This year’s theme for Older Americans Month is “Get into the Act.” Although unintended, the theme made me think of how often LGBT older adults have had to “act” throughout their lives – whether it was living in the closet growing-up in a time and place when it was not acceptable to be out – or the unfortunate number who feel compelled to go back into the closet as they get older and enter places where they feel more vulnerable and don’t feel safe or comfortable being out. The bottom line, of course, is that after spending a lifetime of trying to get out of the closet, LGBT older adults have earned the right to grow older in places where they don’t need to act straight and/or cis-gender, but where they can be their authentic selves.
The Older Americans Act (OAA) is turning 50 this year. It serves as the country's leading vehicle for delivering services to older people nationwide, providing more than $2 billion annually in nutrition and social services. Since its enactment, the OAA has aimed to ensure that older people have the supports they need to age in good health and with broad community support. And what better time to look at the act and celebrate all that it has accomplished to enable all older adults, including LGBT older adults, to grow old and age with independence, dignity, and respect in their own communities.
It’s also a good time to consider that this primary vehicle for the delivery of supports and services to older adults makes no mention of LGBT older adults. Due to be reauthorized, SAGE is mindful that at some point in the near future, whether it’s through administrative change or legislative change, it’s necessary for this all-important piece of aging legislation to explicitly include LGBT older adults. This means, among other things, that through data collection, we might once and for all come to understand the degree to which aging programs and services are reaching and meeting the needs of LGBT older adults. And to the extent LGBT older adults are not being reached, by having targeting language, the aging network will need to step up to the plate and target services and supports to LGBT older adults.
The goal of the Older Americans Act, is in part, to reach those who are most vulnerable. Unfortunately, LGBT older adults all too often fit the bill. As we celebrate Older Americans Month it’s time for the Older Americans Act to ensure that LGBT older adults will no longer need to act, but can be their authentic selves, and get the services and supports they need. Interested in making your voice heard? Fill out our survey on LGBT voices that we'll be taking to The White House in July for the White House Conference on Aging!
This post was written by Aaron Tax, SAGE's Director of Federal Policy.
Before attending a SAGEWorks workshop on April 8, The Soul Search before the Job Search, I was curious how career advice in a LGBT-welcoming and inclusive environment would be different. It’s not.
What is different is the feeling of support and understanding. This is the same reason I go to a gay doctor. Straight doctors are probably qualified but I’m less likely to go to one because of my fear of being judged. (The last time I went to a straight doctor, I needed to explain the Black Party so my allergic reaction to a rubber mask could be put into context.)
There were only a few reminders that the SAGE workshop was geared toward LGBT-folk: for example, Dr. Howard Leifman, a nationally renowned career coach, likened the necessity to evolve and reinvent yourself to Madonna’s many incarnations. Vogue!
To help attendees decide what the heck we’re going to do with the rest of our lives, we were asked to complete the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) before the workshop. This tool helps you discover what kind of work is best suited for your personality traits. My MBTI® is an ESFP (Extroverted, Sensing, Feeling, Perceiving), which means I’m ideally suited to be Auntie Mame. Wish me luck.
Being nosey, I scanned the attendees. All genders, sexual orientations and ages were represented with people in their 40s, 50s, 60s and even 80s. While we came from diverse backgrounds and experiences, we were universally disappointed to discover our job hunting skills were very 2004. Sending resumes blindly is out, building a network is in. After all, 80 percent of job placements are the result of a personal or professional connection--so learning how to “work your network” is critical. SAGEWorks can show you exactly how to do that in any of its upcoming workshops or in its two-week employment boot camp this June.
Being only 45-years and 22-days old, and pretty tech savvy, I was surprised to find out how out of touch I was with effective job searching. In 1992, when I last pounded the pavement in earnest, I printed 50 resumes on heavy-stock light-grey stone-textured paper I selected lovingly at The Paper Warehouse. Dr. Leifman will explain how you can stand-out in a sea of job applicants (hint, it’s not by selecting heavy-stock light-grey stone-textured paper from The Paper Warehouse). With so much that’s new to know, I was especially as grateful for Leifman’s expertise as I was for his Madonna references.
-- Jeff Stein, Communications Consultant, SAGEWorks
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!