Making a major investment to advance anti-discrimination protections for the growing number of older LGBT Americans, The Calamus Foundation of New York has awarded SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) $1 million to expand its national LGBT Elder Housing Initiative, launched in early 2015 to combat widespread discrimination against LGBT older adults in senior housing.
This path-breaking initiative was launched by SAGE in response to a research report last year documenting widespread discrimination against LGBT people seeking admission to or living in senior housing. The initiative engages consumers, providers, and policymakers to increase access to and create understanding and welcoming environments in housing for LGBT older people.
“As a long-time supporter, The Calamus Foundation of New York is proud once again to partner with SAGE to ensure LGBT people can age with dignity and have equal access to supportive housing and care as all other Americans,” said Louis Bradbury, Board President of The Calamus Foundation.
LGBT older people are currently faced with a nationwide housing crisis. A national research report published by the Equal Rights Center in 2014, with support from SAGE, found that 48% of older same sex couples applying for senior housing were subjected to discrimination. The effects of this rampant discrimination are further exacerbated by the fact that LGBT older people have lower incomes and less retirement savings than older Americans in general.
“SAGE is grateful for and inspired by this extraordinary grant from Calamus to eradicate housing discrimination against LGBT older people and ensure that our LGBT elder pioneers have access to housing where they are welcomed for who they are," said Michael Adams, Executive Director of SAGE. "Empowered by this anchor funding, SAGE’s national LGBT elder housing initiative will lead the way in addressing this housing crisis. We look forward to working with Calamus and SAGE’s other partners to bring this discrimination to an end.”
SAGE’s national LGBT elder housing initiative takes action by:
• Building LGBT-affirming senior housing in select cities • Training senior housing providers in fair and welcoming treatment of LGBT older people • Changing public policy to end housing discrimination against LGBT older people and expand federal support LGBT-inclusive elder housing • Equipping LGBT older people with the resources they need to find— and advocate for—LGBT-friendly housing in all its forms • Expanding services that support LGBT older people who face housing challenges.
“I don’t know, I’ll probably live to be about 70 or so.”
This is the kind of answer I hear more often than not when I talk to members of the LGBT community about how long they expect to live. I have been in wealth management for nearly two decades and life expectancy is just one of the issues that presents unique and complex retirement considerations for the LGBT community. It’s why I specifically addressed the topic in my new book, The Value of Debt in Retirement.
At the centerpiece of the book is my belief in the importance of factoring people’s debts just as much as their assets when assessing their financial situation. And in many cases, the proper management of the right amount and right kind of debt can potentially increase your wealth, lower your taxes, and reduce your risk in retirement. These are strategies that can often be more complicated for the LGBT community.
With that in mind, I had the pleasure of speaking to members of the LGBT community in an event sponsored by SAGE and the Miami-Dade Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce in Coral Gables in May. I heard a number of stories from the audience about the complicated financial situations they face largely because they are part of the gay and lesbian community.
It’s why one of the first things I stressed in my remarks is to expect to live longer than you think. More and more people are living into their 90s and even 100s and with advances in medicine, those numbers will only continue to climb in the coming years. As you plan for retirement, this is a critical consideration to ensure you don’t run out of money!
Long-term care can also be complicated. Strained family relationships and discrimination can greatly impact the support you need when you are receiving medical care. Those family relationships can contribute to family structures that are often very different from heterosexual individuals and couples. Identifying these structures and determining beneficiaries of things like your IRA, 401 (k), and life insurance are essential.
These are complexities that in some ways are or will be made easier in the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision last month, guaranteeing a right to same-sex marriage. But this also raises a host of new questions. What does this mean for Social Security? What are the potential tax implications? I spoke to a lesbian couple at the event in Coral Gables who had the opportunity to get married in Florida prior to the Supreme Court ruling, but have elected not to because of the tax consequences. The moral of the story is you should talk to a financial advisor to get a better understanding of all these complex issues.
I look forward to discussing these topics and other retirement considerations for the LGBT community in more detail – and the new developments in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling – at another SAGE Successful Aging event on October 1st in New York City. I know there are a lot of questions out there, not all of which I can answer, but the first step toward a successful retirement is gaining an understanding of what questions you should be asking in the first place.
--Posted by Tom Anderson
Tom Anderson is a New York Times bestselling author and nationally acclaimed wealth management advisor. A dynamic public speaker, Tom has trained more than 10,000 financial advisors nationwide, providing a holistic perspective that focuses on both sides of the balance sheet. His latest book "The Value of Debt" is available now.
Expanding Housing and Services for LGBT Older People 9/24/2015 | 2:00 - 3:30 pm EST Register Here Hosted by SAGE and Enterprise Community Partners, this free webinar features panelists who will discuss the topic of LGBT-friendly housing and strategies to expand housing opportunities for LGBT elders.
Due to higher levels of financial insecurity and a general lack of affordable housing, many LGBT elders find that they cannot afford homes in the communities they may have lived in for years. Others face harassment and intimidation in their homes and in long-term care settings from aging professionals, other residents, and even their own family members. In recent years, LGBT aging advocates have begun addressing these housing insecurities through a variety of approaches, including developing LGBT-specific housing; working with local housing providers to educate them about LGBT issues and their rights; informing LGBT elders about their rights under the Fair Housing Act; developing innovative programs such as "homesharing"; and connecting LGBT elders to LGBT-friendly services, including housing supports, in their distinct geographic communities.
Join us September 24for an outstanding panel of policy leaders and providers as they discuss expanding programs and services to address the significant housing challenges faced by LGBT older people including: supportive services for aging in place, friendly visiting, senior centers and community programs, and information and referral services.
Aging service providers and LGBT older adults interested in learning about what types of services and programs are available across the country are encouraged to participate!
Panelists: Mya Chamberlin, Director of Community Services, Friendly House Inc. (home of SAGE Metro Portland); Cheryl Gladstone, Senior Program Director, Enterprise Community Partners, Inc.; Daniel Tietz, Chief Special Services Officer, New York City Human Resources Administration; Catherine Thurston, Senior Director of Programs, SAGE; and Serena Worthington, Director of National Field Initiatives, SAGE.
After the Supreme Court’s decision for marriage equality in late June, 26 million friends of the LGBTQ community showed their support — at least on that issue —by putting a rainbow filter over their Facebook profile picture. Ultimately, the freedom to marry and #LoveWins became a “sexy” way for new allies to express their solidarity en masse. It was easy — by clicking a button the supporter and supported both could feel good basking in the glow of new equality and community. I won’t critique the value of the effort– – I have to admit that when I saw the rainbow over the face of my staunchly Catholic straight cousin, it meant a lot.
But the gritty work that forges equity at the deepest crossroads of disenfranchisement and marginalization in our society often isn’t so sexy. What it takes to be an ally isn’t as easy as momentary solidarity and the click of a button. It takes commitment and sacrifice — putting a real stake in the ground. That’s why it’s noteworthy that at SAGE in recent years we’ve seen the emergence of true new leaders in the struggle for dignity and equity for LGBT elders. Even more importantly, some of the most game-changing new leaders have come from outside LGBT communities.
These stories of new leadership are a tribute to the courage and vision of new leaders for our cause — individuals who know how to “connect the dots” of social justice and are willing to do so. The stories also reflect emerging strategies of SAGE and other diverse elder communities — strategies that recognize how systems of oppression and privilege intersect, and turn that recognition into powerful action for change and greater equity.
Stepping Out for LGBT Elders of Color in New York It’s not surprising that the country’s first full-fledged senior center for LGBT elders is located in Chelsea. The historical roots of New York City’s modern LGBT community, and of SAGE itself, are located right down the street in the West Village. Many elders from the Stonewall generation still live, as they have for decades, in the rent-controlled walk-up apartments that remain in these neighborhoods. While this is SAGE’s historical backyard, we also recognize that many of those who most need senior center services are LGBT elders of color — who live at the intersection of LGBTQ identity, race, advanced age, and in many cases poverty. Yet, for the most part, that’s not who was using the SAGE Center in Chelsea. The fact is that, apart from the valiant efforts of GRIOT Circle, the country’s only LGBT elders of color organization, the needs of LGBT elders of color have largely been disregarded. Most elders want to age in place — by continuing to reside in their neighborhoods and communities. For the vast majority of New York City’s LGBT elders of color, that means Harlem, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens — not Chelsea.
SAGE’s recent advocacy efforts on behalf of low-income LGBT elders of color across New York City have attracted important new leaders to our cause. Support for our work historically has come predominantly from older white gays and lesbians and a small group of New York City Council members who make up the LGBT Caucus and understand the needs of the city’s LGBT communities. The successful advocacy for public funding for SAGE Centers across New York City broke the mold in part because the advocacy effort was led by Councilmember Ritchie Torres. True, Councilmember Torres is gay and a member of the LGBT Caucus. But he’s also young (at 27, the youngest member of the City Council), of Puerto Rican descent, a lifelong resident of the Bronx, and a champion of the city’s public housing that he was raised in. As somebody who connects the dots and understands the value of services that reflect the needs of diverse communities, Ritchie Torres clearly represents an important new leader for the cause of LGBT elders.
Even more striking is the crucial political support for the citywide LGBT elder initiative that came from the New York City Council as a whole, led by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. The speaker is not a member of the LGBT community. But she is a progressive Latina leader who has become a powerful and visible champion for a New York City that prioritizes the needs of low-income people of color and who has argued forcefully for an equitable allocation of resources across the city’s neighborhoods. The combination of the speaker’s intersectional values and SAGE’s intersectional strategies resulted in the City Council making an unprecedented $1.5 million investment to open five new LGBT senior centers in Harlem, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.
Diverse Elder Communities Stand Up for Each Other at the National Level Fortunately, this isn’t just a New York City story. In 2010, SAGE joined with leading people of color aging organizations like the National Hispanic Council on Aging and the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging to form the Diverse Elders Coalition, a national collaborative that engages in policy advocacy and community education on behalf of low income LGBT and people of color elders. For participating people of color organizations, the formation of the Coalition represented a decision to formally embrace LGBT older people and their needs as an important part of a diverse elder agenda.
For SAGE, joining the Coalition meant that issues like immigration reform, language competency in aging services, and disenfranchisement of Native American elders needed to become part of our advocacy agenda. Thus, when the National Indian Council on Aging and other people of color aging organizations confronted serious threats to elder workforce programs for their communities, SAGE made protection of those programs one of our policy priorities.
Similarly, people of color organizations in the Diverse Elders Coalition have strongly supported SAGE’s efforts to make the federal Older Americans Act LGBT-inclusive.
Here again, new leaders from beyond the LGBT community have emerged to take up the cause of LGBT elders. Dr. Yanira Cruz, the head of the National Hispanic Council on Aging, has personally championed the first-ever needs assessment of Latino LGBT elders and has participated in LGBTQ conferences across the country. Quyen Dinh and Doua Thor, the present and former heads of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, have been powerful and vocal advocates for LGBT-inclusion in national coalition work in the aging sector. These new leaders for SAGE’s cause have emerged not only as a result of their personal courage and values, but also as a consequence of an intentionally intersectional approach by SAGE and our sister organizations in the Diverse Elders Coalition.
So, we celebrate the 26 million rainbow profile photos on Facebook. But at SAGE, we save our deepest awe and respect for leaders like Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Dr. Yanira Cruz, and Quyen Dinh, who have put a powerful stake in the ground for LGBT elders living at the intersection of sexual and gender identity, race, age, and class.
Pony Knowles, SAGE Center Midtown Program Coordinator
I was one of perhaps three trans people at the small liberal arts college I attended. One stayed stealth throughout all four years, and the other chose not to transition medically. I was out. Very out. You can well imagine the kinds of questions I found myself asked by my fellow cisgender classmates. Aside from all of the more terrifying or rewarding aspects of being visibly trans—and those are, for many of us, manifold—the most tiresome is the bombardment of inappropriate questions from well-intentioned cis people. Worse yet, there is a temptation to translate the responses they hear from any one trans person into a kind of 'official' trans narrative, applicable to all trans people, of all walks of life.
Back on that college campus, the answers I gave varied from day to day, depending upon my exhaustion at serving as a public fount of knowledge, especially when I myself was still discovering my community and my place in it. Suffice it to say, my answers, I’m sure, differed significantly from the hypothetical responses I can imagine my fellow trans classmates issuing—and those would likely differ greatly from each other as well. I couldn't speak for other trans people then. I can't speak for them now, but I remember them always. In the decades since, I have found myself thinking often of a woman who knew that she must remain stealth in order to get her education, particularly as an older nontraditional student. And I think of a young transmasculine student of mixed race and from a rural town in Georgia, who was not closeted and who was asked different questions than I was. And then there's me– a white, college-educated, middle-aged trans guy, who lives in a bustling metropolis– the questions that I am asked and the answers that I can give must not define an entire nation full of trans experiences, trans joys, and trans dangers.
The temptation to designate exemplars who appease the most normative standards of what trans can look like weighs heavy upon those of us who meet with the double bind of being marginalized within our own communities. Silence too often is meted out to those who are transgender and older, or not white, or poor, or geographically isolated. Particularly as the trans rights movement gains momentum and begins to focus itself upon the political goal that will unite and define us in the eyes of the nation, all voices must be raised and counted, safely, and with great compassion and intention. If we focus solely on our trans youth who are bullied in schools, who commit suicide, who don't have enough trans role models to support them— we must not risk losing sight of all of our trans foremothers and forefathers who have already spent their entire lives in the shadows of the LGBT community.
“We as older trans people need to engage and to educate younger generations of our experiences decades ago. As someone who transitioned in the 1970s, we had fewer resources, but we more readily made lemonade out of lemons. Transitioning as an older adult means having a tougher battle than younger trans people. We need to address the issues we face, and we need to be visible, to show how we can also find happiness—whether one achieves ‘the surgery’ or not.” -Frances, SAGE Constituent
The diversity of lived experience is striking when you speak to a trans youth in their teens or 20s, and to an older trans adult and their 60s or beyond. The dangers faced are very different, and the social realities are remarkably disparate. Transition dates also change everything: an older adult transitioning today will meet with a different set of challenges than someone of the exact same age who transitioned decades prior. That said, it is almost always the case that those of us who transition at any time and at any age need, more than anything else, to find ourselves in a legacy of support created by other transgender trailblazers, who light our path of discovery at every turn. Our genders are never created or sustained in isolation, and we owe our deepest debts of gratitude to those who have come before us. Too often do we overlook older voices, and too often are older members of our community less likely to step forward and make themselves vulnerable.
The wealth of narratives available to trans people about our history and our present remains enormously restricted— on one hand, by a simple lack of unified knowledge and, on the other, by a lack of access to the voices that must strain most to be heard. This is why the National Center for Transgender Equality has put together the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey, a follow-up to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey that was completed by nearly 6,500 people across the United States. It is imperative that this survey, conceived as a broad effort to outline information about the lives and experiences of trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary identified people, reach as far as possible into the most silenced pockets of our community. The fact that the survey can be completed anonymously, and that it is conducted by a trans-led organization, are the greatest guarantors that the information gathered by us will be used for us— to inform systems of support and advocacy, and to better the lives of trans people across the country.
Without a collection of pure data that seeks to weave together all of the constraints and desires and lived experiences of the trans community at large, we will continue to see a lack of services tailored to the needs of our communities. We will continue to see trans voices coming from the most diverse regions of our communities pushed out again and again. If, as they say, knowing is half the battle, then let us engage.
SAGE Center Midtown will host a Trans Coffeehouse Social on Saturday, Sept. 12th, from 2-5 pm. The Cyber Center will be open to anyone who wants to complete the survey. Volunteers and staff will be on hand to assist; the space is accessible and designated for trans-identified members participants and guests all day. Please call (646) 576-8669 for more information.
--Posted by Pony Knowles, SAGE Center Midtown Program Coordinator
I’m excited to report that yesterday’s White House Conference on Aging included some major breakthroughs for SAGE and LGBT older people across the country. In recent months, SAGE has prepared diligently to ensure that LGBT voices would be heard at this influential conference, held every ten years. As I listened to an inspiring and impassioned statement to conference leaders from iconic LGBT aging activist Sandy Warshaw, who called for anti-discrimination protections and voiced her refusal to be closeted in old age, I knew that we had succeeded on that score.
Highlights from the day included a critically important announcement from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that the federal government will take decisive steps to end discrimination against LGBT elders in all government-assisted housing. Given that housing discrimination against LGBT elders is rampant in senior housing, the HUD announcement was a huge advance. A second important announcement came from the Administration on Aging (Ao), which announced a new partnership with SAGE to convene key service providers in the aging sector, collect data on how LGBT elders are being served, and identify action steps AoA can take during the last year of the Obama Administration to make aging services more LGBT-friendly.
Thinking back on the last White House Conference on Aging, held in 2005, I’m truly amazed by how far we’ve come in ten years. We’ve moved LGBT issues from fringes of the larger conversation on aging to its very center. As one example, the needs and experiences of LGBT elders were specifically referenced at the conference by Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Assistant Secretary for Aging Kathy Greenlee, and Ai-Jen Poo of Caring Across Generations. It’s inspiring to see that LGBT older people have truly been granted a seat at the table.
SAGE Delegate, Sandy Warshaw, raises her concern about facing discrimination as she ages as a lesbian at The White House Conference on Aging
In the weeks to come, we’ll be talking more about what was accomplished at today’s White House Conference on Aging, and what SAGE’s federal advocacy game plan is moving forward. We did a lot at the White House yesterday. Looking ahead, there is so much more that we need to do!
-- Posted by Michael Adams, Executive Director of SAGE
How can we ensure that leaders in Washington, D.C. hear the voices of LGBT older people? While SAGE considers this question every day in its national advocacy work, today's White House Conference on Aging is a particularly important moment to make sure we're heard and represented. This important conference convenes national leaders to discuss the state of American aging every ten years--and SAGE is bringing LGBT voices to the table. Want to join us? Check out a live stream of the conference, available online here.
In advance of today's conference, SAGE conducted a survey of LGBT older people to learn more about the most important questions and concerns facing our communities today. Watch this video to hear some of what they had to say.
I had a friend named Lee, who was sweet. The world can be perfect in some ways, so Lee's last name was actually Sweet. We were matched through SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) by a woman who deemed us, very correctly, compatible: You're both collectors, she noted.
I was an archivist who fantasized about moving into my then-girlfriend's (now fiancée's) brownstone and collecting beautiful things together, and Lee was a retired graphic designer who already had a brownstone full—damn full—of beautiful things, the most exquisite things. I believe he was born discerning: As a boy he asked his dad for a Chippendale for his birthday; I think he was given a baseball mitt instead.
My own grandpa, who raised me, passed away when I was 25. Joining SAGE as a friendly visitor was something I did with very specific tenderness, and an awareness that I might end up having my feelings hurt—I didn't want to lose anyone again. But my desire to connect with someone from my Pop's generation, especially someone like Lee—someone who was critical but sensitive, an introvert whose sudden, cutting wit reminded me of Flannery O'Connor, a gentleman in his 80s who had been in the Army during World War II, who was incidentally gay—eclipsed my anxiety. And all I had to do to meet him and spend time with him was hop on the G train.
When Lee became sick suddenly, I started visiting him in the hospital instead of at his brownstone. I was having a late twenty-something crisis—what did I really want to do? I was becoming a Jack of all trades and what I really wanted was to do one meaningful thing. I said to Lee, "You're old and you're wise." This made him laugh. I continued, "What do you think I should do?"
At the time, he couldn't speak. Remembering this pains me, but also I smile when I think about the fact that Lee and I had become intimate enough for me to compress his tongue to help him strengthen it so he could start speaking again. He wrote down his answer to my existential question, telling me I should go back to the frog pond because I was happy then.
When I was a kid, my grandpa and I would go "frog hunting" together at the pond down the road. We would roll up in the middle of the night and Pop would shine his bright police light (he was the retired chief of Scarsdale) at the pond and we waded into the water together, bravely disregarding the snapping turtles that were big enough for me to catch a (terrifying) moonlit ride on. I was seldom seen without a bullfrog in those days, or without a net attached to the end of a broomstick, duct taped to another broomstick, voyaging out into the water. Call me Ishmael.
It's no surprise that I told Lee about the frog pond, since it's single-handedly my favorite thing to remember from my childhood. But I couldn't believe that his answer to my question was to conjure this memory, and at first I felt grief that I couldn't go back to the pond, and that I couldn't be with Pop anymore. But I realized that my grandfather had taught me to be patient, get dirty, respect nature, use my body as a tool, to make weird jokes, to love—a love big enough that it included (and includes) tadpoles.
And I realized that as much as I wished to go back in time and be with him again and to learn those things again, what I wanted more than that was to keep moving forward toward a future where I would teach those things to my own child.
My aunt once gave my grandparents (her parents) tiny tapes to record the stories of their lives on. If I remember correctly, my Gram passed on this; she's always been a living, moving thing—like a shark—who, while poised and charismatic is, not at all narcissistic and not at all the type to slow down to record any of her pithy or sentimental remarks. My Pop, though, recorded things like this: "If ever you want to attain immortality, have a little of your better self rub off on a child, for a child is the father of man and he is an image of yourself."
The nostalgia I have around frog hunting persists. But Lee gave me a new lens on my beloved childhood memory: I began to see it from my grandfather's perspective in addition to my own. It was a paradigm shift. Over the past weekend, I was up by a lake, the lake my fiancée learned to swim in. It is a fine lake where the gulping sounds of bullfrogs can be heard coming from both the grass and the water. I took off my shirt, and crept along the edge of the lake, until I took off my socks and boots and walked in. I don't mean to brag, but I still have it: I caught a frog with my bare hands, and walked the big guy over to my fiancée to show her while grinning so hard my face hurt. I am 30 now —I'm, as I always joke, the oldest I've ever been. And I've learned I have the capacity to channel my former, frog-hunting self, and my former, frog-hunting dad.
Dedicated to the memory of Theodore Tutera and Lee Sweet.
On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court decreed that marriage equality for LGBT people was a constitutional right. That night, in front of the iconic Stonewall Inn and hundreds of revelers, Edie Windsor, marriage equality heroine, teamed up with SAGE to share a special message in light of the Court's decision. As she says, "by all means—go, get married! But before you do, learn how a marriage will impact you, both financially and legally. Put simply, talk before you walk." Watch the video and learn more about Talk Before You Walk in a letter Edie wrote below.
Letter from Edie Windsor
I am unequivocally proud to stand in celebration today with my friends and family at SAGE. Together, we salute our LGBT colleagues and allies whose leadership and tenacity have achieved this extraordinary moment. A new day has dawned - one in which I am humbled to have played a role through my own victory before the Supreme Court exactly two years ago. The pride and courage of the plaintiffs in Obergefell v. Hodges have brought the freedom to marry to all Americans.
By all means--go, get married! But before you do, learn how a marriage will impact you, both financially and legally. Put simply, talk before you walk. SAGE and I are partnering on a new campaign to make sure people, including LGBT older people, can find the information they need on marriage. Check outTalkBeforeYouWalk.org to find out what marriage may mean for you.
The momentum of this decision propels tomorrow's work forward. SAGE returns to the task at hand: ensuring that LGBT people can age with the safety, dignity, and affirmation that every human being deserves. The Supreme Court's decision amplifies my love and appreciation for SAGE's vital work -- because this work is the next step in our community's onward march toward equality for ALL.
Every summer, LGBT people across the country step out during Pride season to honor who we are, celebrate the progress we’ve made, and re-energize ourselves for the battles ahead. Yet in the midst of all the revelry and marching, older people are often overlooked. This summer, SAGE is celebrating some lesser-known “Heroes of Pride” on our blog.
<em>Sally Ann Hay</em>
Today we’re talking with Sally Ann Hay, a 65-year-old cisgender lesbian woman from Lincoln, Rhode Island, about her history with activism, her involvement with SAGE, and about a notable relative in her family tree.
So glad to talk with you, Sally! Could you share some of your personal story with us? Who do you consider to be your family members?
I’m married to my partner Dee Bird, and I would say my primary family is my family of choice blended with my family of origin (which includes some amazing step-relatives.) I have a brother and two sisters who are aware and accepting. One sister has early onset Alzheimer’s and I’m managing her care, which is somewhat of a challenge because she lives in Arizona. My brother and another sister are devout Christians which initially had me a little worried, but they are both very accepting.
Tell me a little bit about your working life.
I’m a retired psychiatric social worker. I worked in an agency and then in a private practice for the last ten years of my career. I worked with a large number of LGBT people.
What led you to the work in the LGBT community that you’ve done?
I came out at 27 in 1977 and had been very involved in the feminist movement, the antiwar and civil rights movements--and those continue to be very important to me. As for the LGBT movement, I backed into it. When I first moved to Rhode Island I went looking for a lesbian community so I got involved with Options, RI’s LGBT news magazine. The punchline is that at that time, the Options collective was mostly gay men, not many lesbians! But it was great entrée to community. From that, I was involved in helping create Equity Action, a philanthropic fund dedicated to LGBTQ issues. That activity led to me putting on an LGBT elder healthcare seminar, and that led to SAGE!
And then there was my uncle, Harry Hay, who started the Mattachine Society…
Wow, really? That’s amazing!
Yes! I didn’t know Harry when I was growing up—but that was because he was a communist, not because he was gay. As I got to know him in the last years of his life, one of the ideas he championed that really hit home with me was we are a sexual minority and it’s important not to fall prey to the temptation to assimilate. So that’s been my motivation for the last ten years—we are a wonderful people, we aren’t like everybody else. Marriage equality doesn’t solve it.
How did you find out about him being this incredible early leader in the movement?
I was probably in my late 20’s or early 30’s--around 1980. I was in therapy and my therapist said “you must be pleased about the book about your uncle.” And I said “what book?” She was horrified that I didn’t know about the biography that was just coming out [The Trouble with Harry Hay].
When I was able to get a copy, I read in the preface that he was a communist and I thought—oh that’s why my father was so against him! And then reading the book…I wish for everyone that they have a famous relative. It’s just a trip to read your family history! I thought “Wow, this makes so much sense.”
How did you connect with him finally?
I wrote an article about lesbian and gay social workers in the late 80’s. He read it and sent a message to my sister and said “please let your sister know I know she’s a sister.” I wrote a scathing letter [to him] saying “my coming out story is mine and by the way my father doesn’t know and if he’s going to find out, it’ll be from me.” The possibility of his sharing my orientation horrified me. One of his claims to fame is “my safety is dependent on your silence” so he knew the importance of that.
He once said “I’m the Martin Luther King, Jr. of the gay rights movement” and at the time I thought “you arrogant S.O.B.!” I came to appreciate while at times he was an arrogant S.O.B. and that was what it took to be the phenomenal leader and activist that he was.
I came to really appreciate a personal relationship with him in the last 6 years of his life. For both of us, it was important to have family that was both family of choice and biological. It was really special. Neither of us ever expected to have that.
So tell me more about your involvement with SAGE.
I began to get involved because it was an important issue. But as I aged into the cohort, I realized “Oh this is about me!”
When I first got involved, my partner wondered “Why we should care: we all get older.” I said, “Just imagine we have need for home health care and someone comes to the house and they’re not ok with LGBT.” That kind of crystallized it.
Those of us in this age group have lived for so long under the radar that we can’t even realize what we don’t expect for ourselves! I’m trying to convey to LGBT older adults that we have a right to demand that we have appropriate healthcare and services available to us.
When we show [the film] “GenSilent”, the thing that amazes me is watching LGBT people make the connection of “Oh my God, who’s gonna take care of me?” We’re resilient, but there’s an ending where it could get ugly.
Your colleague Cathy Cranston said that “Sally is the glue that held SAGE Rhode Island together over the last dozen years.” What’s the magic formula for that glue?
I’m good at making relationships and putting ideas into practice. Some great connections have grown out of my attending the Lt. Governor’s Long Term Care Coordination Council over the last several years. In the beginning, my primary contribution was standing up, saying who I was and what group I represented – being sure to articulate what the “GLBT” in SAGE represented. I’m so ‘normal’ looking, I think there was a certain shock value. Over time, relationships developed (especially with the previous Lt. Governor), our network grew and the importance of recognizing LGBT olders began to gain traction. Perseverance.
With age comes wisdom and I’m now backing out of being as involved as I have been —I remembered that I retired for a reason!
Sounds like you’ve earned a retirement!
Well thank you! I love that proverb, “If you want to travel fast, go alone. If you want to travel far, go with friends.” I don’t feel I’ve done this alone.