Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders (SAGE) has received a three-year, $900,000 grant from the federal Health and Human Services Administration that will be used to create the nation’s only national resource center on LGBT aging.

“This is a huge thing,” said Karen Taylor, director of community advocacy and capacity building with SAGE in New York City. “This is the first-ever grant that the Administration on Aging has given to create a resource center on LGBT aging issues.”

In a press release, SAGE reported: “The National Technical Assistance Resource Center for LGBT Elders will assist communities across the country in their efforts to provide services and supports for older LGBT people. The Resource Center will provide training to aging-service providers and LGBT agencies nationwide, and will offer critically important educational tools to LGBT older people.”

Among other tools, SAGE plans to develop a web-based clearinghouse that will include diverse resources, social networking tools, an “Ask the Experts” service, web-based trainings and other features. 

Kathleen Sebelius, the former governor of Kansas who is now secretary of Health and Human Services, said in the statement, “Agencies that provide services to older individuals may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the needs of this underserved population. The Resource Center will provide information, assistance and resources for both mainstream aging organizations and LGBT organizations and will provide assistance to LGBT individuals as they plan for future long-term care needs.”

Taylor said that the Administration on Aging has provided similar money to other minority communities, such as the African American, Hispanic, Native American and Asian-Pacific Islander communities.

“Those resource centers have been around for several years to provide culturally competent information to the aging-services network around the country,” Taylor said. “Those are also all populations that our census studies. And of course we don’t have that in the LGBT community. We only have our estimates.

“It’s been really a decade or more of serious ongoing advocacy on the part of the LGBT community to say we need to be counted and we need to be visible,” Taylor said. “And the Administration on Aging really started to take steps forward with this administration.”

SAGE, founded in 1978, describes itself as the world’s oldest and largest nonprofit agency dedicated to serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender older adults.

Sherrill Wayland, executive director of the St. Louis affiliate of SAGE, described her local office. “Each SAGE is its own independent nonprofit, but we all share the same guiding philosophy and mission as SAGE USA … in New York City. You either form your own nonprofit or you partner with an existing community organization such as an LGBT community center. But in St. Louis we actually formed our own nonprofit with a board of directors.”

Wayland said it was important to her to become an affiliate of SAGE rather than form a new group.

“I think for us, it was recognizing that SAGE USA has a 30-year history of doing this kind of work with LGBT elders and to be a part of what I see as a growing movement across the United States. It really gives us an advantage of having the professional technical assistance and a network of professionals doing this work.”

Wayland said that St. Louis also has social groups for LGBT elders, including PrimeTimers and Old Lesbians Organizing for Change.

“Those two groups provide more of the social support,” she said. “They do a lot of dinner nights, movies, potlucks, and things like that. And then we’re picking up the other end, which is more of the advocacy and services.”

SAGE in St. Louis works closely with PROMO to advance advocacy work across the state, Wayland said, on issues such as the Missouri Non-Discrimination Act. She said SAGE would be sponsoring elders to go to LGBT Lobby Day on March 24 in Jefferson City.

Wayland said they had seen discrimination in housing against LGBT elders.

“I did a workshop recently for an organization and had a woman come up to me afterward who identified herself as a lesbian,” Wayland said.

The woman told Wayland that she and her partner had both gone to a senior retirement community and that when they called to schedule appointments on numerous occasions to go and look at this facility, nobody would return their calls.

“So that’s kind of a flag, that something might be happening there,” Wayland said, “and we probably need to start looking into it.”

Wayland said that the SAGE St. Louis office is itself located in a retirement community – Tower Grove Manor Retirement Apartments, on South Grand Boulevard in St. Louis.

“A focus of SAGE has been to not duplicate services and rather build collaborative relationships with senior service providers. Tower Grove Manor actually actively sought us out and initiated this relationship. The director in 2008 recognized that the LGBT community has a large presence in South City and knew that we should be a community they work with and reach out to.”

“We now have eight housing communities on our referral network, offering independent retirement through skilled nursing. SAGE participants are welcomed to join in the activities offered at Tower Grove Manor, and this is the location of our SAGE Cafe Luncheons, where we join residents in the dining room for lunch and then social activities and educational seminars afterwards.”

“We get a lot of requests from folks who are interested in forming SAGE programs, and they come from a variety of different groups and a number of different purposes,” said Taylor.

Taylor has developed a SAGE toolkit that she sends out to the requester with the types of questions and issues they need to address.

“A lot of folks in the LGBT community are completely unaware of the national aging services network, so one of the first things we recommend is get in touch with your local office for the aging, find out what the services are in your community for older adults. Start to build a relationship with that community. We have a number of SAGE programs that are part of LGBT community centers.”

She also said that they work with lesbian and gay community centers to make sure they are “age friendly.”

“We get very focused on the issue that there is safe space for youth but we don’t tend to think of equally safe space for older adults.”

“One of the things that we know [from data is> that LGBT older adults are twice as likely to live alone than heterosexual older adults,” said Taylor. “This is really important because the vast majority of caregiving that’s provided to older people – which is the little things that we don’t think about, it’s the picking up somebody from a doctor’s appointment or stopping down at the drugstore to bring home a prescription – those things are done by spouses and children. We don’t pay home health aides to do that kind of work. But with two-thirds of LGBT older adults living alone and being four times less likely to have children, we become a community that is really reliant on having community-based services so we can stay independent.”

Taylor also said that contrary to some perceptions about affluent LGBT couples living in upscale retirement communities, studies have shown that is not always the case.

“I did see in the latest Institute of Poverty report that they did in fall of last year, a lesbian couple aged 65 and older is twice as likely to live in poverty as a heterosexual couple,” Taylor said.

Wayland said that if anyone in Missouri or Kansas would like to do an outreach and wants more education on LGBT elder adults, they should feel free to contact SAGE Metro St. Louis.

“We are willing to come and meet with groups of people that are interested in this work and do whatever we can do to help support this work in this area of our country,” she said.

Taylor agreed and said, “I really try to get folks in touch with SAGE programs of similar size and geographic regions because that’s who really knows how to talk to communities in those places.”
For more information:
SAGE National
SAGE St. Louis (also on Facebook)
Sherrill Wayland

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