Today’s post is from Robert Espinoza, Senior Director for Public Policy and Communications at SAGE. Follow him on Twitter.
When I began my role at SAGE nearly four years ago,
I sensed the tipping point that SAGE had animated—and which would eventually
transform the field of LGBT aging.
In April 2010, I was hired to create and oversee
SAGE's national policy advocacy program. As the Baby Boomer generation entered
retirement age, aging advocates were increasingly discussing the implications
of a quickly aging country. LGBT aging issues were becoming more salient—thanks
in large part to SAGE’s leadership, organizations such as the National Gay and
Lesbian Task Force, and the work of local advocates around the country—yet LGBT
aging remained largely marginalized in the policy discourse and in the broader
In response, SAGE had steadily built the
infrastructure to imagine the large-scale, national strategies that millions of
LGBT older people deserved. In the months prior to my arrival, SAGE issued a
report on LGBT older adults, in partnership with a few
leading national organizations. It opened an office in Washington, DC; joined
the influential Leadership
Council of Aging Organizations as its only LGBT
organization; and received a
federal grant from the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services to seed the creation of what would later become SAGE’s National Resource Center on
Our political charge then was to make policy issues
visible and relevant to leaders in government, the aging field and the LGBT
rights movement. Our charge was to begin changing the representations of what
it means to age as LGBT people. We sought transformational change.
This summer, as SAGE celebrates five years of
achievements under the previous strategic plan, I reflect on what has changed politically
for LGBT elders.
are seven ways in which SAGE dramatically improved the policy conversation—and
the political realities—for LGBT older people over the last few years:
heightened visibility of LGBT aging in the policy discourse.
Through our leadership on reauthorization of the Older Americans Act (OAA)—developing
analysis, holding Congressional
briefings, persuading the aging
network to support our goals, and more—SAGE brought
considerable attention to the omission of LGBT elders from the OAA, which
awards more than $2 billion annually to aging services nationwide, yet
allocates very little to LGBT aging. Currently less than $2 million of OAA
funding reaches LGBT aging programs. In May of this year, a
bill was introduced to make the OAA more inclusive of LGBT
people—a top policy goal for SAGE as reauthorization heats up.
and original knowledge on the wide array of policy barriers facing LGBT older people.
Since SAGE released our first major policy report in early 2010, we continue to
highlight policy remedies for addressing the challenges facing LGBT elders,
including landmark reports on transgender
security and health
equity, among others. In 2011, we partnered with the
National Academy on an Aging Society to produce an LGBT
aging-themed issue of Public Policy &
Aging Report, marking the first time a mainstream
aging organization issued a comprehensive policy report on LGBT aging.
stronger grassroots infrastructure of local and state organizations that engage
and advocate with LGBT older people. The grassroots
centerpiece of SAGE’s advocacy program is SAGENet,
our network of local and state affiliates around the country. Since January
2010, SAGENet has grown remarkably—from 14 to 24 affiliates (a 71 percent
increase). These local advocates in every region of the country provide
critical services to LGBT older people in their communities and advocate for
policy change. In 2011, many of these leaders launched statewide efforts to
secure Medicaid protections for same-sex couples as part of SAGE’s multi-state
visible aging field that addresses LGBT issues and champions our efforts.
In 2011, SAGE was a prominent player in the first-ever White
House LGBT Conference on Aging. Additionally, our
partnership-approach has influenced aging leaders to take public stances on
LGBT issues—from a series of widely distributed LGBT-supportive
recommendations from the Leadership Council on Aging
Organizations, to a media
event showcasing the aging network's support of marriage equality
(weeks before the historic SCOTUS
opinions), to a Congressional
briefing on marginalized elders with the country’s
leading aging organizations working in communities of color—and more.
firm spotlight on racial inequality and its effects on LGBT elders of color.
Our involvement in the Diverse
Elders Coalition (DEC) has focused attention on the
shared barriers facing marginalized communities as they age: widespread
discrimination, housing and employment insecurity, a dearth in government funding,
and more. SAGE helped launch a website on these barriers and issued an original
report. And in April of this year, as part of National
Minority Health Awareness Month, we released a policy report on the health
issues facing LGBT elders of color, which reached the
wide array of national advocates working in health, aging, LGBT rights and
representations of LGBT older people in the media and in social change
advocacy. The number of news stories on LGBT aging has surged
since 2010, reflecting the growing visibility of these issues, as well as the
dedicated attention that SAGE has placed in reshaping the media narrative. Our
large-scale marketing campaigns have reached millions and won multiple awards
and the International
Academy of the Visual Arts. In January 2013, SAGE launched SAGE
Story, a national digital storytelling and advocacy program
for LGBT elders, funded generously by the AARP Foundation. And our online
presence has exploded; today SAGE reaches more 70,000 people online per month—up
from 6,000 people per month in January 2010.
policies that better support LGBT older people, and ultimately, their physical
and material conditions. Our ultimate goal is to change the public
policies that govern our lives. SAGE maintains a year-by-year listing of
these policy achievements on our website, which includes multiple
policy wins in areas such as Social Security, Medicaid, HIV and aging, and federal
definitions of "greatest social need," among many others. This work
is made possible by dedicated SAGE staff
and our national
Our policy successes in the last few years are
impressive and wide-reaching—but work remains to be done. In September of this
year, SAGE will unveil its new strategic plan for the next three years, and
I'll offer a preview of the policy goals we seek to achieve in that time frame.
In the meantime, here’s a toast to everyone who
supported our advocacy vision, helping make our aging realities more hopeful. Here’s
a toast to LGBT older people, who helped our movements pave the way. And here’s
a toast to achieving progress and sparking change.
Stay tuned—we’ve only just begun.
more about SAGE’s successes over the last five years in our latest issue of SAGEMatters.