36 posts categorized "Women"

November 30, 2016

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 10, 2016

The Silent Generation Speaks Out In New Docuseries

Longtime SAGE participant Sandy Warshaw will be featured in I’m From Driftwood’s new elder docuseries, "What Was It Like?" airing on XFINITY on Monday, October 10 (check your local listings).

In 2015, Warshaw joined other SAGE delegates at the White House Conference on Aging, a landmark convening which considered LGBT elder issues for the first time. During her speech, Warshaw responded to passing legislation to ban discrimination in nursing homes, saying, "I do not want to have to go back into the closet." For "What Was It Like?" Warshaw and other LGBT elders are drawing attention to an all but forgotten generation with their personal accounts.

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For two weeks prior to public release, XFINITY TV subscribers can enjoy both the new series and the popular I’m From Driftwood web series On Demand and online.

To find "What Was It Like" on XFINITY On Demand, subscribers can use their voice remote to access all LGBT entertainment by saying "LGBT." For those with no voice remote, on X1: navigate to "Popular Destinations: LGBT Film & TV." On Native: Go to "On Demand: LGBT Film & TV." You can also find the program at xfinity.com/lgbt.

"LGBTQ elders have not only been asked to keep their stories and lives quiet and in the closet, but they’ve seen more progress in their lifetime than any other generation has or will," said Nathan Manske, Founder and Executive Director of I’m From Driftwood.

"We're incredibly grateful that Comcast and SAGE — the country's largest cable provider and the country's largest organization dedicated specifically to LGBTQ elders — are helping us collect and share these important stories."

I’m From Driftwood has collected more than a thousand stories since 2009.

 

May 12, 2016

Older and Bolder: Starting a second or third chapter? Think big!

The 2016 theme of Older Americans Month is "Blaze a Trail" and we can't imagine a better way to celebrate then honoring the achievements of our LGBT elders. Stay tuned for a series of blog posts on SAGE's trailblazers throughout the month and follow the conversation at #OAM.

We’re taught that most people spend their retirement years baking cookies, tinkering in the garage, and playing dominoes. But a new generation of LGBT older people is thinking bigger and bolder. Fueled by increasing life expectancy many are now calling a “longevity bonus,” they are creating new narratives about what it means to be “SAGE age.” 


BrendaCullaneBRENDA CULHANE
is passionate about her pursuits. She’s a 75-year-old lesbian activist and SAGE constituent living in Portland, Oregon. Brenda plays a powerful role on a local housing committee in Portland and advocates for LGBT needs in assisted and independent living communities. She notes that “We’ve all had friends who have had to go into [these facilities] and do not feel safe coming out in that environment. It’s so sad.”

Brenda’s work doesn’t stop there, though—she also speaks about LGBT issues at civic events and local colleges. Students often want to know how and when Brenda came out, and what her parents thought. She responds with patience and honesty, and values the chance to turn her own life experience into a teachable moment.

 

 

Bruce_067sAdvocacy has also defined 68-year-old BRUCE WILLIAMS’ second chapter. His life changed dramatically in 2006 when he was fired from his longtime role as the executive director of a retirement community in Texas. Looking back, Bruce believes he was terminated because of his sexuality. It was a terrible blow, but he still remembers the work fondly. “I had the luxury of watching people go through the last third of their lives,” he recalls. “I saw commonalities and individualities, and the choices they made. Some were good, some were bad, some were frighteningly ugly.”

When Bruce relocated with his partner to South Florida in 2013, he began volunteering at the Pride Center at Equality Park. Given his background, he gravitated toward the issue of long-term care and reached out to local providers to find out which ones were LGBT friendly. After a rocky start and a lot of rejection, he hosted a small LGBT community health fair. Fast forward to 2015, and Bruce is now preparing for his sixth event as the Pride Center’s Senior Services Coordinator. He remarks that the Pride Center “wanted me to come to work as a gay man—that was the first time in 65 years that had happened!” He’s thrilled to be making an impact with his work, and has plans to do more. “No one’s written a guidebook for getting old—I think I’ll do that!”

DorrellClarkRetirement has put the spotlight on DORRELL CLARK’S creative side—literally! This 63-year old lesbian retired from a job as a subway train operator in 2011 and began volunteering at the Bronx Academy of Arts & Dance. “I am not an artist,” Dorrell says, “I’m a technical person. So to be in the same space as these creative souls was awesome!” She dove into new artistic pursuits, first taking the stage in a gender- bending role as a young gay man struggling to make peace with a homophobic brother. Later, some of her life stories were transformed into a dance performance by local artist Jessica Danser. What’s it like for Dorrell to fulfill a lifelong dream of creativity? “There are no words,” she says. “Seeing my work onstage, I had tears in my eyes.”

Connect with SAGE on social media with #OAM16 and follow the SAGE blog this and every month for inspiring stories of our LGBT elders. 

April 4, 2016

SAGEMatters Spring 2016: Our Stories, Our Voices

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SAGEMatters Spring 2016: Our Stories, Our Voices

SAGE is proud to lead the charge on behalf of LGBT older people, whose stories are most powerful when LGBT elders themselves tell them. In this issue you'll hear an extraordinary array of voices.

The cover features Bishop Tonyia Rawls—a religious leader whose Charlotte congregation is part of Unity Fellowship Church, which was born from a need to minister primarily to LGBT African Americans during the height of the AIDS crisis. For the third year in a row, Bishop Rawls enlisted members of Charlotte's faith community to participate in the SAGE storytelling Summit, which harnesses the power of stories to advance anti-discrimination efforts in North Carolina. In this issue, Bishop Rawls talks about working with clergy in North Carolina and leveraging those relationships to build a system of mutual respect and hope for LGBT communities.

You'll also hear from several participants in SAGEWorks, a national employment initiative for LGBT people 40 and above. This initiative ignites the potential within members of our community who have fallen out of the workforce late in their careers and hare having a hard time getting back in.

We're particularly proud to share a conversation with Ruth Berman and Connie Kurtz, who have transformed countless lives through their work as activists, certified counselors, and founders of chapters of Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) in Florida and New York. Ruth and Connie were recently honored with the SAGE Pioneer Award, which recognizes LGBT older people who pave the way for LGBT equality.

And lastly, we're honored to share an essay by Tim Maher, who reflects on his late mother's final days on Fire Island, the LGBT summer community where his family eventually came to accept him as a gay man. SAGE's cart service made Fire Island accessible to his mother during that time, just as it does for other older people, including those who need assistance moving around the car-free community. Tim's essay is the first in a series of stories about caregiving within our communities.

I hope you're as moved and inspired by these voices as I am. They are the sources of strength, resilience and warmth that enrich our communities, year after year.

 

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Michael Adams
Chief Executive Officer

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

March 31, 2016

LGBT and Faith-based Communities: On the Reconciliation of Sexuality and Spirituality

To commemorate Women’s History Month, SAGE highlights the inspiring work of Reverend Elder Darlene Garner and how faith intersects with her LGBT activism.

By Vera Lukacs

Darlene Garner is the first African-American woman to be elected on the Board of Elders at Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) and a fierce LGBT advocate. She is a co-founder of the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays (NCBLG), leads the biannual Conference for People of African Descent (PAD) and was President of the Board of Northern Virginia AIDS Ministry. Along with two other LGBT couples, Reverend Elder Garner and her partner Candy Holmes were the first LGBT people to be married in Washington, D.C. in 2010 after marriage equality was recognized there.

Garner believes in the intersectionality of faith and LGBT issues, and MCC is a haven for spiritual LGBT folks. MCC is an inclusive sanctuary for the LGBT community, the international denomination welcomes people of all gender identities, sexualities, and faith with open arms. In Elder Garner’s words,

“MCC’s pioneering work on the reconciliation of sexuality and spirituality and our theology on the sacredness of the human body are reflected throughout all of our justice efforts and serve to advance women’s issues globally. Whether the issue is women in leadership; a woman’s right to choose whether to give birth, retain custody, or adopt a child; a woman’s right to access to education, water, or health care; a woman’s right to choose whether, when, and who to marry; or a woman’s need for a safe place to be herself, MCC has taken a stand and the people of MCC around the world have been and continue to be actively involved.”

In this powerful speech, Rev. Elder Darlene touches on the intersectionality between the LGBT and the faith-based communities: 

 

Elder Garner, SAGE thanks you for your extraordinary work in the LGBT and faith-based communities!

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 23, 2016

Dreaming At Any Age

by Marsha Aizumi. This article originally appeared in the Pacific Citizen.

Almost five years ago I retired from a 13-year job that I loved. It was time. And it was also frightening. Work gave me purpose and a place to belong. Would I find that same fulfillment now as a retired person? I had decided to write a book about my journey with my transgender son and also I seemed to be moving in the direction of becoming something I knew nothing about: an LGBTQ activist. Sometimes you just have to follow your heart and take a leap of faith. So that is what I did.

During these past five years, I have learned that my greatest power lies in being myself. I have also learned that age puts no limitations on what you can do. Everything is a choice. For the first part of my life, I really didn’t know what being myself was. I was a perfectionist, because I never wanted to be wrong. And if I was perfect, nobody would criticize me. But often being perfect and expecting perfection from others gave neither of us room to grow and make mistakes. And it also put a tremendous amount of pressure on me. I didn’t risk taking on anything where I could fail and so I never took on things that could expand who I was as a person.

I was often afraid to speak out for fear of offending others and having them judge me as a terrible employee, mother or human being. At work, my bosses would encourage me to share my thoughts and not be so invisible. I tried to be visible, but at the first hint of disapproval I would quietly move into invisibility once again. Not being seen seemed safer.

And then Aiden, my son, came out as transgender and my world was turned upside down. Something inside of me changed. I could no longer think about myself; I needed to think about him. No longer could I go through life casually seeing how every day would unfold for me. No, I had to make each day count. I had to courageously step out, most of the time being scared of saying or doing the wrong thing, but doing it anyway. Brene Brown, author of #1 New York Times bestseller Daring Greatly says, “You can be brave and scared at the same time.” Most of the time, you didn’t have to tell me I was scared. I felt that inside. But brave was a whole new concept. If I was scared and I did it anyway, that was brave?

In the beginning I made a lot of mistakes. I said the wrong thing, but I learned the power of saying “I’m sorry.” I did wrong things and learned the power of asking, “How can I do it better next time?” Sometimes people did or said hurtful things to me. And I learned the power of saying, “I know you didn’t mean to hurt me, but when you said that about my son, my heart felt bad.” In most cases, I was forgiven, or given better ways to handle things or was apologized to. In all cases, I walked away understanding more, feeling prouder of myself or realizing how I could do things better in the future. The hard part of apologizing, asking how I could do better or sharing my feelings was that most of the time, I felt like a lobster without a shell. Later I found out that was how you feel when you are being vulnerable.

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Marsha speaking at the HRC Time to Thrive Conference in February 2016. Photo by Steph Grant Photography.

 

But being vulnerable has helped me grow and provided me gifts that I never thought would come into my life as a retiree. Authentically sharing my journey of transitioning with my transgender son, I have met so many beautiful people all over the country. And taking on challenges like speaking to larger and larger crowds, even though I was scared, has given me a purpose greater than I thought I would have. Last month, I spoke in Chicago at a conference called Creating Change. At the end of the workshop, I stopped a young lady who left our presentation crying. “Are you okay?” I asked as she walked past me. “Yes,” she replied, “I am walking out with hope.” Two weeks later I spoke to 800 educators and professionals in Dallas. I was scared going on stage, but I just kept telling myself just keep your heart open and be yourself. At the end, they gave me a standing ovation.

I think what I want to share with you today is that you are NEVER too old to go out and make a difference. Forget your age… find your passion! Go out and share who you authentically are. If you are not sure what your life can look like if you do this, rent a movie called “The Intern” with Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway. Or google the name Virginia McLaurin, a 106-year-old lady who started a social media campaign at age 104 to meet President Obama and dreamed of being invited to the White House. The video of their meeting has gone viral and inspired so many! We are never too old to bring value to the lives of others. And we are never too old to dream.

Marsha Aizumi is the author of “Two Spirits, One Heart” and is on the PFLAG National Board of Directors. Learn more about her at www.marshaaizumi.com.
March 17, 2016

SAGEWorks: Helping Women Rejoin the Workforce

By Vera Lukacs

As part of a larger effort to support and benefit LGBT older adults, SAGE held a special SAGEWorks event on March 16th to help those looking to rejoin the workforce. Panelists included Jason Rosenbaum (Thomson Reuters), Jens Audenaert (ADP), JoAnne D'Aleo (The Transition Network), Angela Lee (Callen-Lorde), Addie Rimmer (Workforce Opportunity Services) and Tawanna Huguley (Good Shepherd Services).

Participant Wanda Lawrence found the event highly informative. “I’m feeling more confident now as opposed to when I walked in the door. This has been a challenge for me but I feel very supported in this space.”

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2016-03-17/c3f59f4c19cf4d92949f611587285b53.pngPanelists at SAGE Center Midtown: Photo by Michele D'Amato

In the article, Older Women Are Being Forced Out of the Workforce, Harvard Business Review highlights a study by economists at the University of California at Irvine and Tulane University that uncovers “robust evidence of age discrimination in hiring against older women.” One example of gender and age disparities in the workforce is the lower callback rate for middle-aged female applicants, as compared to their younger counterparts. The rate comparison between middle-aged and young male applicants was similar.

It’s no surprise that women and men experience the workplace differently. For instance, a woman makes 79 cents to every dollar a man makes. It’s a cold, hard fact that women have a harder time getting jobs, keeping them, and growing within their positions over time — and it’s especially challenging for older women in the LGBT community.

SAGEWorks, a national employment initiative for LGBT adults 40 years and older, connects LGBT job seekers with the skills and support to land a job in their desired field. Programs include 2-week boot camps, individual coaching, work readiness exercises, and more.

To commemorate Women’s History Month, SAGE is sharing the unique perspectives of aging LGBT women. Do you have a workplace story to share? Tell us in the comments!  

March 10, 2016

National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

This post, in honor of National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (March 10th) comes from Maria Eugenia Lane of NHCOA. This post originally appeared on the Diverse Elders Coalition blog on March 10, 2016. Read the original post here.

Women and girls are often an overlooked population in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Yet, about one-quarter of Americans living with HIV are women and girls. Tragically, many of these women and girls are youth or older adults. Today, about 26% of new HIV diagnoses are youth aged 13-24 and about 25% of those living with HIV are adults aged 55 and older.

The importance in preventing HIV among women and girls is recognized each year on March 10 through the National Women and Girls HIV Awareness Day. It is important for the health and happiness of women and girls nationwide that they are empowered to make decisions that will protect them from HIV/AIDS, including abstinence, protection and testing.

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Diverse women and girls and older women often do not know that they are vulnerable to infection with HIV. These populations especially need to be informed about HIV and the steps to take to protect oneself from infection.

Cristina, Nina for short, for example was an independent teenager with a mind of her own. She wanted to be free and so rebelled against her parents and did whatever she wanted. Only her grandmother could get her to listen, although Nina did not always take her Grandmother’s advice seriously. She thought her Grandmother was old-fashioned. Her Grandmother was worried about Nina, so she talked to her repeatedly about the importance of protecting herself against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Nina dismissed her Grandmother’s advice because her Grandmother’s stress on abstinence as the best way to protect herself from HIV and other STD’s. One day, however, Nina was talking with her friend’s boyfriend when he confided in her that he was HIV positive and he did not know how to tell his girlfriend. Nina was frightened as she thought that this could be happening to her. Her Grandmother’s advice came flooding back. She told her friend’s boyfriend that he must tell his girlfriend and begin to use protection on the counsel of a doctor. She also realized that caring for oneself is more important than anything else. She was so impacted by this lesson that she decided to work with girls of her age to educate them on how to be free and independent while respecting themselves and protecting themselves from HIV.

If you are a woman or girl, love yourself and take action to protect yourself from HIV!

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition. Photo courtesy of Adam Jones. https://www.flickr.com/photos/adam_jones