SAGE: Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders
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SAGE In the News

January 23, 2009

Coming of Age at a "Certain Age"

Washington Blade
By Michael Adams
This is an exciting time to be part of the LGBT community, no matter your age. But for LGBT older people it seems especially poignant. Our community has in fact made progress beyond what many LGBT seniors imagined they would see in their lifetimes. I am sure that the brave men and women who founded SAGE (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders) over 30 years ago could not have dreamed they would see a President in their lifetime who was such an ardent - though certainly not perfect - supporter of our rights. By any measure, we should be proud of the road that we have all helped to pave. But let's not forget that there is much more that we need to do.

The fact is that, despite all the progress, it can still be frightening to ponder getting older as an LGBT person. The statistics tell part of the story. Research shows that LGBT older people are:

  • twice as likely to live alone as other seniorshalf as likely to have a partner
  • four times more likely to have no children to offer support as they get older
  • twice as likely to have no one to call for help in an emergency.

At SAGE we see the real-life consequences of these statistics every day, as we work to provide assistance to thousands of LGBT elderly who have no place else to turn for help. SAGE's social services and other programs attempt to provide a "safety net" for seniors who otherwise would not have one. And we advocate with and on behalf of LGBT older people, who regularly face discrimination and mistreatment when trying to access services and support from "mainstream" programs.

Horror stories abound of LGBT elders suffering discrimination and inferior services - community members who go back in the closet as they enter assisted living for fear of prejudice; home care attendants who verbally abuse LGBT clients for their "lifestyle;" health care agencies that have little or no information for LGBT elders that has any bearing on their lives.

Some of the issues SAGE helps LGBT seniors confront are created by the ways in which federal entitlements and programs for the aging discriminate against our community and ignore our needs. For example, did you know that those of us who are (or have been) members of same-sex couples will be entitled to far fewer Social Security benefits than our heterosexual counterparts? That's because some of Social Security's most important benefits are based on marriage. And did you know that we are also denied fundamental family protections in programs like Medicaid, including protections designed to ensure that we can continue to own our homes in old age?

And did you know that the federal government is this country's most important funder of programs for seniors, but that hardly any federal tax dollars (that we all contribute) make their way to service programs for LGBT seniors? And did you know that the Older Americans Act designates populations of seniors who have special needs but ignores LGBT people?

These are the current realities. They are unacceptable, and it is high time that they changed. LGBT older adults deserve the same respect and support as all other seniors in this country.

That's why SAGE is excited about the arrival of the Obama Administration. We know that we have our work cut out for us. As President-elect Obama pointed out so often during the election campaign, "power does not concede without a fight." We must overcome decades of disregard for our community's older generations at the federal level, and even with allies in some high places that will not be easy. We will have to repeatedly remind the new Administration and our friends in Congress that the time has come to fulfill this country's promise of a decent life for all seniors, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. But we start from a place of great promise - a new President who has repeatedly expressed his firm commitment to fair treatment for LGBT people and a far more progressive Congress that seems ready to once again pay attention to the needs of the most vulnerable in our communities.

It is often said that a measure of any community's character is how it honors its older generations. SAGE stands ready to hold our federal government to that test with regard to the honoring of LGBT seniors. We know we cannot do this work alone. We are honored to work side-by-side with long-time allies like the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and with newer friends like AARP. SAGE and the Task Force recently joined forces to present the Obama Transition Team with an outline of the progress we need to see in federal aging policies. The work has already begun!

As members of the LGBT community, each of us has a responsibility to stand with and fight on behalf of our older members. Some of us are old ourselves. We all hope to be lucky enough to live to ripe old ages. Each of us has the ability, and the responsibility, to seize the opportunities presented by Change. So go to the SAGE website at Read the memo that we have submitted to the Obama Transition on behalf of LGBT older people. Make this battle your own - for your older friends and loved ones, and for yourself.


Thank you for recognizing the elder GLBT audience

To the Editors: Re: Coming of age at a "certain age" (special advertising supplement, Jan. 23)

As co-chair of the Elder Think Tank, a project of The DC Center for GLBT people of the Washington metro area, I want to compliment the Blade on undertaking the services for seniors advertising insert. I was particularly pleased to read the public service announcement from Michael Adams, executive director of SAGE.

We wholeheartedly endorse activities to urge Congress and the executive branch to fulfill the promise of a decent life for all seniors, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

However, as a speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives once observed, all politics is local. We need to work with service providers and policy makers on the local level to include the needs of our elders in their programs. We need to train our elders to be effective advocates for these services. We need to insure that our elders are counted in the collection and dissemination of data and analysis in our local services.

We also need to aggressively respond to the unfortunate ageism in our own community because that also has serious consequences for the health, security and lives of GLBT seniors.

This newspaper has taken an important first step when it acknowledges that there is a market out there and we are happy to see advertisers taking advantage of this situation.

The Elder Think Tank meets at the D.C. Center the last Sunday of every month at 6:30 p.m. We invite all who are interested in working for change to attend and check our other scheduled education and advocacy programs at

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Christina DaCosta
Director of Communications

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