What would help me live a joyful and healthy life as I age?By Michael Adams
New York, New York
This month, SAGE launched SAGE Story, a national digital storytelling program for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults. It’s an exciting new program that aims to strengthen the storytelling skills—and draw on the unique life experiences of—LGBT elders to diversify the public narratives on aging, services and care, and LGBT equality.
Why stories? We know that LGBT older people have survived and thrived despite a lifetime of discrimination. Many have helped pave the way for the social progress we now enjoy. And many still experience discrimination and stigma in their communities and in service and care settings. SAGE Story wants to collect those stories. They are valuable insights that reflect the human experiences behind complex issues, illustrating the urgent need to ensure that the policies and systems that are intended to support our nation’s elders also take into account the needs of LGBT elders.
In addition, we know from firsthand experience that LGBT older people are their own best advocates. With the rise of social media, smart phones, and video and photo apps, it’s easier than ever to record and share stories online that have the potential to reach—and influence—large numbers of viewers. SAGE Story will not only strengthen LGBT older people’s storytelling skills, but also teach them the skills to record and post their own stories. For those LGBT elders who are already Internet-savvy, SAGE Story will provide a platform to showcase their stories.
We’ve kicked off the SAGE Story program by asking people the following question: “What would help you live a joyful and healthy life as you age?”As I consider this question, I inevitably reflect back on key personal decision points that have helped define how I see myself in the world when it comes to aging. One key moment was my decision to come to SAGE. I had known of SAGE since I first saw its contingent in a Pride parade when I was in my early 20s. Back then I viewed the organization’s work through the eyes of a younger person—as a reminder that there would be “a place” for me if I had the good fortune to grow old as a gay man.
By the time I came to SAGE seven years ago, I was looking at the world from a different vantage point—solidly “middle aged” and palpably feeling the aging process all around me. My grandmother, who I loved dearly, was struggling with health issues in her early 90s but had limitless support from my very large and close-knit family. By contrast, my partner Fred’s elderly aunt and uncle never had kids and had few relatives or friends in their adopted home of New York City. Fred and I were truly their only lifelines when things became increasingly difficult as they entered their 90s.
Living through the final years of these beloved family elders and seeing their struggles brought the reality of my own aging future home to me in a way that was profound and deeply personal. It’s what fueled me to come to SAGE and what keeps me so passionate about the future we are building for each other—for all LGBT people as we age.
Many of us have stories like this, and have reflected on what growing older as an LGBT person will look like. SAGE wants to hear those stories—please consider sharing your thoughts about what happy and healthy aging means to you. Collectively, your stories will help fuel our work to improve the lives of LGBT older people now and for the future.
This story originally appeared in as a Note from the Executive Director in January 2013. Here, SAGE Executive Director Michael Adams introduces SAGE Story and answers a question SAGE posed to LGBT people around the country: What would help you live a joyful and healthy life as you age?