBT elders. Of the many partners we worked with in 2015, AARP stands out thanks to a successful pilot program joining SAGE affiliates and AARP local offices in key states across the country. The results far exceeded our expectations, including when we convinced AARP to issue a powerful public statement in support of Houston’s HERO ordinance and in opposition to transphobic fear-mongering. Expect more to come as we keep building on this exciting foundation.

And finally, 2015 was a breakthrough year in SAGE’s efforts to leverage our headquarters and long history in New York City to forge uniquely ambitious LGBT elder services that can inspire similar progress across the nation. SAGE took a huge step in that direction last year when we expanded out of the Chelsea neighborhood to establish full-fledged LGBT senior centers in four new locations, including three of the Big Apple’s most prominent people of color neighborhoods.

There is much more we could talk about, given all of the exciting progress we packed into 2015. Since we can’t cover everything, I hope this annual report shares enough of our highlights so it’s clear why your support for SAGE’s work is so important and why we should be so proud of what we are accomplishing—together—to ensure that every LGBT older person can age with dignity, support and boundless opportunity.

 

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Michael Adams
Chief Executive Officer

 

SAGE's 2015 Annual Report has more on how the organization expanded its programs, enlisted a wide array of new partners, and flexed its advocacy muscle to affect positive change for LGBT elders across the country. View and download SAGE's 2015 Annual Report today.

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. 

May 9, 2016

Building LGBT Elder Housing: From Concept to Completion

By Serena Worthington 

Registration is open for our final webinar in a five-part series on LGBT elder housing:

FREE WEBINAR
Building LGBT Elder Housing: From Concept to Completion
June 2, 2016 2:00 pm EST

Register Here

Town Hall Apartments Photo Credit Heartland Housing

Given the diversity of needs and range of financial ability in LGBT elder communities, there is a clear necessity for the continued development of housing options for LGBT elders and a need for both non-profit and for-profit developers to work on housing options. Join this panel of pioneers of LGBT inclusive housing projects as they share their successes and challenges developing a range of models that support elders. LGBT elders don’t want to retreat into the periphery as they age – they want and need to be social and to engage with an intergenerational and diverse community. Hosted by SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders) and Enterprise Community Partners the panel is moderated by Serena Worthington, Director of National Field Initiatives for SAGE and features the following presenters.

Birds of a Feather Community, Pecos, NM
Bonnie McGowan, Founder

John C. Anderson Apartments, Philadelphia, PA
Mark Segal, Publisher, Philadelphia Gay News

Mary's House for Older Adults, Washington DC
Dr. Imani Woody, Founding Director/CEO

Montrose Center Proposed Senior Housing, Houston, TX
Ann Robison, Executive Director and Chris Kerr, Clinical Director 

Los Angeles LGBT Community Center, Los Angeles, CA

Triangle Square
and the proposed Anita May Rosenstein Campus 
Tripp Mills, Deputy Director, Senior Services and Steven Burn, Project Manager

SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders)
Michael Adams, Chief Executive Officer

Town Hall on Halsted, Chicago, IL
Britta Larson, Senior Services Director

At SAGE, we have found that one of the biggest issues facing many LGBT older adults across the country is finding welcoming, safe, affordable housing. Due to higher levels of financial insecurity among LGBT older people and a general lack of affordability in the residential real estate market, many LGBT elders find that they struggle to afford to live in the communities that they have called home for decades. In addition, many face marginalization, discrimination and even harassment in their homes and in long-term care settings from aging professionals, other residents, and sometimes even their own family members.

Please join our panelists to learn about existing and planned LGBT older adult inclusive projects that make important contributions to providing safe and affirming housing and raising visibility about LGBT elder housing needs.  

Building LGBT Elder Housing: From Concept to Completion
June 2, 2016 2:00 pm EST

Register Here

This webinar is the last in a five-part series. View the previous webinars and learn more about our National LGBT Elder Housing Initiative at the links below.

SAGE’s Initiative provides five strategies to expand housing opportunities for LGBT older people.

Serena Worthington is Director of National Field Initiatives at SAGE. Follow Serena on Twitter @SerenaWorthy.

May 4, 2016

SAGECare: Creating a More Welcoming Space for LGBT Elders

By Vera Lukacs

SAGE is proud to announce the launch of SAGECare-- a new training initiative for service providers led by a passionate and experienced team from SAGE. It offers cultural competency training to service providers who wish to join a more inclusive community for LGBT elders, as well as learn to welcome LGBT older adults with open arms.  

Lrp1552SAGECare goes above and beyond the usual method of diversity training. The program creates a space for service providers to expand, transform and elevate their understanding of the needs of LGBT elders. The training provided by SAGECare help staff and administrators learn how to comfortably engage with LGBT elders; how to become open minded and non-judgmental, and how to create LGBT-inclusive programming. Once a person completes the training online or in-person, your agency will be awarded a SAGECare credential.  

A SAGECare credential indicates that a provider has completed a training especially geared toward LGBT elders by SAGECare Leadership or Certified Trainers, using SAGE-certified curricula. Agencies that have earned a credential are listed on the SAGECare website and are able to use the SAGECare logo on advertising, websites and other platforms as specified by a Licensing Agreement. By presenting a SAGECare credential badge, you will demonstrate to your community that you have the background, skills, and knowledge to work with a diverse population. Please review these badges to ensure that a service provider is SAGECare credentialed:  

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So, why invest in LGBT competency? “Because your mission is to serve people with the best care possible. SAGECare helps you serve your LGBT and other diverse clients even better. When your staff and agency become LGBT competent, you can communicate with your clients, residents and their families with even more compassion and depth — what’s great for all community members is great for business.” said Hilary Meyer, SAGECare Director.  

Have more questions? No problem. Contact SAGECare here or check out SAGECare’s FAQ page. SAGECare has already trained over 10,000 providers, join them or find one today!  

Vera Lukacs is a digital media assistant at SAGE.

May 2, 2016

Reducing Stress Among LGBT Older Adults

This post originally appeared on Diverse Elders Coalition on April 26th, 2016. Read the original post here.

By Maria Glover Wallace

April is National Stress Awareness Month and there is no better time for seniors to relax and recoup! Our LGBT seniors may face daily stress regarding housing, healthcare, and finances. Thankfully, many can find comfort in community during regular interaction and engagement in programming provided by community organizations such as Affinity Community Services in Chicago, IL.  Affinity provides a safe and brave space for LGBT seniors participating in the monthly Trailblazers peer-led group.

The LGBT communities face high levels of discrimination and prejudice for who they are and who they love, beginning in youth and continuing through later years in life. Compounded with the stress of aging – issues of health, fitness, mental health, caregiving, economic security, and more – our elders may be experiencing a lot of stress. A study in 2011 from the University of Washington showed that older adults who identify as LGBT face higher rates of disabilities and physical and mental stress than their heterosexual peers.

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Our LGBT seniors are a vital resource of strength and remembrance for the many strides of progress in our community. They should not suffer this undue burden. So, what are some ways that we can reduce this stress?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 18 million adults in the US practiced meditation last year. Meditation, along with group activities that include yoga and guided meditation, are wonderful opportunities for LGBT seniors to relax and release some stress while also building community. Additional techniques for stress relief include:

  • keeping a journal
  • creating art
  • exercising
  • dancing
  • using essential oils to relax
  • downloading mobile apps for individual meditation
  • taking walks to enjoy nature

What are some techniques that you use to reduce stress?

Upcoming Events for LGBT Seniors:
Chicago
The Affinity Trailblazers will host their annual dance “Dancing in Style,” Saturday evening, May 7, 2016 at the Caribbean Cove Restaurant. Please contact Affinity Community Services for more information: 773-324-0377

Affinity Community Services has also launched a care skills initiative called “Trailblazers Who Care” in collaboration with The Care Plan. They are pleased to present a FREE informative monthly workshop series on the 2nd Wednesday of every month from 6pm-8pm.  Please call to RSVP: 630-479-0083

New York
Every Monday through Thursday from 10am to 11am, SAGE Center Bronx hosts an open art studio. Spend the morning creating art with us! Our art supplies will be available for all to use. SAGE Center Bronx also hosts Yoga at 11am and Pilates at 12pm every Monday. Questions? SAGE Center Bronx, 718-960-3337, jcollazo@sageusa.org

Every Tuesday at 11am, SAGE-Griot Innovative Senior Center of Brooklyn hosts sitting Tai Chi. Designed for elders, this program will help those with arthritis and other ailments that prevent full movement. Questions? Aundaray Guess, 718-246-2775, aundaray@griotcircle.org

SAGE Center Harlem hosts a Zumba class every Tuesday and Thursday at 11am. Once you feel the rhythms of Latin and World music you’ll forget you’re in a “workout” session. Join us as we shake off calories with aerobic dance moves, one cha-cha step at a time. Consultant provided by Harlem Wellness Center. Questions? SAGE Center Harlem, 646-660-8951, sageharlem@sageusa.org

For a complete calendar of SAGE events, see http://www.sageusa.org/newsevents/calendar.cfm

Nationwide
NHCOA recently launched its new health, fitness, and wellness curriculum for Hispanic older adults called Move, Exercise, and Nourish. Read their blog to learn more about this exciting program, and stay tuned to NHCOA’s Facebook page to see when the program might be coming to your area!

The National Resource Center on LGBT Aging has a great Healthy Aging Toolkit for older adults, which includes myriad resources that can improve health and reduce stress.

Please share your events and resources with us on Facebook and Twitter!

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. What do you need to know as an LGBT older adult? Follow the SAGE blog this month for more!
April 28, 2016

Budgeting for Housing, Healthcare and Marriage Shouldn’t Be Scary

By Vera Lukacs

LGBT older adults have unique financial concerns. Not only are they faced with economic uncertainty, but they face discrimination in housing and healthcare, and the prospect of marriage is still new for many. How can LGBT older adults budget better for basic necessities? This question is important, considering that over 25 million older adults (60+) are living in poverty. Contrary to popular belief, planning and budgeting can be a positive experience! It can be tough to think about, but it’s worth doing when you have the chance to prepare and get a step ahead. Not sure where to start? Check out this LGBT Financial Planning Guide.

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Budgeting for healthcare in later years is incredibly important. LGBT older adults have a vast amount of needs that their heterosexual counterparts don’t even think about. But first, a significant factor in this process is LGBT elders need to feel comfortable sharing who they are with their healthcare providers. For transgender people seeking hormone treatments and surgeries or those with HIV, finding a provider can be a scary process. GLMA has a provider directory to help people find LGBT-competent healthcare providers.

LGBT older adults often struggle to find affordable and safe housing. Many don’t have the economic security to invest in long term care facilities, and many are denied housing simply for being who they are. Nearly half of older same-sex couples experienced at least one form of differential treatment when inquiring about housing in a long-term care facility. SAGE launched the National LGBT Elder Housing Initiative to address these issues.

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What does marriage equality mean for LGBT couples? See our new toolkit, Talk Before You Walk: Considerations for LGBT Older Couples Before Getting Married. Getting married is about more than bringing two individuals together. Marriage provides a number of benefits, rights, and protections. With these rights comes the sharing of financial liabilities. To ensure a secured household, talk with your partner before you walk!

Appointing a power of attorney can come in handy in an emergency. In the event that an LGBT older adult is incapacitated or otherwise unable to make sound decisions, a power of attorney can allow a trusted loved one to step in and decide on their behalf. For more information on planning your last wishes, see our blog Financial Literacy: Tips and Tricks for LGBT Elders!

Vera Lukacs is a digital media assistant at SAGE. April is Financial Literacy Month. What do you need to know as an LGBT older adult? Follow the SAGE blog this month for more!

April 22, 2016

Talk Before You Walk: Considerations for Older Couples Before Getting Married

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 3.44.54 PMWhen the U.S. Supreme Court decided Obergefell v. Hodges, the freedom to marry became the law of the land. This victory forever changed financial planning and legal relationships for LGBT families.

Deciding to wed is an important step.What’s different and what remains unchanged for LGBT couples following the landmark Obergefell ruling? SAGE's new toolkit, Talk Before You Walk: Considerations for Older Couples Before Getting Married, shows how same-sex couples, especially older same-sex couples, can take steps to ensure that they are fully aware of the legal impact marriage has on a variety of family planning situations. View and download the toolkit today.

This SAGE toolkit is made possible through generous support from MetLife Foundation and Citi. Follow the conversation on Twitter with #SAGEFinance and #TalkB4UWalk.

April 21, 2016

2016 Leaders of Tomorrow: Bruce Williams

This post originally appeared on Long-Term Living on April 19, 2016. Read the original post here.

By Sharon Schnall

Bruce Williams was discriminated against because of his sexual orientation as recently as 2012, but he's working to make sure that becomes a thing of the past.

Williams, 69, is the first senior services coordinator with The Pride Center at Equality Park, a nonprofit center that serves the LGBT community of South Florida. He began volunteering at the center eight years ago and eventually became president of the senior advisory committee. 

Williams
Image via southfloridagaynews.com

The senior programming arm of The Pride Center creates critical connections among providers and recipients. Coffee and Conversation, a weekly two-hour program, attracts 200 attendees, up from 30 to 50 attendees just four years ago. The event is one of the nation's largest weekly gatherings of LGBT adults according to the national organization Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders (SAGE).

There's been significant growth of program availability and participant attendance with other center senior classes, including enhanced fitness, driver safety, income tax preparation and mastering personal technology. A Boomer/Senior Health Exposition, now in its seventh year, attracts 60 area vendors and 600 attendees.

Last year, senior activity included an estimated 27,000 visits, Williams says. The senior events meet members' needs for socialization and camaraderie, but they also educate seniors about community resources.

"I like to use new and different approaches," Williams says. "I like to maintain a flexibility. What worked yesterday does not work today; what works today may not work tomorrow."

Williams should know—he spent nearly 25 years running a Houston, Texas, continuing care retirement community. From 1981 to 2006, he served at different times as assistant director and acting director of Treemont Retirement Community, where he oversaw residential life and 200 employees associated with 330 independent living apartments and a 114-bed healthcare facility.

"His experience in the long-term care community gives him the knowledge, insight, hands-on practical applications, purpose and compassion that he brings to the center. A senior himself, he is the perfect example to those he serves," says nominator Betty Rosse, a professional educator, public speaker and group facilitator, who has presented at the center.

To provide quality care to LGBT persons, as with any other population, Williams says, "You have to be accurate reading what people need and require."

Easier said than done.

Older adults in the LGBT community grew up in a world of homophobia. They remember the Stonewall riots and the McCarthy hearings. "There's tremendous intolerance and bigotry that exists," Williams says, adding he did not live an openly gay life until 2009.

Discrimination because of one's sexual orientation can cause isolation, distrust and fear, which impacts how willingly long-term care services are pursued. For anyone who "has grown up their whole life with stigma," the reluctance to discuss sexual orientation and openly engage with senior service representatives, healthcare providers and community agencies is warranted, he adds.

Non-LGBT professionals, Williams says, are not necessarily aware of how LGBT life experiences impact one's economic resources, family support and employment prospects.

"With my background in long-term care and acute care, I came here with a mission. I know the value of advance planning," he says. "I spent 25 years in the field of long-term care. I am well aware of how using the services of long-term care will tremendously enhance the final third of one's life."

This year, The Pride Center began serving as SAGE-authorized trainers under the Protect our Elders initiative subsidized by Our Fund, a Florida philanthropic organization. SAGE's curriculum teaches best practices when serving LGBT seniors. South Florida healthcare and service professionals will complete the first phase of training through The Pride Center and other local trainer agencies. The training carries continuing education credits for degreed workers in the field of LTC services.

A hallmark of the Protect Our Elders curriculum is promoting cultural competency. The concept, with roots dating back to the 1980s, promotes awareness and respect about others' differences and cultivates a willingness and ability to be responsive through appropriate attitude and policy.

Williams wants people to proactively address matters of aging and be vocal about what they value in service delivery. His message: don't postpone making the "appropriate moves, the appropriate changes, at the right time." 

"It's as simple as posting a picture of a same-sex couple, for example, among an array of portraits featured in continuing care retirement community's main lobby," he says. "It shows acceptance." It's as straightforward and respectful, he adds, as using the word "partner" on a doctor's intake questionnaire or on a housing application.

"We age with so many commonalities, and we age with so many differences," Williams says. "We age with so many preferences. It's a work-in-process trying to understand what someone's individual wants and needs are.

"I am making people aware of the possibilities—they have the choices."

Sharon Schnall is a writer based in Ohio.