BY AJ TRAGER
DETROIT – More than 150 LGBT people gathered June 18 for the 6th Annual LGBT Older Adult Summit at the MSU Detroit Campus. Much of the conversation and workshops focused on topics like how to obtain financial security in older age, legal issues for singles and couples post marriage equality and what role older adults can play in the continuing struggle for full civil rights. However, the tragedy in Orlando was never far from people’s minds. Each speaker spoke to the grief and outrage felt by the LGBT community, and used the Summit’s collective gathering to offer solace, comfort and hope.
“The reason we want to have hate crimes legislation is because when someone commits an act of hate against an entire group of people its not just the victims who suffer, it’s the entire community that becomes traumatized and terrorized,” said Kat LaTosch, president of the board of the new SAGE Metro Detroit, in her opening remarks. SAGE Metro Detroit, the organizer of this year’s Summit, is the successor organization to the Older Adult Coalition. Last year SAGE Metro Detroit was approved as one of 29 chapters of SAGE (Services & Advocacy For Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders), the nation’s largest and longest serving organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT older adults.
The day-long conference opened up with a breakfast sponsored by PharMor Pharmacy followed by opening remarks and an invocation moderated by Judy Lewis. Jan Stevenson, co-publisher of Between The Lines, then gave an empowering keynote address and impressed on the attendees that they have an important role to play in determining the future of the LGBT movement.
“We know what to do. We, the SAGE elders, we know it because we’ve been doing it for years. We know how we got here and we know what to do because through experience, trial and error and witness, we know what works, what backfires and we know how to measure real change because we’ve born witness to it,” Stevenson said. “We need to celebrate and we need to build on marriage equality’s victories. We need to stand up to violence and tyranny and we need to help our young LGBT people transition to adulthood.”
A lot is at stake in the upcoming year for LGBT men and women, along with activists working to create and build pro-LGBT policies and legislation. Stevenson suggested that the young activists today and the LGBT elders form a partnership and learn from one another, building off of the work that was accomplished by LGBT elders. It is long said that if history is not shared it gets lost.
Longtime summit organizer Judy Lewis with keynote speaker Jan Stevenson. BTL photos: AJ Trager
“Had it not been for those decades of activism, getting people accustomed to the concept of civil unions, visibility of LGBT parents and families, showing people that everybody has an LGBT coworker somewhere and that that person is contributing to your economic security, without that groundwork marriage equality never would’ve happened. And it’s our generation that did that work.”
Following Stevenson’s remarks, a number of workshops took place, including a panel discussion on what current legal rights there are for same-sex couples, presented by attorneys Adrienne Watts, Jane Bassett and Henry Grix. Lisa Whitmore Davis from the AARP discussed a fraud watch network, caregiving workshops and upcoming calendar of events by the agency; a panel focused on financial planning for LGBT individuals and families was presented by LauRyn Williams, financial advisor for Waddell & Reed and a presentation on ageism was presented by Vincent Tilford, executive director of Luella Hannan Memorial Foundation.
Ina Birko is a return participant to the LGBT Older Adult Summit. She went to the first summit in 2011. Comparing the two events, Birko told BTL that she likes the new format and updates the organization has made to the summit and appreciates the topics that SAGE chose to present to attendees, particularly those surrounding taxes and estate planning.
“It’s important to have LGBT summits like this one, because people don’t know what is available,” Birko said. “I don’t know what’s going on. My friends know more about it because they’re married. I haven’t a clue. I need to know what’s available to me and going over it is very, very important – and providing us with access to information.”
The lifetime achievement award was presented to Atiba Cohen & Carolee Moss. Unfortunately, both women passed away unexpectedly within the last year. Atiba’s surviving partner accepted the award on her behalf.