31 posts categorized "SAGE Story"

March 17, 2016

Faith, Hope and Justice: A Conversation With Bishop Tonyia Rawls

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post blog on March 16, 2016. Read the original post here.

By Susan Herr

Held in partnership with the Freedom Center for Social Justice, a day-long SAGE storytelling training in North Carolina recently convened LGBTQ activists, aging service providers, movement builders and faith leaders. SAGE’s Susan Herr sat down with Bishop Tonyia Rawls to talk about the social justice mission of the Freedom Center, founding a church, and becoming an elder in a community of faith.

2016-03-15-1458082691-5718444-TanyiaRawlsSH: The Freedom Center has partnered with SAGE for three years as part of the SAGE Story project. Let’s start by talking about the work of the Freedom Center.

BR: The Freedom Center for Social Justice works at the intersection of race, faith, gender identity/expression and social justice. We are committed to the growth, safety and empowerment of the LGBTQ community. Our mission is accomplished through education, programs, partnerships and advocacy. We have three major programs.

The first is the Do No Harm campaign which asks clergy, public officials and small business owners to sign the Do No Harm Pledge promising that they won’t use religion or religious text to create un- safe spaces or violate the law.

Second is the Transgender Faith and Action Network, which is a social network for trans people of faith and allies. It is currently in the testing stage and will have its national launch in spring 2016. The network will provide resources, research, opportunities for connection and tools to build stronger trans-affirming spaces on the ground. We also host an annual transgender retreat that offers an opportunity for refreshing, learning and strategizing.

Finally, we work with key partners like SAGE, NAACP, Southerners on New Ground, Campus Pride and others who share our vision of a world where equal protections and opportunities exist for all.

SH: I was lucky enough to meet you and to learn more about the Freedom Center at this year’s Storytelling Summit in Charlotte. Tell me about the SAGEStory partnership between Freedom Center and SAGE.

BR: We have captured the stories of more than 30 LGBTQ seniors through these summits, many of which we included in a mini documentary produced by the Freedom Center organizer AJ Williams called “Quiet As It’s Kept.” The majority of participants are people of color. However, the group is diverse. The 2014 and 2015 cohorts went through a 6-week training period and learned the skills needed to not just tell their stories, but to turn those stories into positive change and power.

SH: The keynote speaker for this year’s event was the Reverend Nelson Johnson, Pastor of the Faith Community Church. He described his decades-long journey from homophobia to the leadership role he now uses to counter oppression of LGBT people in some Christian denominations. As a recovering fundamentalist myself, I was moved to tears by his story. Why did you invite him to be the keynote speaker?

BR: One of the things we are committed to is not working in silos. While we are unapologetic about our work with and for LGBTQ people, our general concerns are bigger than that. He may be a Black preacher who once held fundamentalist anti-gay views, but he is also an elder who lives in the South. We have far more in common than not. The only way we can cross those bridges to one another is to be willing to let ours down. Reverend Johnson is committed to justice, period. He is a long-time civil rights activist and has been willing to do the often hard work of self-reflection. I honor that part of him, which is why we invited him to share his journey.

SH: You and your wife Gwen moved to Charlotte from D.C. in 2014 to establish Unity Fellowship Church Movement’s first flock there. The denomination, founded in 1982, was born from a need to minister primarily to LGBT Black people during the height of the AIDS crisis. How is the genesis of Unity Fellowship alive in your church today?

BR: Unity Fellowship Church Charlotte was the first church in the denomination to be established in the Bible Belt. The Founder, Archbishop Carl Bean, established a phrase that “God is Love and Love is For Everyone.” In 2014, I founded Sacred Souls Community Church, which is now entering the United Church of Christ. We have been able to expand our reach to all of the members of our community in a way that looks beyond race, class, land of native birth and any other measure that keeps people marginalized and oppressed.

SH: Do elders play as powerful a role in your church as they do in other faith communities?

BR: Elders are those 45 and older who play a vital role in every aspect of our ministry. In addition to their experience and spiritual depth, they have skills that can come only with time. I have grown to depend on them as a pastor and they are some of our strongest advocates for spiritual and social justice for all.

SH: Do you consider yourself an elder?

BR: My mom died at 58 years old and my grandmother at 56. They were both amazing women who impacted not only my life but the life of so many others who looked to them for wisdom, guidance and support. At 57, I find myself functioning in a similar role. I celebrate my life and appreciate the opportunity I have been given to share my experiences, resources and support to those coming along. I view this role as an elder as one of the highest honors one can hold. I believe the world needs us.

SH: SAGE works to ensure that LGBT older people are represented in a wide array of anti-discrimination efforts across the country. North Carolina, where SAGE has two affiliates in addition to our partnership with the Freedom Center, is one of the states where we have focused our efforts. Do you feel hopeful about North Carolina’s ability to advance policies that protect LGBT people of all ages?

BR: North Carolina is going to surprise many people because we have been working together across lines of difference to stand strong against those forces that seek to distract citizens from the real issues that harm them. We also are holding together to reject the notion that the differences between us far outweigh the needs we have as a state. The Freedom Center is working together with groups as diverse as the Latin American Coalition, Time Out Youth, historically Black colleges and other “unusual suspects” to look at politics, justice, faith and hope through a lens of new possibility. LGBTQ issues are being taken out of the box and now applied to life in general.

Follow Susan Herr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/herrview. Follow #SAGEStoryLGBT on Instagram.

March 7, 2016

SAGE Story: Diversifying Public Narratives on Aging

12841378_10154197993090353_2398435676462151264_oThis week, thanks to the generous support of the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, SAGE Story continues to bring storytelling to LGBT older people around the country to address discrimination and reshape the narrative on aging in America.

Piloted in New York City and expanded to multiple sites in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and other states, SAGE Story draws on the unique life experiences of LGBT elders to diversify the public narratives on aging and LGBT rights. Stories this week include Gwendolyn in North Carolina, who discusses faith and how her relationship with God connects to members of the LGBT community. Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, Shelby shares her struggle with discrimination during her gender transition.

Follow #SAGEStory on social for more stories. To learn more about these and other stories, or to share your story, visit sageusa.org/sagestory.

October 21, 2015

How Do Lack of Discrimination Protections Affect LGBT People & Their Families?

Yesterday at the Persad Center, SAGE, Equality PA and the Center for American Progress released a new series of videos telling the stories of how the lack of discrimination protections in Pennsylvania affects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and their families in Pennsylvania.

Multiple polls show that more than 80% of Pennsylvanians agree that all people, including gay and transgender people, should be protected from discrimination at work, in housing, and in business and government services.  Despite this fact, a majority of Pennsylvanians are unaware that these protections don’t exist at the state or federal level.

The new videos will be used as part of a statewide campaign to educate Pennsylvanians about the PA Fairness Act, which would update the state’s laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity in current discrimination protections.

“People all over the state of Pennsylvania are shocked to learn that there are no basic discrimination protections for gay or transgender people in the workplace, housing, or business or government services at the state or federal level. That’s why we are working with our partners SAGE and Center for American Progress to educate the people of Pennsylvania and encourage them to take action,” said, Levana Layendecker, Deputy Director of Equality PA.

Michael Adams, Chief Executive Officer of SAGE, explained, “A growing body of research --and SAGE's experience nationwide -- decisively demonstrates how difficult it is for LGBT older people to find appropriate housing. For example, a national study last year documented that an astonishing 44% of LGBT older people applying for ‘senior housing’ face discrimination just because of who they are.”  

The videos are available online and are being viewed in a series of watch parties around Pennsylvania where hundreds of attendees will view the videos and write letters to their state legislators. If you would like to take part or interested in learning more, please contact Levana Layendecker at llayendecker@equalitypa.org.

 

 

March 12, 2015

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

SAGEStorySmall

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 5, 2015

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

SAGEStorySmall

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"

SAGEStorySmall

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 19, 2015

SAGE Story: Talking About Discrimination

SAGEStorySmall

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.

October 2, 2014

First Comes Love

Storytelling is an integral part of SAGE's national work and we use our SAGE Story program to strengthen the storytelling skills—and draw on the unique life experiences of—LGBT older adults to diversify the public narratives on aging, long-term care and LGBT rights. One storyline that continues to resonate in our community is that of love, committment and, sometimes, marriage.

In honor of celebrating these relationships, SAGE is excited for the release of First Comes Love: Portraits of Enduring LGBTQ Relationships from photographer Barbara Proud. This book highlights photos and love stories of 65 long-term same-sex couples, together from 10 to 59 years. Watch the trailer below for a few of these couples' amazing stories and feel free to share your own with SAGE

First Comes Love from B. Proud on Vimeo.

September 12, 2014

Moving Non-discrimination Protections through Storytelling

SAGE Story is a national digital storytelling program for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) elders. The initiative brings together 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.

This collaboration is designed to capture the critical voice of LGBT elders on LGBT equality advocacy struggles—from efforts to pass state and local nondiscrimination laws, to policy initiatives for relationship recognition, to campaigns to encourage pro-equality public opinion.

To prepare them to lead this work, our LGBT aging advocates will receive a custom training in non-discrimination messaging and framing from Jace Woodrum, Director of Communications for the Gill Foundation and Roey Thorpe, Director of Advocacy Programs for the Equality Federation. The training is based on new research, conducted by the Equality Federation and the Movement Advancement Project.

Recently, SAGE's Serena Worthington, Director of National Field Initiatives, spoke with Jace Woodrum to learn more.  

Jace-Woodrum-Headshot-for-BlogCan you tell me a bit about the research process?

When we do polling around non-discrimination laws both in local communities, state-wide and at the national level, we see high levels of support, oftentimes in the 70th and 80th percentile, but when we get into the midst of a campaign around non-discrimination—our opponents use some very hurtful scare tactics to stir up concerns in the public which can make it tough to keep the support that we start with. Our research is focused on understanding the real concerns people have and developing messaging that helps people navigate those concerns and remain supportive.

How was the research conducted?

The process began with one-on-one interviews with LGBT people to understand their experiences of discrimination. Then, we went into some exploratory focus groups to learn about how people think about non-discrimination laws. Over the course of the project, we honed in on trans issues, and we also looked separately at employment non-discrimination and housing and public accommodations. We have done dozens and dozens of focus groups, polls, and some online surveys as well.

Why is this project important?

We know that we are making, as a movement, huge advances on marriage, but our progress on non-discrimination has stalled at the state-wide level. Advancing non-discrimination laws and ensuring basic legal protections for LGBT people is critical because even as we’re winning marriage, our community still faces discrimination, especially transgender people who are especially vulnerable to unfair treatment at work and in our communities. Once we secure the freedom to marry nationwide, it’s only going to get more complicated. For example, we are seeing this play out right now in Pennsylvania, a state that has marriage equality but doesn’t have critical non-discrimination protections.

What are some key ways that framing and messaging have changed based on research?

For years, we talked about marriage as a set of rights and benefits that same-sex couples wanted to access. Then, through research, we learned that our way of talking about marriage as a set of critical rights was not building support among the public and was not accurately depicting why same-sex couples wanted to marry: for love and commitment. So we shifted our messaging, and we’ve seen huge gains in public opinion and in the number of states allowing same-sex couples to share in the freedom to marry. We’ve had similar breakthroughs from this non-discrimination research project, and we’re learning more and more everyday.

SAGE Story is funded by the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund

North Carolina Sites

SAGE Raleigh at the LGBT Community Center of Raleigh
SAGE Wilmington of the Cape Fear Coast
The Freedom Center for Social Justice


Pennsylvania Sites
SAGE Western Pennsylvania at Persad Center
SAGE Philadelphia at William Way LGBT Community Center

--Posted by Serena Worthington, Director of National Field Initiatives. Follow her at @SerenaWorthy

February 11, 2014

Four Amazing Women of Color Share Their Stories

In honor of February being African American History Month, SAGE will be highlighting our diverse programs, constituents and stories relevant to black aging. Check back for featured stories every Tuesday, with additional posts throughout the month.

Our stories connect us and allow us to share common bonds through the use of words, pictures, music and video. Today, we would like to share stories from four African American women from around the country. Each of their voices and stories are different, but all share the desire for recognition and hope for the future. If you have a story to share, please tell us by visiting our SAGE Story portal on the SAGE website.

Cheryl & Elizabeth, SAGE Wilmington of the Cape Fear Coast, North Carolina
The two tell us about how despite growing up in faith-based traditions that did not affirm their being lesbians, they somehow met at church. They explain how their faith joined them together and how 10 years later, they are still together and still in church and are accepted in their community!


FrancesFrances, SAGE Harlem, New York City
Frances, 72, is a lover of Zumba and food! She shares her experience of having a stroke and how her lover of 20 years was so supportive and caring of her in the hospital. She wants women to know that they have the power and strength to get better after a debilitating situation such as herself. Listen to her story, recorded in 2013 for SAGE Story, below.

 


Helena Bushong2Helena, SAGE Center on Halsted, Chicago
Helena, a transgender older adult diagnosed with HIV, shares her powerful story in a wonderful essay. She writes, "the most important thing I learned in accepting myself as transgender and also living with HIV/AIDS was about stigma.  I realized that my fear of disclosing my HIV/AIDS status was extremely unhealthy and only contributed to my loneliness and isolation, and would cause me to indeed die faster." Read an excerpt below and the whole story here.

My name is Helena and I am a 60-year-old transgender female living with HIV. I am not a victim. An HIV/AIDS diagnosis is NOT a death sentence, but is similar to living with breast cancer or diabetes, which through some lifestyle changes, are manageable diseases.

I was diagnosed with HIV and AIDS in 2002, and was told I would not live more than six months, and at best, a year. Along with my doctors, I believe that I was a "late tester," meaning because I was diagnosed with AIDS—a late stage infection—and not HIV, I likely contracted HIV 15 to 20 years before showing any sign or symptoms. Because people can carry HIV/AIDS asymptomatically, it is important to be tested on a regular basis to avoid a late test and spreading the disease.

Read her whole story here.