SAGE Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders was founded in 1978 and has grown over the decades since. It is now the world’s largest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT+ seniors, with a national network of 30 affiliates in 22 states and Puerto Rico. The organization has six senior centers in New York City: two in Manhattan, two in Brooklyn, one in the Bronx and one in Staten Island. There is a retirement home in Brooklyn and another under construction in the Bronx. Now, as Pride Month kicks off, Senior Planet spoke with Aaron Tax, Director of Advocacy, SAGE, and Christina Da Costa, Senior Director of Communications.
Senior planet: What was the motive behind the creation of SAGE?
Aaron Tax: The whole idea was that there was a generation that was the first generation to come out. We wanted to make sure they could stay outside as they got older and entered a more vulnerable period in their lives. A lot of emphasis is placed on younger people in the LGBT community, but it is important not to forget the older ones who came earlier and paved the way.
“There̵7;s a lot of emphasis on younger people in the LGBT community, but it’s important not to forget the older ones who came before and paved the way.”
SP: How are the challenges faced by LGBT seniors different from those faced by heterosexual and cisgender seniors?
BEE: Many of the challenges are similar, but more pronounced. LGBT parents are twice as likely to be single and four times less likely to have children than their hetero and cisgender counterparts. This presents challenges for socializing, managing finances, going to the doctor and even changing a light bulb. These are all things that other older people rely on their families for. LGBT elderly generally do not have that support network.
One of the stereotypes about the LGBT community is that they are financially better off, but that is not true. In general, LGBT seniors are financially worse off. The stereotype creates challenges when we advocate for public policies that will help LGBT older people.
SP: Like other senior centers, all SAGE centers were closed during the pandemic. How has SAGE adapted to serving its customers?
BEE: SAGE tried to run as much as possible. Everything that could go online went online. One of the challenges is that not everyone has access to a computer or Wi-Fi or has knowledge of how to use the technology.
SP: Are there any events planned for Pride?
BEE: I don’t think we have anything personal, but there will definitely be something virtual.
Let life come true
Senior planet: Any thoughts on people ‘coming out’ late in life – why is it happening? Any advice for them?
Christina Da Costa: We notice that while there are many people who come out later in life due to greater social acceptance of LGBT+ people, the opposite is also true: some LGBT+ parents even go back into the closet. This can happen when you are trying to access aged care, housing and other services aimed at the elderly, where staff and policies are not LGBT friendly or culturally competent. SAGE’s National Resource Center on LGBT Aging is a great place for people to get the resources and information they need. Additionally, those seeking LGBT culturally competent care in long-term care settings should check out our SAGECare program.
SP: How would someone become a volunteer?
BEE: You go online and register. One of the benefits of the pandemic is that we have finally launched a virtual way to connect with the community called SAGE Connect. People can sign up to make or receive calls so that we don’t endure these unique times alone. In this ‘virtual buddy’ program, SAGE connected more than 1,000 LGBT seniors with volunteers from 39 states.
SP: What are the two or three main issues that SAGE is currently facing in their community?
CDC: Getting culturally competent care where they need services – this could be in senior centers, in long-term care facilities, their caregivers, wherever – culturally competent care can be the line between survival and thriving.
Access to affordable housing is another major problem. That’s why SAGE created its National LGBT Elder Housing Initiative to both build LGBT-friendly homes and provide technical assistance and information to housing providers across the country who want to create these types of homes.
The last major issue focuses on the Equality Act – which is actually the umbrella for the two issues above. The Equality Act is an extremely important piece of federal legislation that would add explicit sexual orientation and gender identity protection to existing civil rights laws for the first time. This all-important legislation recognizes the higher rates of poverty and discrimination faced by LGBT seniors when seeking housing and care, as well as when entering areas such as senior centers. Hart Research Associates polls in March showed that 70 percent of Americans, including 50 percent of Republicans, support the Equality Act. SAGE strongly urges our allies to take action by sending a message to their senators to support these critical defenses.
SP: What is the future of SAGE?
BEE: We will continue to raise the profile of LGBT seniors. We want people to be able to be outdoors, be themselves and be active in their communities, regardless of their age. Our slogan is, “We refuse to be invisible.”
Celebrate Pride Month with Senior Planet! We are organizing a series of four special offers where we will learn, plead, communicate and laugh together.
Join us for an author conversation with Kate Walter (author of this interview!), a workshop on dating apps for LGBT+ older adults, an advocacy panel event with SAGE called “Stonewall – the Birth of a Movement” with SAGE, and our LGBT+ Pride mixer!
Click here to learn more about all our Pride events!
Photo: Kamila Harris Photography.