Photo: Quino Al via Unsplash
Aging Adults & The LGBTQIA+ Community: Building A Support Network And Gaining Access To Resources Through SAGE Advocacy
In honor of Pride, MusiCares partnered with SAGE Advocacy and Services for LGBT Elders for a June virtual program to familiarize the music community with the oldest and largest organization dedicated to serving LGBTQIA+ older adults. The presentation was hosted by SAGE Assistant Director of Special Programs, Bill Gross, and Julie Ugoretz, Program Coordinator of SAGE Connect Programs.
The pair discussed the major differences between LGBTQIA+ people and their straight peers when it comes to aging and caregiving. Currently, many LGBTQIA+ adults live alone and rely on older adults within their community for support and caregiving.
Studies have found that LGBTQIA+ older adults are at higher risk for disability, poor mental health, smoking, and excessive drinking than their heterosexual counterparts. This is in large part due to minority stress and lack of social support. Additionally, a history of discrimination leaves many LGBTQIA+ older adults with a general distrust of mainstream institutions. This includes but is not limited to unfair eviction from housing, excommunication or exclusion from religion, being treated as having a psychiatric disorder or illness in medical settings (in fact, homosexuality was considered to be a mental illness until 1973), police brutality or law enforcement discrimination, dishonorable discharge from the military and the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Defense Directive, and being estranged or disowned by family.
"Very often, people of these generations create their own family. Which is such a beautiful thing, but what happens when people age, and their family, their family of choice, which is usually around their same age, what happens then when those people start to lose capacity? Or start to pass away? Or start to move away?" Gross asked. "This is all setting up SAGE's services. How do we give support to older adults whose peer circle may be diminishing?"
SAGE offers their Care Management Services across the country through which they produce a bevy of programs that cover health education and support, benefits counseling and legal assistance, daily meals and nutrition, arts and culture, and fitness. They have pivoted to primarily virtual offerings during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic but hope to return to in-person programming soon.
SAGE also works closely with a network of volunteers for their Friendly Visitor and SAGEConnect programs. The former was founded in New York City in 1979, one year after the non-profit opened, and matches a volunteer with an isolated older LGBT+ individual who is in need of companionship. Their oldest pairing has maintained a relationship through the program for 20 years!
Friendly Visitor has now expanded to South Florida. SAGEConnect was founded in May 2020 in response to the extreme isolation that the pandemic brought on to give LGBTQIA+ elders across the country an opportunity to reconnect with the greater community and build friendships safely. The program is a six-week commitment for 30-minute casual phone or video calls and has made 530-plus connections across 41 states since its inception.
They also offer help to caregivers through their Caregiving Program in the form of support groups for caregivers and receivers, financial support, arts and recreational therapy, and case assistance. SAGE Centers as well as LGBTQIA+-friendly, affordable senior housing that has been established in Crotona Park, the Bronx, Fort Greene, and Brooklyn are also good resources for those in the greater New York City area.
"[What I love most about working for SAGE], I think our volunteers are just such open-hearted people who come with such spirit and that excites me every day and makes me happy to be working with them and supporting them. And being able to be witness to our clients and the communities that they've built, the strengths that they've built, is really a blessing," said Ugoretz.
For more information on how you can use SAGE's services, contact the SAGE Hotline at 877.360.LGBT (5428). LGBT elders interested in participating in SAGEConnect can find out more information by visiting sageusa.org/connect.