The aging experience is largely universal, but after living a lifetime of discrimination, the LGBTQ elder experience is a unique one, and SAGE isn’t letting it be erased. The national organization offers programs, services, and advocacy opportunities tailored to LGBTQ older adults. Serena Worthington, the director for US and global collaborations at SAGE, talked to Georgia Voice about this underrepresented group and how the organization is making them visible on the national level.
“There’s a lot of commonalities across populations when it comes to the aging experience, but LGBT older adults have some unique disparities,” Worthington said, disparities that are crucial to consider when providing care and services to LGBT Qelders. These differences include the economic insecurity caused and exacerbated by discrimination, which leads to more dependence on government services and less social mobility. LGBTQ elders are also more likely to be single and live alone and less likely to have children, all of which exacerbates loneliness and isolation.
“We often hear when we’re talking to institutions about policy changes or cultural competency training, ‘Well, we treat everyone the same,’” Worthington said. “We know that means they’re ignoring these differences … By not acknowledging that somebody has an LGBTQ identity, it’s a form of erasure. You’re just saying, ‘That part of you doesn’t matter.’”
That’s why SAGE was created: to tell LGBTQ elders, “You do matter.” From providing resources like the National Center for LGBT Aging to connective programs like SAGE Table, SAGE Connect, and their 24/7 hotline, SAGE is ensuring LGBT Qseniors feel seen.
National Center for LGBT Aging
The National Center for LGBT Aging is the country’s first and only LGBT aging resource center. “If you want to know more as a consumer, provider, or policymaker, there is an amazing wealth of resources,” Worthington said. Resources include academic research, community-based research, interviews with leaders in the aging field, and stories by and for LGBT Qelders. The center can also connect you with local resources based on your state, as well as COVID-19 specific information. Access the center atlgbtagingcenter.org.
National LGBT Elder Hotline
This 24/7 hotline connects you with someone trained in crisis response who can answer questions with factual and confidential answers, offer support without judgment, and provide community support resources. The hotline is offered in English, Spanish, and 180 other languages on request. You can call the hotline at 877-360-5428.
Launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, SAGEConnect is a volunteer-based program to combat social isolation. SAGEConnect matches participants with volunteers based on availability and geography for a once-a-week, 15-minute phone call. The goal of the calls is to bring people together and offer social connection to those who need it, but volunteers can also direct callers to necessary resources.
While SAGE had wanted to implement the program for years, the coronavirus got the ball rolling. “We wanted to do this program for some time, but there were significant things that needed to be worked out before we could do it,” Worthington told Georgia Voice. “Then, when [the coronavirus] lockdown started, we knew we just had to do it. Something we had been thinking about for years we built in two weeks.”
SAGE Table takes connection one step further, encouraging people to sit down and share a meal across generations.
“Creating connections across generations is a super important and meaningful way for people to connect, especially right now, when we’re forced to divide up based on age,” Worthington said of the program.
While in the past, people were encouraged to organize meals in-person, many are now doing it virtually. People have been connecting across generations via online video platforms like Zoom, where they break off into small groups of four or five and connect using SAGE’s discussion guide as a starting off point.
Along with providing these fantastic programs, SAGE is involved with advocating for older people on the federal level. Through their National Day of Advocacy, LGBTQ elders, allies, affiliate leaders, and activists from across the nation go to Washington, D.C. to advocate for LGBTQ elders’ rights. Although their 2020 National Day of Advocacy was cancelled because of the pandemic, SAGE joined a coalition of national organizations for a Virtual Lobby Day for the Equality Act on July 14. Volunteers made over 1,100 calls to senators and representatives in support of the Equality Act.
Worthington urges LGBT Qelders to get involved in advocacy, not just through SAGE but also other national and local organizations. Some she suggests are the National Center for Transgender Equality, PFLAG, ZAMI NOBLA, Georgia Equality, the National Equality Action Team, AARP, and Freedom for All Americans.
“LGBT elders are a compelling voice because of their lived experience and their lifetimes of activism,” she said. “They’re persuasive to lawmakers; the older voter is an important person for lawmakers to listen to.”