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!
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.
You can also learn more about issues facing LGBT veterans by visiting our Veteran's Issue Page on our site. SAGE is also launching a special National Telephone Discussion Group for LGBT Military Service Veterans Aged 60+ with American Veterans For Equal Rights (AVER) in June. Read more about the veterans group here.
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.