Nicole Kushner, Alpenglow Photography, on assignment for Out Front Colorado
On this Veteran's Day, SAGE would like to say "thank you" to all of our LGBT vets who served and are still serving in the military. In case you missed it, SAGEVets was recently launched to serve LGBT veterans over the age of 50 who reside in New York State. In partnership with Veterans Justice/LGBT Projects of Legal Services NYC, this program helps SAGE constituents who are military service veterans improve their access to VA benefits and their overallhealth and wellness. In addition to general assistance, SAGEVets will provide guidance to veterans hurt by decades of discriminatory military’ discharge policies.
Latina Vega, who became the SAGEVets Program Coordinator this summer, is a U.S. Air Force veteranwho served during the Gulf War. “When I worked in the veterans’ health clinic, I saw that navigating military and state benefits posed a challenge for older veterans. That’s even worse for LGBT elders. Despite the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, our community still has stigma and history to overcome—most obviously by correcting past discharge statuses. It’s an honor to serve those who have served us,” said Vega.
Are you an LGBT veteran living in New York State, or do you know one who may need assistance? Call SAGEVets: 212-741-2247 x138. Don't forget, we have a number of resources on our site, as well as our sister-site, the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, for our LGBT veterans.
SAGE is very happy to be honoring our Veterans today with a celebration and launch of our "SAGEVets" program at the SAGE Center Midtown. Our guest speaker will be Donald McIvers of LGBT Veterans of New York, who was part of the Special Forces that served in Vietnam and participants will get to hear first-hand details of the SAGEVets program from Lee Albertorio, our SAGEVets Program Coordinator.
The purpose of the SAGEVets program is twofold: one legal and the other programmatic. First, staff will be connecting older veterans with lawyers from South Brooklyn Legal Services in an effort to fight dishonorable discharges due to “homosexuality” so that these vets can rightfully receive their VA benefits and pensions. Second, the SAGEVets Program Coordinator will be conducting eligibility screenings and case management on a case by case basis. Lee will also be conducting outreach and trainings at the other SAGENet affiliates in New York state, such as Rochester, Kingston, Long Island and other Veteran Administrations.
This pilot program is made possible from funding from the New York State Legislature passed in the spring of 2014. For more information about the initative, please read our press release here.
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.
George Stewart, 82 years old, has led a life full of change and surprises. He served in the Army, both in the U.S. and overseas, was a hospital aide during the AIDS crisis in the 80's and surprisingly became an out-LGBT spokesperson when he was an honored speaker at The SAGE Center's ribbon-cutting ceremony in 2012. These are his words.
In celebration of Black History Month, I would like to honor my heroes. Right now, they are President Obama, and, of course, Nelson Mandela. They made history in their movements and they have accomplished a lot of things that we, as African Americans, never thought would be done. Especially Mandela, who suffered in prison and left without being angry and just completed the job he set out to do. His passing was a blow to me, but the way the world united in honoring him was inspiring. President Obama's speech at the ceremony was truly moving and he, making history as the first African American president of the United States, is another man that I think our community can emulate. Those men are my heroes.
I would like to say that my life two years ago was very different. You could say SAGE outed me! I wouldn't say I was closeted at the time, but looking back, I suppose I was. Since I was one of the speakers at The SAGE Center grand opening, I received a lot of media attention. I had a brief interview with NY1 and that was it! Some of my neighbors saw me on television and I was willingly outed. My life is 100% more interesting! I feel much more free in my thinking and what I enjoy. I really feel like I'm being myself. I've lost a couple of friends, but that's their problem, not mine. I've gained more friends than I've lost - that's a plus! I also have a job, people who rely on me and care about my opinions, so I am pretty happy right now.
Looking back at the past two (out) years of my life, what really stands out for me was my trip to Washington, D.C. Through SAGE, I submitted my story to the White House LGBT Champions of Change contest, and was a finalist! Me and a couple of SAGE staffers traveled to D.C. for the ceremony and it was wonderful. I was on a panel with some extraordinary people who were all doing work for the LGBT movement. It was a great experience and I met so many wonderful people. I honestely didn't realize how big the movement was until I was on that panel and learned about what they were all doing around the country! All of the other Champions of Change, along with groups like PFLAG and AVER...I didn't realize all of those people were working for the same cause - LGBT rights and equality.
I've been motivated to work for this cause because of SAGE. I believe everyone should be happy in what they want to do in their lives. I myself have become more open-minded and free because of learning more about the LGBT community. I would like to see this country be more tolerant of other peoples' lifestyles -- especially, for me, the black church. I love my church. I sing in the choir and we have a wonderful congregation. However, the belief system that is engrained is very homophobic. The best way to fight the homophobia is to stay in the church and be a positive presence -- because God loves us all.
Watch George's winning White House Champion of Change video below.
SAGE is proud to honor our LGBT veterans of all ages, but particularly want to thank our LGBT older adults as trailblazers in all definitions of the word!
Today, we share two videos of our members. One, Chris Lennon, shares his story of being gay in the Navy and the consequences he faced. The other, George Stewart, shares his thoughts and photos of his time in the military. Please watch, remember and thank a veteran if you haven't!
Thanks to Robert, and all of our LGBT vets, for their service.
In honor of our LGBT veterans, we wanted to share a special story told to us by Kathleen Sullivan, Director of Senior Services at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center.
For the past three years, the LA Gay and Lesbian Center has worked closely with the Los Angeles Regional Office of the Veterans Health Administration and Veterans Benefits Administration to provide cultural competency training to their staff and connect LGBT older adult with military programs and services at the VA. As a result of their groundbreaking work, Robert, an 88-year old World War II veteran finally got the help he needed—68 years after he served his country bravely and honorably. Listen to our podcast to learn more.
During the month of April, SAGE will be featuring stories relating to the importance of marriage equality for LGBT older adults every Friday. These stories are also part of our SAGE Story series. Do you have a story you would like to share? Tell us today!
Today, we feature two videos with different stories. Gary and Ose talk about their relationship, marriage and the issues surrounding Ose being a U.S. veteran. Denny Meyer, a previous contributor to the SAGE Blog, tells us about his issues being a vet and falling in love with his partner—who he met in the Philippines. What these stories have in common is the lack of benefits for veterans' partners—whether legally married or not.