is by Nayoung Woo, who was placed at SAGE in spring 2013 through the Coro
Fellows Program. She interviewed a number of LGBT couples for a SAGE Story marriage
equality project. Nayoung’s experience illustrates the power of stories to move
people on important issues. We hope after reading her story, you’re inspired to
share your own—and now’s the perfect time to do it. SAGE has launched a
nationwide contest to gather stories that relate how LGBT older people combat
and conquer isolation, building the support systems we all need to age well. Enter today!
On my first day at SAGE, I ran into Pat and Barbara. An hour
later, I found that they had so captivated my attention and imagination with
the story about how they had met that I was squatting on the floor with a
painful case of pins and needles in both feet.
At one point in the conversation, Barbara asked me how old I was,
and when I answered, “23,”she pointed at her shoes and said, “My shoes are
older than you!" Everyone within hearing distance at The SAGE Center cracked up.
That is the memory of SAGE that I will carry with me: of people who lived
through magical relationships, both told and untold, and embraced all aspects
of their identities, from being LGBT to being older.
But I also know that implied in that rose-colored memory are the
pains of a collective that has fought for basic human rights for almost a
lifetime, and even after that. For the sake of the legacy they have left me, where
I can freely use the words "my partner" without fear of physical harm
or legal offense, I will not only remember, but also take action.
Lynne & Cathy
For example, as a Christian, even though I had been an LGBT
activist for a while, I had gone back and forth on the notion of same-sex
marriage. I would see friends who would, and already do, make the best of
spouses and parents, but the Word of God would always stare at me point blank
in the face. But one day in April, I took a phone call interview for SAGE, and
sobbed through almost an entire hour along with the interviewee, Lynne. She
recalled for me the recent
experience of losing her partner, and then losing most of the belongings
and savings they had gathered together because federal law did not (yet) recognize
their decades-long relationship.
After that phone call, I had to change how I thought about basic
human rights: no God would have wanted such unfair and unnecessary suffering.
When Section 3 of DOMA was eventually repealed in June, I celebrated
full-heartedly, for the first time without any guilt from my faith, and I
leveraged my conversation to educate and convince other Christians about the
importance of legal, and perhaps in the future clerical, recognition of
In small ways, I took action on my own belief system and of those
around me for the sake of the pains that I learned about just by being around SAGE
constituents. Now I can no longer consider marriage equality or other LGBT
aging issues as contrary or irrelevant to me.
My hope is that I continue to collect valuable stories about a
population that has, arguably, some of the richest stories to tell, and that
one day I will no longer hear from the interviewees a short pause, a slight
sigh, possibly accompanied with a forced grin, saying, "It is how it is,"
and "What can you do?" Rather, I want to hear more thundering and
laughing, much as Barbara had done when she told me how she met Pat, because all
their wisdom, survival, courage (and knitting) should be held with great
Nayoung Woo served SAGE as a Coro
Fellow in Public Affairs and is currently a Master's in Public Health Candidate
at Columbia University.