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BY AJ TRAGER
DETROIT – In 2010 a dedicated group of volunteers, operating as the LGBT Older Adult Coalition, began looking for ways to better serve the aging LGBT community in southeast Michigan. On Oct. 28, an initiative by the coalition that started this past January was officially realized when it renamed itself “SAGE Metro Detroit.”
SAGE, Services & Advocacy For Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders, is the country’s largest and longest serving organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT older adults and offers innovative services and programs to LGBT older adults nationwide.
The new Metro Detroit chapter is just one of 29 chapters serving 21 states across the country. Through its work, the Metro Detroit chapter of SAGE will provide premier LGBT cultural competency training, help create safe spaces and provide a framework for many programs and services that are lacking for LGBT older adults in the area.
“So, I kind of feel like we should be playing the celebration song. This is truly exciting. This has been a lot of work and this is just a huge momentous day for us all,” said Kathleen LaTosch, board member of SAGE Metro Detroit.
The Hope Fund of the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan provided the first grant to the LGBT Older Adult Coalition when it first started in 2010 and helped kick off the programs and services organized by the LGBT Older Adult Coalition.
Already working on other LGBT advocacy projects in the area, LaTosch, Judy Lewis and Jay Kaplan wanted better information on how to advise LGBT older adults in Metro Detroit on how to get access to safe and affirming care, aging services and housing and wanted to know how to prevent LGBT older adults from going back into the closet.
“The three of us who had been working in the community for a decade or more looked at one another, scratched our heads and said, ‘Wow, we don’t have any good LGBT affirming referrals for people in our community – that’s a problem, and we need to make changes in this area,'” said LaTosch.
The first LGBT Older Adult Summit was held in 2010. With close to 100 people in attendance, they helped identify what the the needs of the aging Detroit LGBT community are. The day-long conference, which has been held for five consecutive years, continues to draw over 100 people each year.
“We have a tremendous number of ideas but we don’t have a tremendous amount of money,” Lewis said. “But, we’re going to do the best we can. What has made this so successful and what I think will continue to make this successful is the fact that people have reached out and said, ‘Come join my program. I am changing my policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity and we will have accountability.'”
Over the past five years the coalition partnered with the State of Michigan Offices of Services to the Aging to launch the first ever statewide needs assessment for LGBT older adults in the nation and captured the responses of over 750 individuals. The Michigan assessment remains the only survey conducted focusing entirely on the needs of LGBT older adults.
The coalition also launched a cultural competency project with all three of the area agencies on aging that, with the aid of two certified trainers from the National Resource on LGBT Aging, was able to train hundreds of service providers in the area over the past five years on LGBT cultural competency. The three area agencies on aging collectively serve seven counties in Metro Detroit and receive 350 calls a year from older adults seeking services.
“We have a lot more to do,” LaTosch said. “The reason we became the SAGE Metro Detroit affiliate was because we wanted to pull everything that was being done together under one umbrella and make it really clean, simple and pull all our resources together to make it more effective and more efficient.”
The SAGE application was sent to SAGE national this past summer and the approval was sent to LaTosch just a few months later in September. LaTosch said that the process was relatively smooth.
“The reason this is so successful is because it is truly a collaboration and a coalition of groups coming together,” LaTosch said.
“The one thing that we really ask you to do if at all possible: tell your older adult LGBT friends that we exist and to become visible to us. We won’t share lists, but we know there are people out there who are disengaged. And we really want to engage everyone in this community,” Lewis emphasized.
Lewis will serve as volunteer manager of SAGE Metro Detroit. LaTosch will serve as chair of the board with Jay Kaplan as volunteer vice chair. The website http://www.lgbtolderadults.com will soon change its brand to SAGE Metro Detroit as will all further activities such as the older adult summit held annually in June. Those looking to donate to the organization can do so by contacting Lewis at email@example.com.
The organization will have two offices: one north of 8 Mile at Affirmations Community Center in Ferndale and one south of 8 Mile at The Luella Hannan Memorial Foundation located near Warren on Woodward, to better serve the community and “meet people where they are,” LaTosch said.
Local affiliated organizations that helped get the LGBT Older Adult Coalition established include: LGBT Detroit, The Luella Hannan Memorial Foundation, Nonprofit Enterprises at Work, Equality Michigan, State of Michigan Aging and Adult Services Agency, AARP, Area Agency On Aging 1A-Detroit, Area Agency On Aging 1-B, Area Agency on Aging 1-C and Community Connections.