One of this month’s Successful Aging lessons is “Stay Involved.” It makes sense that it’s offered as part of our theme of “Legacy”—as the lesson says, “Reaching a certain age or retiring from work is no reason to stop advocating for causes that are important to us. In fact, the extra time plus the benefit of years of experience can make us that much more powerful in effecting change.” Remembering that everyone leaves a legacy, which is no more (or less) than “how we live plus what we give,” the involvement provides one opportunity to be intentional about the content of that legacy consists.
So what does it mean to “stay involved” anyway? The answers to that question are myriad—it could mean a game of scrabble or basketball, volunteering for a favorite cause, part-time work, writing a memoir, providing childcare or visiting friends in need…the list goes on and on.
The great news is, staying involved in our communities doesn’t just contribute to the legacies we leave after we’re gone. It also provides very real and immediate benefits. A critical LGBT aging challenge is isolation; another is contending with a shrinking network of support—as we age, we often see attrition making our support networks smaller and more fragile just when we need them most. Staying involved reduces the likelihood of painful isolation and increases the chances of maintaining or even growing a viable support network.
In fact, continued connections to our friends, families and neighbors providereal benefits of their own, in terms of health and well being. A growing body of research suggests that older adults who are engaged in social and community activities maintain mental and physical health longer than other older adults. According to researchers, older adults who participate in what they believe are meaningful activities, like volunteering in their communities, say they feel healthier and happier. Researchers think that over the long term the participants may have decreased their risk for disability, dependency, and dementia.
In fact, staying involved is so key to Successful Aging, that it’s actually part of how we define the term! Indirectly, staying involved helps to “maintain or improve physical and mental function“—a key part of aging successfully. And aging successfully also includes regularly “engaging in rewarding relationships and activities.” And that, after all, is what staying connected to one’s community is about!
SAGE was particularly gratified, during yesterday’s historic Supreme Court arguments on marriage equality, to hear several Justices repeatedly refer to the importance of marriage to older couples, while the Justices questioned the attorneys arguing the marriage cases.
As SAGE pointed out in its recent amicus brief to the Supreme Court, marriage equality is critically important to many LGBT older people. That’s because, contrary to the arguments of the States defending discrimination against same-sex couples, marriage has never been primarily or exclusively about children and procreation. This cramped view, repeatedly questioned in yesterday’s arguments, disregards and devalues the many older couples – both LGBT and heterosexual – who have compelling reasons to marry even though they cannot and will not procreate.
In fact, as SAGE’s brief to the Court points out, many LGBT older people who are coupled face severe vulnerabilities in old age when it comes to financial security, caregiving, isolation, health care, and community support. Marriage can be an important means to address these issues. Moreover, marriage equality is the right of every older same-sex couple, many of whom have endured decades of discrimination because of who they love. We at SAGE are grateful that older couples featured so prominently in yesterday’s arguments. As in the Windsor decision, we are hopeful that the example and leadership of our LGBT elder pioneers will once again be an important part of the formula that helps the Supreme Court embrace full equality for LGBT Americans.
Many don’t know that same-sex spouses in non-marriage states still don’t qualify for all the same federal benefits that their different sex counterparts enjoy, simply because they are married to someone of the same sex. This is an issue that comes up in the context of Social Security, Veterans Administration, and some Medicare benefits. And it is all the more important for LGBT older adults who face pronounced poverty and lack of access to culturally competent healthcare.
This topic is one that our Executive Director, Michael Adams, examines in detail with his latest op-ed Why Marriage Equality Matters for Older Americans. "Marriage has proven highly effective for improving the lives of many older people," and given the unique issues our LGBT older adult population face, marriage "could be even more beneficial for older same-sex couples than it has been for older straight couples."
"Incredibly, two years after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act’s prohibition on federal recognition of same-sex marriages, some married same-sex couples are still being denied federal benefits especially important to older adults. This is because some federal agencies use the “place of domicile” rule to determine whether a couple is considered married. As a result, bereaved widows like Kathy continue to be denied Social Security survivors’ benefits because the state in which they live does not recognize their marriage."
With this is mind, SAGE is proud to endorse a bill, the ‘‘Social Security and Medicare Parity Act of 2015,’’ being introduced this week by Representative Mark Takano (D. CA), which would provide equal spousal and survivor benefits, create more flexible marriage tenure requirements, and require the Social Security Administration to engage in more outreach to LGBT older adults so that they are made aware of new or increased benefits.
In addition, SAGE, with the assistance of Jack Nadler as the lead lawyer from the firm Squire Patton Boggs, recently filed an amicus brief related to Obergefell v. Hodges. This historic case will be heard next week and allows the U.S. Supreme Court to determine whether the U.S. Constitution requires every U.S. state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and to recognize marriages of same-sex couples lawfully performed in any other state. SAGE filed the brief with the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, Justice in Aging, National Hispanic Council on Aging, and the American Society on Aging. To learn more about the brief and our four major arguments, click here.
Did you know that April is National Volunteer Month? In honor of our wonderful volunteers, SAGE will be asking a few of them some questions about what they do for our members! For the past few Fridays in April, we featured a number of extraordinary volunteers. Today, we would like to honor two long-time volunteers Jarret and Brian. They have both been with our Friendly Volunteer program since 2008 and 2009, respectively. Learn why they volunteer below!
Friendly Visitor: Jarret Wolfman
Fred and his Friendly Visitor, Jarret
How long have you volunteered at SAGE? I had to have someone check the records, but I met Fred and Stephen at a Friendly Visitor picnic in October of 2008 -- so I’m going on seven years now!
What do you do as a Friendly Visitor? During orientation we're instructed to let our friends at home kind of lead the way. Some people want to watch TV with their Friendly Visitor or play cards or go for a walk. It just depends on what they like to do. My guys love to just sit around and talk. So for the most part I just sit there and listen. Sometimes we go for dinner or I go to church functions with them (pancake Tuesdays have become an annual tradition), we go to book fairs and the garden party. I also help Fred organize his apartment and I help him with his computer. My husband and I even had them over for Thanksgiving one year!
What is your greatest strength? How does it help you as a volunteer? Oy, that's a hard one. I’m not really good at saying good things about myself. I would say that one thing that I think is helpful as a Friendly Visitor is my ability to empathize. Sometimes that can be a detriment, but in this case it's useful because as a Friendly Visitor you really have to be sensitive to your friend at home's needs, wants, moods, eccentricities, etc. While great friendships can develop over time (I've come to love Fred and Stephen as if they were part of my family - I call them my gay grandpas), we as volunteers are primarily there to be of service to our friends at home.
How does being a Friendly Visitor make you feel? This is actually the first time I've volunteered for anything in my life. I had thought about it for a while but I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do and I kind of felt guilty that there was a part of me that wanted to volunteer because I thought it might make me feel better about myself. Luckily, someone convinced me that there were worse things than "selfishly" volunteering. At least (hopefully) I would be giving back as much as I was getting. And I have to say that there is nothing I've ever done that has made me feel more fulfilled in my life.
What has been your best experience as a Friendly Visitor so far? I would have to say that it's a toss-up between being a part of their wedding a couple months after it finally became legal in New York state and their 50th anniversary (of meeting) dinner party in 2013. Both were really special experiences.
Fred & Stephen Celebrating!
Would you recommend others being a Friendly Volunteer? Of course! I’m always telling people to join up! It’s not always easy but it's extremely rewarding.
Anything else you would like to share? I would like to talk a little bit about Fred and Stephen. Normally, Friendly Visitors are paired with a single friend at home. I mean, that's kind of the point of the program. To provide LGBT seniors that may have trouble getting out to a SAGE Center or other opportunities to socialize, with some companionship. So when I was matched with Fred I wasn't really expecting to end up with two friends at home. While Stephen isn't "officially" a part of the Friendly Visitors program, he and Fred have basically become a package deal and I can't imagine it any other way. Although inevitably one of them will die before the other and that's something we've talked about. I’ve always thought that I was pretty lucky because both of them are healthy and I haven't had to deal with some of the more difficult issues that many other Friendly Visitors have had to deal with regarding their friends at home. Knowing that I’ll be around to help one of my gay grandpas deal with the loss of the other is both scary and comforting. I just felt like you needed to know a little about them to really appreciate what it is that I do. Cause in the end, it's not really about me, it’s about them.
Friendly Visitor: Brian Donnelly
How long have you volunteered at SAGE? Michele D'Amato matched me with Mort Silk in August of 2009, soon after my Friendly Visitor training.
What do you do as a Friendly Visitor?I've been visiting Mort once a week since that August of 2009! I mostly sit and talk with Mort about current events in the news, my work, issues in education (he was a teacher and assistant principal), happenings in our lives, theater experiences, and our pasts - family, friends, schooling, pivotal experiences in our lives, etc.
What is your greatest strength? How does it help you as a volunteer? My greatest strength? I try to be a good listener, and I try not to share my day-to-day frustrations at work and in my personal life or bring it into our space/time together. There are times when I may share some personal struggle I am experiencing, but I do that to seek advice. Mort's a very good listener and has enormous reserves of empathy. I think that being consistent and reliable in my visits is another strength. My colleagues at work, my partner, family members, and friends know of my commitment to my regular time with Mort, so I so very rarely need to reschedule a visit with him. When I travel out of town, I try to call and send a fun postcard.
How does being a Friendly Visitor make you feel? Being a Friendly Visitor reminds me that I have the capacity to make room in my busy life to commit to something important on a regular basis. I feel good about that. Oftentimes, I know my time with Mort is the most important 3 hours of my week - again, for me, maybe sometimes for him. I'm no longer a volunteer because we're simply friends at his point.
What has been your best experience as a Friendly Visitor so far? I can't pinpoint my best experience so far, but I get a kick out of him asking me to reread a passage from an article, like a theater review in the Times. He enjoys words, the way that people use words to express something interesting, funny, or profound. He'll re-experience a passage, in the way a child returns to the line of a roller-coaster after experiencing a thrilling ride. I love that smile on his face when he hears that passage again. Simple joys.
Would you recommend others being a Friendly Volunteer? I certainly recommend this experience to others. I am still learning and growing as a result of my relationship with my 93-year old friend, Mort.
Are you interested in being a Friendly Visitor? Contact Matilde Busana for more information at email@example.com.
SAGE's National Resource Center on LGBT Aging has trained thousands of service providers on how to create LGBT welcoming and inclusive spaces. Offering programs that address the needs and interests of LGBT older people is one concrete step that service providers can take to create welcoming, safe and LGBT-affirming spaces, where all LGBT older adults can be their authentic selves, just like their peers. Many of those trained providers are excited by developing programming about and for LGBT seniors but are not sure how to go about doing so. In response, we developed the turnkey toolkit: LGBT Programming For Older Adults: A Practical Step-By-Step Guide.
In an effort to make this a usable tool with concrete and action-oriented steps, we focused on finding a program that could be developed without straining resources, and that can be approachable to many senior audiences. So, the guide was created in consultation with organizations around the U.S. that serve LGBT older adults, and walks providers through the steps to launch a movie viewing and discussion centered on LGBT aging themes. This program is simple to organize, and can be an important step toward a number of goals, including welcoming LGBT older adults to senior service organizations; creating a safe space for the LGBT older adults who are already using those organizations to identify themselves and more fully integrate; and fostering an agency-wide culture of openness and acceptance.
Creating great LGBT-inclusive programming is one exciting step toward a fully-inclusive agency! Download or request your copy today!
Did you know that April is National Volunteer Month? In honor of our extraordinary volunteers, SAGE will be asking a few of them some questions about what they do for our members! Visit the blog on Fridays throughout the month of April for their stories.
This week’s highlight features a special interview with Kyla Knight from New York Life Insurance. Kyla has been volunteering with SAGE since 2013 and comes from our corporate volunteer program.
Hi Kyla. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me about your volunteering at SAGE! It’s my pleasure! Firstly, Let me just say, I love SAGE. I think it is so important to have our community age with equitable resources, community and dignity. SAGE is taking tangible strides to making that a reality and whatever small part I can make to support SAGE’s staff is the least I can do.
We are so glad to hear that! When did you first volunteer at SAGE? I went to my first volunteer information session in July of 2013. At first, I was paired up with the HR Director two times a week from 9-11 am for several months to help out with some extra work. I then wanted to help out with actual events and constituents and in 2014, I was able to organize two events for SAGE through the help of many people kind people and organizations.
What events were those? The first event was with DL21C on expanding LGBT services in the outer boroughs. Councilmember Ritchie Torres (D-Central Bronx) and Deputy Executive Director & CFO of SAGE, Tracy Welsh, spoke about the importance of LGBT senior services and how the expanded funds to SAGE from the City Council will be used. I am so proud that there are now SAGE Centers in the Bronx, Harlem, Staten Island and Brooklyn!
The second event was facilitated through the extreme generosity of my co-workers at New York Life Insurance. Individual employees signed up to donate over 200 gifts and we hosted a Holiday Gift Drive Dinner at SAGE Center Midtown. We ended the night with singing a karaoke song… Just Like a Prayer and everyone had a great time.
That sounds amazing! And you sound busy! Are you able to volunteer often? I wish I could volunteer more, but I normally organize an event or two a month.
What is your greatest strength? How does it help you as a volunteer? My greatest strength is that I’m a very stubborn person! This dedication to my passions helps me show up and at the end of the day, showing up is all that really matters! We don’t have to be perfect, or the best—but everyone has tremendous value to bring to the table. Even if I don’t know how to do one particular task, I am certain someone I know does! I have met so many new friends and have been taught many new skill sets along the way through work and volunteering. For that, I am very grateful. My hope is to try to highlight the work of amazing people who bring about positivity and courage for more of our community to start to feel included.
How does volunteering make you feel? Volunteering makes me feel at home. Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my mom in a hair salon in Lavender Heights (Sacramento’s ‘gayborhood’). It was so much fun telling stories, joking around and seeing people have makeovers, looking pretty and expressing their true gender identities! This was a huge influence in shaping my dream to move to New York as a queer activist, because I saw the importance of organizing events, rallies and showing up for our community.
What have your experiences been like at SAGE? SAGE gives me “the why.” SAGE gives me a tangible vehicle in which to focus my passion for our community. I am so grateful to stand upon the shoulders and the sacrifice and work of many LGBT+ sheros and heroes. I am so proud of the amazing stories SAGE members have and every time I go to the SAGE Center I have had SO much fun!
Brigadier General Tammy Smith, the first openly lesbian of the U.S. Army Reserve, said, “Never underestimate your ability to give others hope.” SAGE gives so many hope and dignity and I feel very lucky to be included.
So when is the next time you come back to volunteer? I am very excited to volunteer Sunday April 26, 2015 for the next Women’s Spring Dance! I am happy that a handful of coworkers agreed to help out as well!
That dance is amazing! Glad you and your coworkers are going. Is there anything else you would like to share? During a lazy Sunday afternoon I took my 11-year old woofderful pooch, Ginger, to the Lesbian Herstory Archives. By accident, I found SAGE’s box upstairs and pored over various documents. I completely lost track of time nerding out on organizational charts and event flyers! SAGE took me in under her wing and helped me to verify many of my interests, strengths and passions. I am now enrolled go to Baruch College for my MBA in Organizational Design and HR Management in the fall semester. I hope to help the effort to reach economic parity within the queer community regardless of gender identity, race, class or sexual orientation.
Volunteering with SAGE has given me back so much more than I can really explain and I know that many people I’ve met along the way feel the same about their experience with SAGE. The fun part is that every volunteers experience is different and this solidarity helps to make SAGE so special. THANK YOU SAGE!
Wow. Thank you Kyla! It was so much fun to interview you and I look forward to hearing about your future volunteer activities at SAGE. No, thank you!
It's National Healthcare Decisions Day! A day where folks are encouraged to think about their future and examine important end-of-life documents. Have you put your end-of-life decisions in writing? Do you have a living will? Do you have a health care power of attorney?
Remember, just signing an advance directive may not be enough! A recent blog post from our Successful Aging program highlights an issue with advance directives -- completing the documents may not provide enough protection! For the documents to be effective, treatment providers have to know of them, and what they say. Make sure you have a conversation with your loved ones and medical providers about your end-of-life documents to keep you protected.
SAGE’s National Resource Center on LGBT Aging created the Inclusive Questions for Older Adults: A Practical Guide to Collecting Data on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity to offer practitioners tips and guidance on how to ask older adults questions related to LGBT status. The guide was created to assist service providers in understanding why it is important to learn their clients’ sexual orientation and gender identity; and to provide suggestions on ways to make the question-asking process safe and respectful. The guide also provides some versions of the questions themselves for those who are considering adding questions to their intake forms. The guide is informed by experts in the data collection field and pulls quotes from interviews with older adults themselves about being asked these questions. The guide addresses the need to ensure confidentiality of the information received as well as insisting on service providers receiving proper cultural competency training. To date, over 40,000 copies have been downloaded from the website. Download or request your copy today!
Did you know that April isNational Volunteer Month? In honor of our extraordinary volunteers, SAGE will be asking a few of them some questions about what they do for our members! Visit the blog on Fridays throughout the month of April for their stories.
Corporate Volunteer: Jeff Kern from BlackRock
When did you volunteer at SAGE? What did you do? I have volunteered quite a few times at SAGE. Last year, I helped serve a holiday meal on Christmas. The LGBT Employee Network at BlackRock has also partnered with SAGE to speak about retirement readiness for LGBT adults. This past fall, one of our HR professionals and I hosted a "Turbocharging your Career Search" -- a chat about job searching and how to better position yourself for success for the SAGEWorks program.
Do you volunteer often? I try to volunteer as much as I can. I love getting involved in the community. When I was in college, several organizations made a huge impact on me. They showed me that I could be an authentic LGBT leader in business. I want to pay it forward and contribute to equality, globally, and ensure that all people are treated with dignity and respect on a very basic level.
What is your greatest strength? How does it help you as a volunteer? I am really organized. To make a big impact, it’s crucial to be organized. In my opinion, organized people can accomplish more.
How does volunteering make you feel? It all comes back around to paying it forward. I do it because it is the right thing to do and it is good for everyone.
What was your experience like at SAGE? The SAGE Center Midtown is incredible. Just chatting with people there, looking at the different opportunities, it’s clear how diverse and engaged the LGBT community is. SAGE does a great job of facilitating the connections, resources and support needed for the community to thrive.
Would you come back to volunteer? I definitely plan on it!
To learn more about our Corporate Volunteer program, please contact Elise Colomer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friendly Visitor Volunteer: Tess Thompson
How long have you volunteered at SAGE? I connected with SAGE in the Fall of 2011. After meeting with the Friendly Visiting staff and going through some basic orientation, I met my friend-at-home for the first time in December of that year. I'm amazed to realize it has been almost three and a half years - on one hand, our friendship has developed so much during this time, but on the other hand I haven't noticed the months passing by so fast!
What do you do as a Friendly Visitor? Every Tuesday evening I go over to my friend-at-home's apartment, and we chat, hang out, feed his cat, maybe watch a show on Netflix. Pretty much we spend a couple of hours doing what I would normally do when visiting any friend's home. My friend-at-home is housebound and therefore somewhat isolated, so I provide companionship and the knowledge that there is someone there who cares. We also chat via email a couple of times a month, sometimes he will send me a recipe or I will send him the trailer for a movie I think he would like.
What is your greatest strength? How does it help you as a volunteer? I think my greatest strength as a volunteer is my ability to listen to people and see things from their perspective. In all friendships sometimes people disagree or don't see things eye to eye, but if you can understand where each other is coming from then you can have compassion for each other instead of conflict.
How does being a Friendly Visitor make you feel? I feel lucky to be a Friendly Visitor because I have expanded my community to include my wonderful friend-at-home. My life is enriched by his companionship, wisdom, and the laughter we share together.
What has been your best experience so far? I'm not sure I can pick just one! It's special to celebrate with my friend-at-home near the holidays. Spending that time together always reminds me that community and caring for each other is what's really valuable in life.
Would you recommend others being a Friendly Volunteer? Why or whynot? I would definitely recommend considering becoming a Friendly Volunteer. We all need to connect more with each other - this experience is so meaningful not only for the friend-at-home, but also for the volunteer.
Anything else you would like to share? Thanks SAGE, and keep up the good work!
To learn more about our Friendly Visitor program, please contact Matilde Busana at email@example.com.
Hi Deborah. Thanks for taking time to talk with us. First off, congratulations on winning the Grand Prize of our 2015 Healthy LGBT Photo Contest! Who are the people in your award-winning photo? Thank you! It’s a great honor! The woman on the left is Nancy Stoller, retired professor of at UC Santa Cruz; the woman on the right is Joan MacQuarrie, a retired building inspector. It was taken in Northern California, on a women’s land community that has been in existence since the 1970s. This was a work weekend so mostly we were weed-wacking, hacking down brush, etc. This was not a deeply premeditated photo, I did have my good camera out, noticed the beautiful light, and thought the redwoods in the background and the tools and work clothes and women together perfectly expressed the spirit of this women’s land community: making something by working together, taking pleasure in the outdoors and beauty of nature, and, also feeling a sense of obligation as conservators of the land.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Have you always been interested in photography?
My background is a little bit eclectic. I have a degree in history and worked in publishing and as a writer in the tech industry for years, but I also have a lifelong interest in music and the arts. I’ve been taking pictures since I was a teenager and was in the photo department at California College of the Arts in Oakland for four years but didn’t have the funds to complete my degree. Now I teach at San Francisco State University in public health, but I do my best to keep my hand in the arts. I still play music (I’ve played jazz drums since 11!) and have been making health-related short films—including several films about women living with HIV and a current project on lesbians.
That’s exciting! What is the film about? I hope to focus on lesbians and aging, but very specifically on lesbians aging in communities. (I’m a lesbian and aging myself!) I’m looking into women’s land communities—that’s where the picture was taken—but also retirement communities and RV communities. I hope to show these as three different types of communities that can support lesbians aging in positive ways. I actually think we’re experiencing a first: lesbians (and gay men, of course) aging while out of the closet. In some ways, I see many of these dynamic, political, engaged, and energetic women as role models for aging, not just for LGBT people, but for everyone.
Can’t wait to see it! Back to the photo. Can you tell me what you hope it conveys to people? I hope it shows the strength, spirit of community, and just plain happiness of women working together in the outdoors. And of course the real beauty of aging.
Do you think there is enough representation of LGBT older adults in the media? Of course not!! There’s not enough representation of old people, of queers, or of women. So when you add that together, there’s especially not enough representation of older lesbians. We need to have more images, pictures, films, etc., showing older LGBT folks aging in a positive way.
Considering you’re a “lesbian and aging yourself,” what do you think are major issues our LGBT community faces as they age? I’m guessing there are probably at least several, many of them the same as for anyone who is aging: physical health, mental health, in particular loneliness, low income, etc. I haven’t interviewed seniors who are in the closet, but I definitely hear about them all the time. Many lesbians of course didn’t earn as much as men, and the cost of living has gotten so high. Some lesbians didn’t have children and may not have a family-based support network as they age. Again, those are all just guesses.
Those are pretty good guesses! We actually did a whole report on issues facing LGBT older adults called Out & Visible, and these were all major issues. You know your stuff! To finish up, who would you love to photograph? Hmmm, a good question. I love photographing older people who have lived rich and full lives and are still full of spunk and inquiry. Maybe it’s a little bit of a cliche, but I think their history really shows on their faces. If you mean a particular person, maybe Jane Goodall or Ruth Bader Ginsberg–women with accomplished lives who have focused on their work not on how they look and who haven’t tried to pretend they are younger than they are. I’d love to photograph any lesbians along those lines too, but none are leaping to mind unfortunately.
That’s okay, I’m sure you’ll think of some in the future. Thanks again for chatting with me! Thank you!