31 posts categorized "Transgender"

November 30, 2016

Yet We Rise: Remembering to Fight on Transgender Day of Remembrance—and Every Day

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By Pat Lin

Renée Imperato, lifelong transgender activist and SAGE participant, began the closing of SAGE’s Transgender Day of Remembrance ceremony with a wry yet passionate call to action. “Greetings to my collaborators in the enlightenment of the human condition,” Imperato said. “That should cover it. At least 5 genders of the Native People.” Sniffles and solemn faces filled the room, but the transgender elders present insisted on fighting as well as mourning, moving forward as well as remembering.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance was started by trans advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith as a vigil to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed in 1998. The vigil commemorated all the trans people lost to violence that year — an important memorial that later became the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Facilitated by Applied Theatre coordinators Christian Appel and Shanti Rose, the SAGE community used practices of ritual, performance and community organizing to plan this year’s ceremony. “All the ideas we had coming this year came directly from trans women,” said Appel. “We tried to make as many decisions be up to them. That is critical.”

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The ceremony began with readings of the biographies of those lost to violence. Participants discussed at length the themes they wanted to explore. Topics ranged from heavy to hopeful, from suicide as another prominent form of violence within the transgender community, to a reading of trans milestones in 2016.

As participants rose to give thanks, prayers, dedications and affirmations, mentions of the recent election permeated the room. Though worried, participants remained upbeat. “We have the 2nd man in charge who believes in conversion therapy. Well, I’ve converted,” participant Victoria Rose proclaimed to uproarious laughter. “And then we also have transitional therapy. Well I’ve transitioned, honey. I want you to humor me. We’re celebrating these people’s lives. Let’s not cry because I see myself in each and everybody here.”

The ceremony ended on a striking note with a fiery call to action. Imperato invoked the names of pioneering trans activists, such as Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Leslie Feinberg and more. She emphasized the intersectional component that’s so important to genuine progress, and mentioned the growing number of trans women of color in leadership positions. “If we don’t have that, we'll never be free. You’ll never be free until you shed free the chains of oppression that chain us all but they just chain people of color even more. Justice is coming. Oh, it’s coming. And when she gets here she’s going to be pissed off. So don’t mourn! Don’t cry! Fight back!”

Transition Anxiety

This post originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of SAGEMatters, and was later published by The Huffington Post, here.

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From L-R: Mara Keisling, Executive Director, National Center for Transgender Equality, Kate Kendell, Executive Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights and Carmen Vazquez, Coordinator, LGBT Health & Human Services Unit for the New York State Department of Heath’s AIDS Institute

As we come to the end Transgender Awareness Month, SAGE CEO Michael Adams shares an illuminating conversation he had early this fall with lesbian and transgender rights leaders about identity, inclusion and a movement in transition.

Michael Adams: Kate, in recent months, as more trans older people are getting involved in SAGE, we’ve had pushback from a small number of constituents who believe that transwomen should not take part in programs SAGE provides specifically for women and lesbians. In essence, they argue that transwomen haven’t had the same gender experiences as cisgender women, given their different life histories and relationships with patriarchy, and that including transwomen in this programming denies cisgender women the ability to share their experiences with others like them. As a long-time feminist and the head of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), what is your take on these arguments?

Kate Kendell: A dialogue about where there is allyship and commonality versus where there is difference is the place we should come from. All women, transgender or cisgender, approach any conversation in any space based on their own experiences. Rich women, whether cisgender or transgender, do not have the same experience around gender or patriarchy as poor women. Women of color do not have the same experience around misogyny, patriarchy and sexism as white women. It’s important that we do not have an oppression test, or some sort of code that you must conform to in order to be in a conversation as a woman. Approaching the conversation where women are open to accepting different perspectives is the way to overcome a sense of difference or alienation from each other. For example, some women of privilege may have blind spots, where they don’t understand the nuances of patriarchy. These blind spots exist for both cisgender and transgender women. In order for the space to feel open for all, there should be a cultural competency conversation about understanding how people come from different places.

Adams: Carmen, do these arguments surprise you? As a longtime activist and community intellectual, what’s your perspective?

Carmen Vazquez: It doesn’t surprise me at all. As a person who does not identify as transgender but is a gender-nonconforming person, I have been the target of individuals who have used my female masculinity as a counter to my feminism. I understand the places where some of these women come from. But I agree with Kate that a conversation about alliance and where we have commonality in terms of sexism in this society is much more useful than a conversation about differences. It’s really important that there be a way of understanding the place where these women live. I don’t know who they are or what level of privilege they come from, but there’s a conversation about gender that is very different from the conversation about the patriarchy 40 years ago. There is a desire to hang on to a perspective that isn’t looking at the reality of what our LGBT conversation and community is about in terms of gender.

We have to remember a time when “lesbian” wasn’t even a part of the lexicon. And we should remind our sisters of what it took to get to that place—the struggle with society to whom we were completely invisible. I certainly understand the necessity of bringing some intersectional analysis— also because I am a woman of color. We need to pay attention to what these women fear they will lose if they are in a place with transgender women.

Adams: Mara, SAGE’s organizational philosophy is that anybody who identifies as a woman is welcome in women’s programming, anybody who identifies as a lesbian is welcome in lesbian programming, and that we will not excludetrans people from any programming for which they otherwise qualify. NCTE is on the front lines of these kinds of conversations every day. Do we have it right, or is this approach and our thinking overly simplistic?

Mara Keisling: It’s easy to fall victim to a kind of transition anxiety—“transition” in the sense that society is changing. There is a new America emerging, and we’ve all been hesitant to say that because we’re afraid to face this transition anxiety. There are people who wouldn’t have been welcome in the world before who we want to make room for now. And that makes some people uncomfortable. Just when you think you’ve found your place in society, society changes again. And we’re seeing this now within the trans movement, and the trans communities (plural) where what it means to be trans is shifting constantly.

I don’t think your approach is too simplistic, unless you think it can be static. Because it feels like, at least for the foreseeable future, that nothing static will survive. Not only is society changing but the rules for how society changes are changing, and that’s exciting—when you can actually have a part in changing the rules. That’s where we can make some really big societal differences. Sometimes it’s hard as a marginalized person to be sensitive to other marginalized people, but we have a lot in common. No matter which group of us you separate out and look at specifically, that group is really not homogeneous at all. I think being as welcoming as possible will always be the right thing.

Adams: Kate and Carmen both noted this notion of the value of looking for the spaces of alliance and commonality for dialogue and discussion. I’m wondering, have any of you seen examples of similar situations that started in a fierce and oppositional place but ultimately became conversations that focus on alliance and commonality?

Vazquez: Part of the problem we have, and some- thing I think we are moving away from, is that ours has been an identity-based politics forever, not a politics framed by human rights. When things center on identity and people feel that their identity is somehow being trampled on or taken away, they get defensive. That needs to change. To give you an example of where I thought a successful transition was made is what used to be called the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center. When we were in the process of rebranding in 1994, we focused on our core ideals, vision and values (which included inclusion). It became increasingly clear that we could not say that those were our core values unless we changed our name to be inclusive of an emerging community that needed an enormous amount of support and a space to claim as its own. We did eventually become the LGBT Community Services Center. That was an important process to go through.

We cannot underestimate the importance of shifting the conversation away from identity and towards what our vision is of an inclusive SAGE or an inclusive movement, and what role all of us play in creating that space for inclusion of transgender people. Not just a support group here and there but to have transgender people woven into the fabric of SAGE as an organization. Also, when we talk about SAGE, it’s an organization about people dealing with oppression on the basis of age. That is some- thing that’s common to all older women. A politics of gender and sexual rights is something SAGE should champion and be at the forefront of.

Keisling: What Carmen just said is so important. We have so many different kinds of oppression we have to battle right now. We should be trying to eliminate the oppression and not each other. That should always be the goal—to start thinking about the oppressions and not the identities.

Kendell: Also, sexism and misogyny exist so deeply for a queer-identified people. If we can make the world safe for a transgender woman of color in some small rural town, then lesbian, gay and bisexual people will be far better off. Recognizing the enemy of our liberation as the same enemy of transgender individuals puts us in a much better place now than we were when this conversation started.

Adams: Kate, you’ve been the head of the National Center for Lesbian Rights since 1996. Currently at NCLR what are the trans projects that are front and center in your mind, and where do you hope to be in the near future?

Kendell: One question we always ask at NCLR is: who is being left behind? The second question is: what kind of country do we want to live in? Neither is particularly driven by identity. Although the first one is connected to identity to some degree, because in a nation that still has white supremacy at its core—and racism obviously still entrenched everywhere, and transphobia and homophobia—I think there is still a place for understanding that there will be individuals whose very identity makes them more of a target for oppression.

November 14, 2016

SAGEMatters Fall 2016: Lives of Boundless Opportunities

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SAGEMatters Fall 2016: Lives of Boundless Opportunities

As we share the latest SAGEMatters with you, we are living through a period of unprecedented change. Perhaps nothing reminds us of this more sharply than this year’s high-stakes elections, which have turned long-standing political and social assumptions on their heads.

This theme of change runs powerfully through the features in this issue of SAGEMatters. Inside, you’ll find George Takei’s take on personal evolution; learn how Jeffrey Erdman has taken the LA leather scene by storm in his 50s; and follow an inspiring conversation with Kate Kendell, Mara Keisling and Carmen Vazquez about the changing landscape of gender identity. You’ll also learn how the federal government (after a lot of pushing by SAGE) is moving to transform publicly-funded aging services to make them more LGBT-friendly. Join us in celebrating the realization of a decades-long dream for our communities in New York City, as SAGE announces the construction of the first two LGBTfriendly elder housing communities in the Big Apple. And so much more.

This time of great change and evolution sets the stage for the launch of SAGE’s new strategic plan. The overriding goal of the plan is to dramatically expand the impact of SAGE’s work so that LGBT people can grow older with boundless opportunities for growth and enrichment. We believe that we can achieve this transformative vision by tapping into our legacy of “taking care of our own,” by building ties across generations, by encouraging communities to become LGBT age-friendly and by convincing partners of all kinds to get involved. This issue of SAGEMatters includes a special feature on our new plan—we hope you’ll be as excited as we are.

For me, all of this has a special personal significance as I celebrate my 10th anniversary at the helm of this amazing organization. I’m so proud of the great progress that we have made together on behalf of our LGBT elder pioneers. And I’m tremendously passionate about the next chapter of SAGE’s work.

I know that as you read through this latest SAGEMatters it will be even clearer to you why SAGE’s efforts matter more than ever. Let’s keep working together so that all LGBT elders have the support they need to live lives of boundless opportunity.

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Michael Adams
Chief Executive Officer

SAGEMatters is the biannual magazine of Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE). View and download the expanded Fall 2016 issue here.

October 7, 2016

PBS Takes a Look at the Most Intimate of Transformations

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On Monday, October 10, PBS will premiere From This Day Forward, a moving story by filmmaker Sharon Shattuck that documents her father’s transition from male to female. In the film, Shattuck reflects on her family history and its ability to change, adapt and survive.

Viewers can join in on social media with #FromThisDayForwardPBS following the program for a discussion with the filmmaker and producer. SAGE and Family Equality Council will join the conversation with additional context and resources.

Transgender people face discrimination and uncertainty on a daily basis in housing, healthcare and at work. According to SAGE’s Out and Visible report, 65% of transgender older people surveyed fear they will be denied medical treatment as they age. When searching for housing, 1 in 4 transgender older people reports discrimination on the basis of their gender identity, and 1 in 3 transgender older people fear they will not have the same employment opportunities if they identify openly at work.

This fall, From This Day Forward will be available to communities, organizations and campuses across the nation. For a list of upcoming screenings or to host a screening of your own, visit fromthisdayforwardfilm.com. Check your local listings at pbs.org, and thanks to POV for sharing this important film!

Do you think #TransIsBeautiful? See what happens when trans people of all ages come together.

June 14, 2016

Building Intergenerational LGBTQ AAPI Communities

This post originally appeared on the Diverse Elders Coalition blog on May 25, 2016. Read the original post here.

By Vega Subramaniam

I find myself attending LGBTQ Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) events with less and less frequency over time. At one point, queer AAPI community events made up most of my calendar; now, hardly at all. Part of it is that other activities and responsibilities occupy my time, including family responsibilities. Part of it is that my tastes have changed – I am now much happier spending an evening with a few friends at home rather than going out. And speaking of going out: part of it is my lifestyle has changed. I was recently invited to an event that started at 10:00 p.m.! I mean, who does that?! Oh, right, I did, once upon a time.

And to be frank, part of it is that being the oldest person in the room over and over again takes a toll. I recently went on a search for my AAPI lesbian/bi/trans elders, and I (re)discovered how few of us there are, who are out and over 50. And over 60? Forget it. Like, count-on-two-hands few. Hardly what you could call critical mass.

At the same time, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people who are young, queer, and AAPI yearn for a connection to their elders and their histories, to know that others came before them and they’re not alone, and to learn from our experiences. Current leaders of LGBTQ AAPI groups are reassured to learn that the challenges and schisms they face now are the same ones we faced years and decades ago. OK, maybe reassured and also supremely frustrated.

So then I wonder where my compadres are. Well, they’re probably spending a quiet evening at home, or taking care of household and family responsibilities. Maybe sleeping. And circling back to those challenges and schisms I mentioned, probably as weary of the scene as I get sometimes.

There are inevitable constraints on what kinds of spaces naturally lend themselves to multigenerational participation (event start times, for example!). Our respective interests, frustrations, preoccupations are quite different from each other’s. Our cultural cues sometimes feel worlds apart.

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And as with any intergenerational space, opportunities to misunderstand and be misunderstood abound. We each feel that we know better, that we’re right, that the other should listen and learn from us. We each feel the pain and invisibility of ageism.

That said, it’s pretty clear that there’s a desire, on all sides, to have multigenerational spaces. We all light up when we spend quality time with people of different generations. There’s no question that multigenerational spaces support all of us – I’d even go so far as to say we need them for our survival as an LGBTQ AAPI community.

The International Longevity Centre-UK’s “Intergenerational Projects for the LGBT Community” toolkit outlines the many benefits of such spaces:

  • Provide a space where young people can talk to older people about common experiences (such as coming out).
  • Provide role models for younger LGBT people by meeting older people who are comfortable and confident in their identity and who are simultaneously successful in their working lives and personal relationships.
  • Provide a space where any negative generational perceptions can be challenged. Some younger participants in the projects reported that they held negative views of older LGBT people before the projects began. From the perspective of older LGBT people, the projects allow older LGBT people to learn about the diversity of sexual and gender identities that exist among younger LGBT people.
  • Help prevent and overcome a relatively high degree of loneliness and social isolation among older and younger LGBT people, by bringing them together.
  • Provide an alternative forum for debate and support for younger and older LGBT people to discuss their common needs as service users and the discrimination or barriers they may face in accessing services.
  • Provide a space where older people can interact socially with younger people and improve the confidence of older people in communicating with younger people, which may be of particular value given that service providers are likely to be of a younger generation.
  • Provide a useful way of bringing different identities across the LGBT spectrum together, where historically projects may have worked with one group in isolation.
  • Allow younger LGBT people to learn about LGBT history directly from older people, which can lead to a greater appreciation of the liberties currently often taken for granted, and also highlight the challenges that remain.
  • Provide a method for strengthening the visibility of the LGBT community in wider societal terms. Bringing older and younger people together to work on a community project can highlight the diversity, but also the cohesiveness of the LGBT community, to the wider community.
  • Help participants understand, construct, and share their experiences of identifying as LGBT.

We’re seeing more intentional work to create intergenerational spaces, in projects ranging from LGBTQ Allyship’s Conversations Across Generationsto UC San Diego’s Intergenerational Dialogue.

While it’s heartening to see more groups and communities working to build those spaces (and even a toolkit specifically for this!), few are geared toward the AAPI community. The API Equality-Northern California’s Dragon Fruit Project, an intergenerational oral history project, offers a wonderful place to share our stories, house our legacies, and learn from one another. We’ve also seen other efforts at local levels to offer multigenerational gatherings and learning opportunities.

 

I’d also promote intergenerational co-mentorship programs, ones that foster what Suzanne Pharr calls “the fundamental belief that we are all people of worth. Its methods are asking questions and listening intently and respectfully for the answers. Where it leads us is toward the sometimes illusive dream of equality and justice – which can contain all our best ideas without requiring an age i.d.” We all can use some retooling of our toolkits, like learning to ask questions and listen intently about how concepts of race and gender have changed over the years and how those changes affect our experiences as people who are L, G, B, T, and /or Q.

Ultimately, my hope is that as we do approach a critical mass of out LGBTQ AAPI seniors, we increasingly build intentional intergenerational spaces, until they’re so organically embedded that we no longer have to work at it or even think about it.

Watch and share the recent video of SAGE’s Transgenerational Theater Project, where trans people of all ages come together and create.

May 31, 2016

Connecting Across Generations

By Timothy Wroten

Jay Kallio gained nationwide visibility in 2012 when he shared his story about navigating the healthcare system as a transgender man living with breast cancer. Now in the midst of a new battle, Jay talks about how a younger community of activists has connected him to newfound strength and courage.

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Photo Credit: Rosa Goldensohn/DNAinfo.com

Timothy Wroten: Earlier this year, you were diagnosed with a new condition: terminal lung cancer. Many of us would have given up. Where were you at this point?

Jay Kallio: Most terminal cancer patients go through a process called “purging” where they start giving away their possessions. I found myself doing the same thing through the “Queer Exchange” Facebook group. When folks came to pick up my castaways, I brought them downstairs because I was ashamed of my apartment’s terrible condition. I live in pub•lic housing, which entails a lot of delayed re•pairs and maintenance. I didn’t have money to do repairs myself like I used to. One of the people, Ella Grasch, was concerned and questioned me in detail about the apartment. I described how the bathroom ceiling was going to fall, that lights were out, fixtures had short-circuited, and that the plumbing was backed up—numerous problems.

TW: How did Ella and other young activists you met through Queer Exchange help you get what you needed?

JK: Despite being trained in activism, I was too sick to advocate for my own needs. They got to work and generated networks, resources, and money. Ella knew a wonderful woman named Brianne Huntsman who set up a fundraising campaign on GoFundMe. She works in social media marketing, so she had the skills to do it right. They raised money to repair my apartment and also to pay for some healthcare costs not covered by Medicare. People started to send in money, $10, $50, $100, $500…it was an enormous help. I couldn’t manage navigating the bureaucracy of my housing authority, either. I was overwhelmed by the bare minimum I needed to do to survive. Several young people be•came involved: social workers, someone who works in the mayor’s office, and others. They started making phone calls for me, knowing whom to call and how to get things done. My plumbing problems were soon taken care of. Slowly, many things improved.

TW: You said that meeting younger activists from around the country through Queer Exchange and GoFundMe fueled you to generate yet another bout of activist energy. Tell us about the campaign they helped you fight against your insurance company.

JK: My insurance company refused to cover an experimental cancer treatment—immunotherapy—because it cost too much. It was my only hope for remission. A number of younger activists got involved with my own organizing efforts. First, they joined me at this summer’s Pride March. It was amazing to see the older gener•ation of “ACT-UPers” pushing me in a wheelchair, alongside younger LGBT and health care advocates. Taking the money raised, we planned a rally in front of the insurance company. We videotaped it so we could do an online campaign. We used so many different campaign tactics including street theater, online petitions, and a Twitter war against the insurance HMO. We contacted politicians’ offices, which also added pressure. As we started the rally, one of the executives of the insurance company came to us and said, “Have you talked to your doctor yet this morning?” My doctor had already been e-mailed with an approval for my immunotherapy treatment. They had done a 180 on a life-saving treatment that had previously been denied. It’s because younger activists got involved and gave me a big shot in the arm that I can fight for myself again.

TW: In spite of this battle and other health concerns, your rebel heart still beats strong. How have you helped SAGE and other communities fight for better care and equity?

JK: I have worked with SAGE a lot on LGBT cultural competency and healthcare. I am writing chapters for a guidebook to help healthcare professionals better understand the needs of LGBT cancer patients. I have also presented at a few conferences to advance palliative care funding. I’m getting an awful lot done that will not only help LGBT cancer patients, but also Medicaid recipients and cancer patients across the board.

TW: How can young people join in this fight?

JK: After meeting so many young LGBT activists this year, I’ve said, “If you liked doing this with me, why don’t you consider volunteering with SAGE? We need your help. Beyond pushing us in the wheelchair at the next march, we need you to work with us on advocacy!” The fight goes beyond about being gay. It’s about supporting anyone who may be gay and vulnerable, which includes those who are also young, old, of color, or poor. We need cross-generational community and support for years to come. With our mutual vulnerability, we also share strengths to remedy that vulnerability. Activism works. Get involved.

Read about Jay Kallio and other LGBT trailblazers in the Fall 2015 issue of SAGEMatters. May is Older Americans Month. Connect on social media with #OAM16.

March 25, 2016

Kim Watson: A Fearless Advocate for the Trans Community

By Vera Lukacs

Award-winning trans advocate Kim Watson’s inspirational work paves way for the LGBTQ community.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, SAGE would like to bring attention to a particularly inspiring woman. Kim Watson is the co-founder of Community Kinship Life (CKLife), an organization that provides services, resources and support to transgender people. Kim is a mentor and mother figure to young trans people, bringing  them together to live and learn in a safe and stimulating space. Kim also works with Black Transmen Inc., and is currently writing Healing Our Women for POC Trans Women.

Kim watsonKim, herself a woman of transgender experience, advocates for many other transgender people. When asked about the importance of allies in the transgender community, she says, “Allies are folks who are committed to support their SOFFA (significant other family friends and allies) without any deception. The LGBTQ community still has hiccups while trying to support the trans* community, but with dedication they will get better, I believe, in time.”

In a recent GLAAD blog post for #LGBTQFamilies Day, Kim Watson shares on being a mother, wife and mentor of trans experience: “I am also the mother figure/mentor of chosen kids. I have nine boys and one girl who are my chosen children. Now, being a mother figure to these kids has stabilized my patience, my commitment, my passion and energy to keep loving all of them unconditionally. I cannot always see them, but every day I speak to most of them, or they text me.”

Kim is the recipient of many awards, including the Christine Jorgenson Award, the Black Trans Ally Award, and the Certificate of Merit from Senator Jose Serrano (NY).

Kim says, as an aging advocate, it’s important to “stay stress free and practice self care”. Kim, we thank you for your hard work and advocacy for the trans community!

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.

February 29, 2016

The History & Future of the Black Trans Rights Movement

Presenters-- History and Future
Martin and Vazquez with SAGE event attendees

In honor of Black History Month, SAGE will be sharing a series of posts from partners and constituents sharing their stories. SAGE's Digital Media Assistant, Vera Lukacs, shares her experience from attending an event at the SAGE Center Midtown.

On February 23rd, 2016, Jevon Martin and Mya Vazquez hosted a talk on the History and Future of the Black Trans Rights Movement at SAGE Center Midtown. The speakers discussed the past, present and future of the black trans rights movement throughout history, while facilitating an ongoing discussion with those who attended. 

In recent years, the transgender rights movement has become more visible in the media and our everyday lives. However, trans people, and especially trans people of color, are being killed and discriminated at an alarming rate. According to the NCAVP’s Anti LGBTQ & HIV-Affected Hate Violence in 2014, 80% of homicide victims in 2014 were people of color. Furthermore, 55% of homicide victims were transgender women. “The transgender rights movement is something that feels new to a lot people, and to other people, it doesn’t feel that new. But we don’t tend to recognize just how far back it goes and how intertwined it is with the history of the entire LGBT movement.” said Pony Knowles, the program coordinator for the event. 

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Sylvia and Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson (far left)

Jevon Martin, the NYS Chapter president of Black Transmen Inc., spoke about his own transgender heroes from the past, present, and his vision for the future. Martin began by showcasing transgender individuals such as Tracey Africa, a transgender African-American woman from New Jersey. She modeled all over the world from Milan and Paris, and eventually was the face of the Clairol Born Beautiful hair color boxes. Next on the list was Willmer “Little Ax” Broadnax, a famous musician born in Mississippi. It wasn’t until Willmer died that people found out he was assigned female at birth. Martin went on to talk about a few notable individuals, such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two of the most visible pioneers in the transgender rights movement and Stonewall riots. 

Some of Martin's and Vazquez’s current heroes are Miss Major Griffin-Gracy and Kim Watson (who was scheduled to be a speaker at this event, but was injured and unable to attend). Both Watson and Miss Major are influential leaders in the black transgender rights movement.  

Kim Watson is the Co-Founder of Community Kinship Life, an organization that is dedicated to “provide the trans community with the tools needed to achieve their personal goals while having a sense of community and kinship.” Griffin-Gracy is the Executive Director at Transgender GenderVariant Intersex Justice Project, an organization that serves trans people who are currently incarcerated or are former inmates.  
 
As the event drew to a close, it was clear the audience was left with an appreciation of a community they were not deeply familiar with prior to the meeting. This event, sponsored by SAGE, is part of a larger effort by the organization to bring visibility to the transgender community and create solidarity within the larger LGBT movement.