Less than three years ago, Harlem resident George Stewart had never even heard of SAGE, let alone LGBT aging.
It wasn’t until SAGE opened its new space in Harlem that he learned about the organization and our work. “I was at a party and was introduced to Ty Martin, SAGE’s Harlem Community Liaison. He told me about the work he had been doing for years with SAGE and how he had begun to see a real transformation in the lives of the constituents that they serve. After meeting Ty and seeing his dedication and passion, I knew immediately I wanted to be involved too, and four months later, I was volunteering at SAGE Harlem.”
George began to involve himself in SAGE’s work by participating in local advocacy events, including the Empire State Pride Agenda’s annual Equality and Justice Day, as well as meeting with New York City elected officials to raise awareness about LGBT aging and the particular issues LGBT older adults face.
“I was never especially interested in politics until I was introduced to SAGE and the passionate work they do on behalf of LGBT elders. But once I began, I just loved it. Advocating about the needs of LGBT elders and this overlooked population is so constructive, useful, and needed.” George was especially excited about meeting Council member Inez Dickens (Harlem) last year. “I had never met a politician before, but after meeting with Representative Dickens, I felt I had a much deeper understanding of the political process and what happens in Albany and DC.”
George has since become a staple here at SAGE, and regularly attends City Council meetings with SAGE Policy Associate Alli Auldridge when he can. When asked if he feels like slowing down, he adamantly shakes his head, and suggests that he is just getting started: “I think it is tremendously important for LGBT older adults to advocate on their own behalf because it brings a face to a very real issue. While I have seen a lot of progressive changes in the last few years for LGBT people, homophobia still exists and affects the lives of so many LGBT people. I remember years ago during the AIDS epidemic when I was working in a hospital, and seeing nurses and doctors leaving trays of food on the floors of AIDS patients’ rooms because they were afraid of contracting it. I thought to myself then, as I do now, that no one deserves to be treated like that.”
He continues, “I encourage LGBT older adults, and their friends and families to find ways to involve themselves in advocacy. They will be surprised by the sense of community, patriotism and responsibility that comes with being a part of a larger crowd and movement.”
When asked about his hopes for the future of LGBT older adults in New York City, George pauses before responding, “Housing. I understand that spaces are being created in Philadelphia, and California, and I certainly think we could use LGBT housing here in New York. I would live there, make friends with everybody, and hang out with them every night.”
To view George's award-winning video entry in the White House Champions of Change Pride Month contest, visit youtube.com/sageusa.