GLBT Elder Care Services Group to Build NYC Center

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday October 25, 2011

Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) is slated to open a new senior center early next year after having won a contract with the city of New York. The facility will be the "first full-time center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults," an Oct. 19 SAGE media release noted.

"SAGE the country's oldest and largest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT older adults," the release added. "The SAGE Center, slated to open in January 2012, will include program sites in all five New York City boroughs--bringing a comprehensive array of services and support to LGBT elders throughout the city.

"In addition to the robust array of programs SAGE currently provides at the LGBT Community Center and SAGE Harlem, the new Center will offer hot meals, programs covering issues from health and wellness to workplace skills, comprehensive social services, a wide range of social activities, and much more," added the release.

"SAGE is honored to have this opportunity to strengthen the programs and services we offer to address the unique needs of LGBT older people in New York City," the group's Executive Director, Michael Adams, said.

"Opening The SAGE Center has been our dream for many years. We are thrilled to be part of a bold initiative that emphasizes innovation in aging services; SAGE is committed to building program models that can be replicated in New York City and nationwide."

"Drawing on its 32 years of experience in designing programs in partnership with LGBT elders, SAGE plans to create vibrant programming for the growing population of LGBT older adults living in New York City," the release went on to say.

"By partnering with community organizations in the five boroughs, The SAGE Center will extend LGBT-affirming services to LGBT older New Yorkers who do not use their local centers for fear of discrimination, and those who may not know of or be able to access SAGE's current services."

"SAGE has pioneered programs and services for the aging LGBT community, provided technical assistance and training to expand opportunities for LGBT older people across the country, and provided a national voice on LGBT aging issues," text at the organization's website reads.

"In 2005, SAGE became the first official LGBT delegate at the White House Conference on Aging," the text continues. "In 2010, SAGE was awarded a three-year $900,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Administration on Aging to seed the creation of the nation's only National Resource Center on LGBT Aging."

The group's groundbreaking partnership with government continues. The new center will be "part of New York City's Innovative Senior Center program, a new initiative by Mayor Michael Bloomberg that is giving 10 of the city's leading aging organizations the opportunity to better serve their elder communities with creative, needs-based programming that will create models for the 'senior center of the future,' " the SAGE media release said.

"The SAGE Center is one of two citywide centers created to address the needs of historically underserved elder populations," added the release.

One major, growing, and as-yet not very visible problem is the discriminatory attitudes and treatment from health providers and others the elder GLBTs face.

"Despite advances in LGBT civil rights, many older adult care providers never stop to consider that their older clients may be lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT)--and even those who do may not know how to provide services in culturally-sensitive ways," text at the SAGE website notes. "As a result, LGBT older adults often avoid seeking needed services out of fear of discrimination.

"The tendency for LGBT older adults to go 'back in the closet' is particularly pronounced in situations where they are most vulnerable--such as when accessing home health care or residing in assisted living or residential care facilities," the text noted. "One study indicated that LGBT older adults may be as much as five times less likely to access needed health and social services because of their fear of discrimination from the very people who should be helping them.

"This type of social isolation has an enormous impact in the health and well-being of LGBT older adults," added the text. "With LGBT older adults twice as likely to live alone than heterosexual older adults, more than four times as likely to have no children, the informal caregiving support we assume is in place for older adults may not be there for LGBT elders."

Such elder care services are but one means to address the needs of GLBT senior citizens, whose ranks are growing as the baby boomers age.

One innovation that might address the needs of GLBT seniors is the concept of the retirement community for sexual minorities--assisted living facilities or communal living situations where elder gays can be assured that they will be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.

But though several GLBT elder communities have been planned, they face rough going. One case in point: A Boston-based community for GLBTs over the age of 55 that would have been the first of its kind in New England went belly-up without ever even breaking ground.

Given that so many GLBT elders feel unsure or unsafe in elder care communities or assisted living facilities that serve a general populace, are gay-specific communities the wave of the future?

If so, the wave seems slow in gathering momentum. But that doesn't mean a need doesn't exist. An October 2007, New York Times article reported that GLBT elders frequently encounter homophobia, social isolation, and even abuse in elder care facilities. One senior citizen named Gloria Donadello, a lesbian in her 80s who came out to her fellow residents at an assisted living facility in Santa Fe, New Mexico, found herself frozen out of the limited social fabric of the facility. It was isolating; it drove her, the Times article said, into a depression.

The same article recounted how a gay man in a senior care facility in an East Coast city was removed from the general population of healthy, lucid seniors because other residents, and their families, protested his presence. The man was warehoused in a section of the facility for patients suffering from dementia; before more suitable accommodations could be arranged for him, the man, who had no family, hung himself.

A 2011 documentary titled "Gen Silent" examined the crisis of GLBT elders by following six Boston-area residents in their dealings with a health care system (as well as family members) that often seemed less than sympathetic.

"Many who won the first civil rights victories for generations to come are now dying prematurely because they are reluctant to ask for help and have too few friends or family to care for them," text at the website for the film's director, Stu Maddox, said.

"Gen Silent shows the disparity in the quality of paid caregiving from mainstream care facilities committed making their LGBT residents safe and happy, to places where LGBT elders face discrimination by staff and bullying by other seniors," the text added.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.