LGBT seniors offer those of us in the community who have not yet hit our golden years a direct link to the past. They are living reminders of where we have been, full of stories and knowledge that, when tapped, provide a wealth of insight and a heightened awareness of what it means to be lesbian, gay, bi or trans in this day and age.
LGBT seniors also have a unique set of concerns. Over the years, a number of organizations and groups have sprung up to help our older LGBT brothers and sisters with these issues.
Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders, or SAGE, is the country’s oldest and largest organization dedicated to advocating for rights in this field. They focus on the wide array of LGBT elder needs, from arts and culture to health and wellness, political advocacy to community building.
As they point out on their website, sageusa.org, recent estimates suggest that the number of LGBT people ages 65 and up will double by the year 2030. SAGE also notes that due to both anti-LGBT and ageist bigotry, this group is more likely to face issues of poverty, routine discrimination and poor health.
These organizations and social clubs aim to reverse the trend and offer assistance and community where it is needed most. Below are some of the major players in the field in North Carolina.
SAGE Raleigh & SAGE Wilmington
There are two SAGE chapters in North Carolina: SAGE Raleigh and SAGE Wilmington of the Cape Fear Coast.
SAGE Raleigh began as the Gay & Gray Initiative in 2011, as a way to offer services and advocacy for LGBT individuals ages 50 and older. They joined the SAGE network in 2013.
“We knew from the very beginning that we wanted to become affiliated with SAGE,” says Les Geller, a former board member of the LGBT Center of Raleigh who started Gay & Gray.
Geller says they had to conduct surveys and focus groups to find out areas of interest and need amount in the LGBT elder community and were in contact with SAGE about various requirements they needed to meet, which they eventually did after about a year and a half of work.
SAGE Raleigh hosts a weekly Thursday morning drop-in at the LGBT Center of Raleigh, 324 S. Harrington St., where members can come and have some coffee and a pastry and chat. The city of Raleigh has twice awarded the group a grant to help run this initiative.
They also have a Tuesday evening soireé event on the second Tuesday of every month from 5:30-8:30 p.m. and organize other social events from time to time, such as picnics, pot lucks, dances and outings to museums, theaters and movies.
Education sessions are also held, on topics such as ageism, HIV awareness and internet security.
The group has also begun a housing initiative that will, as Geller says, “look into the possibility, or probability, of establishing LGBT friendly affordable senior housing in Wake County.”
Geller says they have broken up into two groups: one to educate and train staff and administration for existing senior housing projects, informing them what to look for when considering LGBT elders’ needs, and the second to look into what it takes to establish a housing development geared toward LGBT seniors and their allies.
SAGE Wilmington was also founded in 2013 and they do community and advocacy work similar to SAGE Raleigh. They are also now focusing on an inclusive housing initiative as well.
Both groups are participating in the national SAGE initiative, SAGE Story, sponsored by AARP and the national SAGE organization, to share the unique stories of this underrepresented community.
“Back in 2013, maybe a dozen older LGBT people [in Wilmington] sat down in front of a video camera and related their stories, their histories on video. SAGE USA collected those stories and exhibits them on their website,” says SAGE Wilmington Director Jeffrey Clayton Mills. “Then in 2015 we did a new round of SAGE Story, which are also online on the SAGE national website.”
Mills says he believes the impact of having these stories out there before a wider audience helps to preserve a piece of LGBT history.
“Most elderly LGBT people really have fascinating stories to tell and it’s pretty wonderful to have them preserved this way,” he says.
SAGE Wilmington was also present with over 500 members at a recent city council meeting, where they called on them to pass a resolution calling for the repeal of HB2, which they did in fact do that night.
You can learn more about SAGE Raleigh at lgbtcenterofraleigh.com/programs/adult-programs/sage-raleigh and SAGE Wilmington at thefrankharrfoundation.com/sage-wilmington.
LGBT Elder Advocates of WNC
The LGBT Elder Advocates of WNC are a grassroots, nonprofit, operating as a division of the Blue Ridge Pride Center’s 501 (C)(3)and is hosted by the Area Agency on Aging at Land-of-Sky Regional Council. They advocate for Western North Carolina’s LGBT seniors by, as their mission states, “connecting people to resources and promoting cultural change by raising awareness and providing education.”
They offer awareness and sensitivity trainings and host a number of social events, such as book clubs, a social lunch program and a night out at the movies.
Learn more about the LGBT Elder Advocates of WNC by visiting their website at lgbtelderadvocatesofwnc.org.
Prime Timers, Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, Asheville
Prime Timers is a gay and bisexual male social group with chapters worldwide, including in Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill and Asheville in North Carolina. Common activities include dinners, game nights, potluck dinners and outings to various events around town.
Learn more about Prime Timers by visiting primetimersww.com, or by visiting the Prime Timers of Charlotte site at primetimersww.com/charlotte, the RDU Prime Timers at meetup.com/rdu-pt and/or the Asheville Prime Timers at ashevilleprimetimers.com.