March 17, 2015

A Quick Chat With SAGE Participant Brenda Culhane

Our monthly “Quick Chats” with SAGE participants offer a first-person perspective on our community.  This month, we spoke Brenda Culhane, a 74-year-old lesbian and SAGE participant in Portland, Oregon. Brenda came out a bit later than some, at age 39, and is now an active LGBT advocate and spokesperson. Brenda spoke with us about her struggle to live openly, why she values her community, and the changes she’s witnessed in her lifetime for LGBT people.

Brenda culhane

At what age did you come out? Can you describe that process? 

I came out later in life.  I had thought that I was different when I was in college but was too afraid to act on it. I got married to prove I was not different.  I came out after that marriage was over...I was 39. This was in the 1970’s. 

Who are the most important people in your life?  

My friends—many of whom I met at SAGE.  We all work to support each other, especially if someone is ill or going through a hard time.  We are there for each other because most of us do not have family nearby or wanting to be involved in our lives.

I have one friend, Sherri, who is developmentally delayed who lives up the street from me. My mom used to live in the house where I’m living and Sherri took an interest in her and checked on her every day. I was my mom’s primary caretaker and so I really appreciated Sherri, it took a big load off me! After my mom died we became friends. It felt like we had the same mother at that point so we call each other ‘sis’. She checks on me. She has a lot of prejudice against gay people, and she really struggles with the fact that I’m gay. She’s getting more exposed to my friends. So I think in her head, at this point, she thinks it’s ok for women to be gay but not men. It doesn’t seem like it would make that much difference in the world what her opinion is, but she is getting more educated. 

The conservative neighbors down the street have a teenage boy in Catholic school who came over and wanted to interview me. I said “why?” and he said “we’re interviewing different people” and I said “you mean gay?” and he cringed and said yes. So even the Catholic schools are doing that! 

That’s promising! So just by being open about who you are, you are educating and enlightening people around you in a one-on-one way.

Yeah! In the 60’s and 70’s the message was ‘everyone come on out come out!’ It was so terrifying to do that. I’m kind of a wimp on some things. So every time I came out my stomach was in knots.  Even now, coming out to my doctor is still hard. 

But do you find that you’re met with more love and respect than you used to be, when you come out?

Yeah. When I was first coming out to myself, I got married because I was too afraid. Then I got a divorce and came out. I lost some friends. The people who had a really hard time with it, in retrospect, were questioning their own sexuality. Looking back now, that makes sense. 

How did you find out about SAGE? What kinds of SAGE activities do you participate in? 

I belonged to a group here in Portland called Gay and Gray that became affiliated with SAGE a few years ago.  I am involved in the SAGE housing committee.  We all have had friends who have had to go into assisted/independent living and they do not feel safe coming out in that environment.  They have all gone back into the closet.  It is so sad.  This committee goes around to the various senior living residences and asks them to be part of our brochure for LGBT seniors.  This month the group put out our second brochure and it has 4 more residences included—we’re very proud of that. We’ve faced challenges because most senior residential places would rather not deal with this issue.  We are all proud of our newest brochure.  

I’m also on a speaker committee that talks about LGBT issues to any group requesting SAGE services.  I have spoken at high schools, colleges and conferences so far.  I enjoy going to these venues and educating people about us.  And of course I love our yearly gatherings, like our Valentine party, our Holiday Party and our summer BBQ.  I have many friends whom I only see at these events and it is wonderful.

Why is SAGE important to you?

I feel emotional support from the staff and enjoy the yearly gathering with lots of other LGBT folks.  It is a lot of fun. 

What makes you smile? 

My dog Emmy, a good book, a great movie, a wonderful meal, a sunset, the smell of spring flowers, and having a butch flirt with me.

-- Posted by Kira Garcia

March 16, 2015

A Response to "It's Never Too Late To Make a Change"

MadamsThis blog post was written by SAGE's Executive Director, Michael Adams, as a response to "It's Never Too Late To Make a Change," a New York Times article focusing on transgender aging. 

As “It’s Never Too Late To Make a Change,” New York Times, March 8, 2015, demonstrates, more and more transgender people are making the decision to embrace their gender identity later in life. As the New York Times points out, the pull to live your life as who you truly are runs deep at every stage of life. The stories shared by the Times are powerful profiles of grit, hope and liberation. The story not yet told is that, just as society plays a huge role in making the lives of transgender elders more difficult, there is tremendous opportunity and need to reform social policies so they stop discriminating against older people who are trans and start honoring and supporting them for who they are.

TransagingAs a major policy report issued in 2012 by Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) documents, transgender older people face profound challenges and experience striking disparities in health care needs and access, employment, housing and much more. Improving The Lives of Transgender Older Adults, explains how transgender older people frequently encounter a health care system and national aging network that are ill-prepared to provide culturally competent care and services that affirm their gender identities and expressions.

Improving the Lives of Transgender Older Adults doesn't just settle on describing the problems.  Through 60 specific recommendations, the report provides a concrete and specific roadmap to policymakers and practitioners in the public and private sectors – highlighting what changes can and must be made.  The recommendations include steps to make services in the publicly-funded aging network more trans-inclusive, ways to improve health care, steps to end violence and abuse, strategies for equal opportunity in employment and housing, and steps to improve economic security among transgender older people.  

Fortunately, we are starting to make some progress.  For example, as the New York Times article points out, SAGE is providing support groups for older transgender people.  And some progress is being made at the state and federal level on vitally important issues like insurance coverage and identity documents.  But much more remains to be done to implement the SAGE/NCTE blueprint and give transgender older people the equity and support they deserve. 

Let’s hope that the powerful spotlight that the New York Times has shined on transgender pioneers stepping out in the third chapter of their lives will inspire policymakers and practitioners to play their part to make this world a welcoming one for people of all gender identities and ages.  The SAGE/NCTE report makes it clear that we know what needs to be done.  Let’s get on with the business of doing it.

 

March 12, 2015

"I love being myself, but society didn't."

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SAGE Story is our national digital storytelling program for LGBT older adults that focuses on storytelling as a way to diversify the public narratives on aging, long-term care and LGBT rights. Through the generous support of the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, SAGE Story programs were established at SAGE sites in North Carolina and Pennsylvania to build their capacities as LGBT aging advocates and to collect stories on the ways in which discrimination has affected LGBT older people. To highlight this exciting initiative, we will be featuring a special SAGE Story on this blog throughout February and March. In addition, be sure to watch all of the amazing stories that our LGBT pioneers share with us on our specific page dealing with discrimination.

This week, we are highlighting Timothy's Story. Timothy comes to us from our partners at The Freedom Center for Social Justice in Charlotte, NC. 

Based in Charlotte, NC, the Freedom Center for Social Justice is a social justice non-profit organization working at the intersections of race, class, faith, social justice, sexual orientation and gender identity.  In Timothy's video, he talks about how difficult it was growing up in a society that was anti-gay and how he eventually overcame a drug addiction. "I love being myself, but society didn't. That's why I chose drugs." Watch his story below or on our SAGE Story site.

March 10, 2015

Historic Day for LGBT Elders? We’ll see!

Written by Barbara Satin, Assistant Faith Work Director, National LGBTQ Task Force, this post was originally featured on The National LGBTQ Task Force blog on March 3, 2015.

Walking into the Eisenhower Office Building in the White House complex on February 10, I realized that I was crossing what has the potential to be a historic threshold for the LGBT community – I was entering a full day meeting with Obama administration officials around the issue of LGBT aging and, more specifically, affordable housing for LGBT elders.

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Barbara Satin, Assistant Faith Work Director, National LGBTQ Task Force

Thanks to the work and advocacy of SAGE and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Administration was embarking on a conversation that should have happened years ago but now has taken on more of a crisis-like tone.

Think about it: today in the U.S. there are four affordable rental housing projects focused on LGBT elders – with a total of 285 units to fill that role.

Now reflect on the reality that there are around 2 million LGBT folks who are 65 and older – our elders – and that number is expected to reach 3 million by 2030 – only 15 years from now.

So where are these thousands – probably hundreds of thousands – of LGBT elders going to find safe, secure, respectful and affordable rentals if we only have less than 300 units now spread across the country?

There are 104 units in LA at Triangle Square, the first affordable rental project for LGBT elders which opened in 2007. Then in September 2013 Minneapolis joined in with its 46 units at Spirit on Lake, followed by 56 units in early 2014 at the John Anderson Apartments in Philadelphia and 79 apartments at the Town Hall development in Chicago that opened later in 2014. And, yes, there are more projects on the drawing boards but even these, if successfully developed won’t make a dent in the need.

That’s the context that surrounded the White House Conference on LGBT Elder Housing that took place on February 10, 2015.

Five panels, filled with some of the most knowledgeable people about aging issues, elder housing and public policy, covered the needs, options, resources, legal rights and policy changes required to meet the housing requirements of LGBT seniors .

The audience was made up of a who’s who of LGBT aging activists and allies as well as senior management of major government departments that deal with housing development and senior care issues.

The panel presentations were thorough and insistent while questions and comments were thoughtful and probing.

Keynote speaker for the gathering was Jennifer Ho, Senior Advisor on Housing and Services for the Department of Housing and Urban Development who brought a supportive message around commitment to LGBT elders but also tempered with the reality of a lack of both resources and Congressional support.

A major feature of the day was a listening session where participants in the conference were able to pose questions and concerns to representatives of the Administration, including Kathy Greenlee, Assistant Secretary for Aging with the Department of Health and Human Services, and Nora Super, Executive Director of the White House Conference on Aging.

Audience comments were far ranging, passionate and covered a variety of needs and concerns for LGBT elders.

Takeaways from the Affordable Elder Housing Conference include the already established fact that there is a growing and critical need for housing that is safe, respectful and affordable for LGBT seniors plus the concomitant reality that given the lack of financial resources we are not going to be able to build our way out of the issue.

But, as one of the panelists proclaimed, we can effectively respond to the challenge with a combination of approaches including new affordable housing development, appropriate training for senior care providers and more intensive research around the needs and concerns of LGBT elders.

The White House Conference was a start of comprehensive conversations with government agencies and entities that can make these approaches of development, training and research work across the nation. We will be watching, waiting and witnessing to see if it turns out to be a historic beginning for a safe, secure, affordable housing future for our LGBT elders.

March 9, 2015

An Ounce of Prevention: The Truth About Alzheimer's and Dementia

Accessing healthcare is complicated for many people, but LGBT older adults face a specific set of concerns and challenges. For example, according to SAGE’s new report, Out & Visible, 40% of LGBT people in their 60’s and 70’s say their healthcare providers don’t know their sexual orientations—which can lead to poorer health outcomes.

SAGE and Pfizer recently collaborated to help improve the health of LGBT older people with a series of “Lunch and Learn” events. Our most recent event featured Matt Kudish of the New York City Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. Read the interview and check out our fact sheet to learn more!

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Matt Kudish addresses the crowd at SAGE

 

Thanks for taking the time to help educate SAGE participants, Matt! It seems like there are some serious misconceptions about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Can you help clarify the difference between the two, for starters? 

Dementia is actually not a disease. Dementia is an umbrella term that talks about a group of symptoms. It's a term used to describe a state of mind where a person is experiencing changes in their memory, thinking, behavior and physical functioning. There are approximately 100 causes of dementia.  Alzheimer's disease is one cause of dementia. Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain that causes brain cells to die. The death of the brain cells it what causes the dementia. So the two are clearly related, but they're not at all the same thing. If someone has Alzheimer's disease, they are experiencing dementia. But if someone is experiencing dementia, the cause may be Alzheimer's or it could be roughly 99 other things. 

At what age do we begin to see more instances of dementia and Alzheimer’s? Or does the onset of these conditions usually happen at different ages? 

The greatest risk factor for developing Alzheimer's is aging, so as we age our risk increases. Today, it is estimated that 1 out of every 9 people over the age of 65 is living with Alzheimer. For every decade after 65 the prevalence doubles, so that when we talk about people 85 and over, we're talking about 1 out of every 3 people living with Alzheimer's. Those figures, however, can lead people to think that Alzheimer's disease is just what happens as we get older.  That could not be further from the truth.   Yes, the disease tends to affect older adults more than younger adults, but Alzheimer's is a disease.  It is not normal aging. If one out of three over the age of 85 have Alzheimer's, 2 out of 3 do not.   

There are cases of younger-onset Alzheimer's, which is when the disease affects someone younger than 65. In some very rare cases the cause is genetics, but genetic Alzheimer's represents only about 1% of people with the disease. It is extremely rare. 

How are LGBT people impacted by, or more vulnerable to, these diseases in particular? Is there a gender disparity in instances of these disease?

In terms of prevalence, being LGBT has no bearing on risk. Frankly, everyone is at risk. If you have a brain, you're at risk for developing Alzheimer's disease.  

We do see more women with the disease than men.   We believe this is largely because women live longer than men.

There are some ethnic groups that are at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's. African Americans and Latinos are twice as likely and one and a half times as likely, respectively, than Caucasians to develop the disease. We believe this is due to the increased risk among these groups of other health issues such as diabetes and hypertension, which also increase ones risk for Alzheimer's. It's important to realize, though, that an increase in risk is not deterministic, meaning that just because your risk is increased does not mean you will develop the disease.        

What are some simple, more manageable preventative measures you might recommend?

Much more research needs to take place in the area of prevention. Currently there is nothing we can do that will, with certainty, prevent the disease. There are things, however, that can reduce one's risk. Heart health is brain health. Anything that is good for the heart is also good for the brain, we should exercise, eat right, and not smoke. It's also important that we keep our brains active and engaged, and challenge ourselves to learn new things. And I mean really challenge yourself! If you speak three languages, don't learn a fourth. Maybe you'll want to learn to play an instrument. Challenging our brains allows new pathways for information to be created which can be helpful.  

Are there any exciting new treatments or findings about these diseases that we should be aware of?

This is an enormous area of research right now, both in the US and across the world. There are many potentially exciting things being looked at. 

The diagnostics have evolved significantly over the last few years, and that's very helpful to the research. Scientists are now starting to look at pre-symptomatic individuals who are likely to develop the disease and exploring what, if any, existing interventions may play a preventive role.  We are learning more and more every day about the disease, and its underlying cause. 

It's important that we become good consumers of information. Be discerning with what you hear and read about foods and supplements. Make sure that the evidence supports your choices so that you are making informed choices. There's a lot of misinformation among the good information and it's important that we pay attention to make sure we know the difference.   

-- Posted by Kira Garcia

March 5, 2015

“I am not anywhere near as out as I used to be”

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SAGE Story is our national digital storytelling program for LGBT older adults that focuses on storytelling as a way to diversify the public narratives on aging, long-term care and LGBT rights. Through the generous support of the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, SAGE Story programs were established at SAGE sites in North Carolina and Pennsylvania to build their capacities as LGBT aging advocates and to collect stories on the ways in which discrimination has affected LGBT older people. To highlight this exciting initiative, we will be featuring a special SAGE Story on this blog once a week for the next three weeks. In addition, be sure to watch all of the amazing stories that our LGBT pioneers share with us on our specific page dealing with discrimination.

This week, we are highlighting Jeanne's Story. Jeanne comes to us from SAGE Wilmington of the Cape Fear Coast. She talks about how different it is living in North Carolina compared to her former home in Connecticut. As she states, "I have learned to be very circumspect about my personal life at work. I just don't talk about it." Watch her story below or on our SAGE Story site.

February 26, 2015

"I Began to Realize the Possible Consequences of Being Outed"

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SAGE Story is our national digital storytelling program for LGBT older adults that focuses on storytelling as a way to diversify the public narratives on aging, long-term care and LGBT rights. Through the generous support of the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, SAGE Story programs were established at SAGE sites in North Carolina and Pennsylvania to build their capacities as LGBT aging advocates and to collect stories on the ways in which discrimination has affected LGBT older people. To highlight this exciting initiative, we will be featuring a special SAGE Story on this blog once a week for the next three weeks. In addition, be sure to watch all of the amazing stories that our LGBT pioneers share with us on our specific page dealing with discrimination.

This week, we are highlighting Dave's Story. Dave comes to us from the Western Pennsylvania SAGE at the Persad Center. He had a career in education where he feared that being outed could jeopardize his job. The acceptance and support of friends, family and his church gave him comfort. Watch his story below or on our SAGE Story site.

 

February 24, 2015

Sounds of Conversation: Bringing Together Our LGBT Older Adults & Youth

In honor of Black History Month, SAGE presents "Sounds of Conversation," a video featuring voices of SAGE Harlem Center participants and youth from community partners, The Ali Forney Center and the Center Youth. These groups all took part in an Intergenerational Storytelling Project sponsored by a grant Keith Haring Foundation.

"Sounds of Conversation," allowed SAGE to bring LGBT older adults and youth together for an artist workshop that allowed each of the participant an opportunity to exchange personal narratives and create a theatrical piece for their respective communities.  The workshops were conducted over a series of Saturdays in the summer of 2014 at the SAGE Center Harlem location. The theatrical piece was performed on September 11th at the Producers Club, which is located within the famed theater district of New York City.  This video highlights the process and the performance of "Sounds of Conversation." To view another video of this workshop, visit our YouTube channel.

February 20, 2015

LBT Cancer Support Group and Wellness Workshops

Wellness Workshop - Marjorie
LCI coordinator, Cristina Moldow, with Marjorie Fein, facilitator of the 1st wellness workshop.

Lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender people (LBT) face unique challenges after receiving a cancer diagnosis. Studies have shown that lower rates of health insurance, fear of discrimination, social isolation, and negative experiences with healthcare providers contribute to an increased risk for cancer among LBT community members. These same risk factors can then negatively impact treatment, recovery, and overall health after a cancer diagnosis. Research has also shown that social support, whether informally through friends and family or formally through group and individual therapy, can have real benefits for those living with a cancer diagnosis. Social support may reduce anxiety, stress, fatigue, depression, and the experience of pain. Support can also improve cancer patient’s follow-through with cancer treatment.

The Center’s Lesbian Cancer Initiative, SAGE, and CancerCare have teamed up to offer an 8-week cycle of free, professionally facilitated support groups and wellness workshops for LBT community members who have, or had, a cancer diagnosis. Whether it’s navigating the medical system or cancer’s effect on sexuality, self-image, and relationships, these groups offer a safe space for participants to get the support they need and share their stories.

The support group and wellness workshops are being held at the newly renovated Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Community Center at 208 West 13th Street. For the first time, a split format is being used. The first hour, 4:30pm-5:30pm, provides psychosocial support and participants are encouraged to attend the full cycle. The second hour, 5:30pm-6:30pm, provides wellness and educational workshops that are facilitated by a new presenter each week and participants are able to come on an as-desired basis. This format allows those who may not be able to make a weekly commitment to still benefit from our services and aids in customizing the wellness workshops to participants’ personal experience of cancer:

Wednesdays, February 4 – March 25

LBT Cancer Support Group 4:30pm-5:30pm

LBT Weekly Wellness Workshop 5:30pm-6:30pm

             February 11: Empowering Cancer Clients with Energy Medicine, with Marjorie Fein

             February 18: Legal Education and Planning, with Erica Gomez, Esq. of The Family Center

             February 25: Contemplative Practice for Cancer Care, with Charles Paccione

             March 4: TBD

             March 11: Gentle Yoga, with Siavonh Lenaburg

             March 18: I Can Breath – Writing for Healing, with Phyllis Stern

             March 25: Cooking for Fun and Healing, with Cook For Your Life

Wellness workshops’ topics and facilitators have been specially selected with the needs of LBT community members in mind. By participating in the support group and/or wellness workshops, LBT community members who are living with a cancer diagnosis will benefit from engaging with a group of people who share similar concerns and experiences. Furthermore, they will be able to engage with a variety of professionals who are culturally competent, attuned to LBT specific health concerns, and willing to engage in conversations with participants that may not happen elsewhere.

If interested in learning more about the support group and wellness workshops, please call 646.556.9294 or visit www.gaycenter.org/lci. Participation is free, but an intake is required. Weekly calendar updates are also available at www.facebook.com/lcithecenter.

 This post was written by Jhia Jackson, Lesbian Cancer Initiative Community Outreach Peer Intern.

February 19, 2015

SAGE Story: Talking About Discrimination

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SAGE Story is our national digital storytelling program for LGBT older adults that focuses on storytelling as a way to diversify the public narratives on aging, long-term care and LGBT rights. Through the generous support of the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, SAGE Story programs were established at SAGE sites in North Carolina and Pennsylvania to build their capacities as LGBT aging advocates and to collect stories on the ways in which discrimination has affected LGBT older people. To highlight this exciting initiative, we will be featuring a special SAGE Story on this blog once a week for the next four weeks. In addition, be sure to watch all of the amazing stories that our LGBT pioneers share with us on our specific page dealing with discrimination.

This week, we are putting the spotlight on Chrissie, a 64-year old lesbian, who worked for nearly 35 for a global accounting firm. It was only in the final 6 years at her job that she found a more welcoming environment after workplace policies and support systems were improved. Chrissie comes to us from the Western Pennsylvania SAGE at Persad Center.