SAGE, which stands for Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders, has been around for nearly 30 years. Based in New York, it is the country's largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT older adults. With additional offices in Washington, D.C. and Chicago, SAGE has a growing network of 30 local affiliates in 20 states.
Two years ago, SAGE Metro Detroit was created. Since then, the local group has been busy. "We are doing a number of different things," said Angie Perone, director of SAGE Metro Detroit. "The core focus of SAGE is to build awareness and promote change so that LGBT older adults may age with dignity and authenticity. We have identified four pillars to focus our attention on – programming, information, training and advocacy. So we've been doing a lot of things within those four brackets to really create awareness and change for older LGBT adults."
SAGE Metro Detroit's largest project has undoubtedly been creating the Rainbow Resource Guide.
"We conducted a really brief survey of 55 organizations to identify whether or not they had non-discrimination policies that included sexual orientation and gender identity," Perone explained. "We targeted organizations that because of their funding were required to have this in their policies. We know that currently Michigan laws do not protect lgbts from discrimination. So LGBT older adults often struggle to find LGBT service providers. And we've found that discrimination might attribute to health disparity in older LGBT adults."
Of the 55 organizations surveyed, only seven had policies in place that included sexual orientation and gender identity.
"A lot of the organizations thought their policy did include sexual orientation and gender identity but they did not," said Perone. "This showed us we had a lot more work to do. So we put together this resource guide. What we did was we included a specific icon in the resource guide that indicates whether or not the organization has a written policy that addresses sexual orientation and gender identity. And it also specifies if they have a statement of care that indicates they won't discriminate against clients based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
"Through this process we were actually able to help organizations and agencies modify their policies if they didn't have that in place," Perone continued. "We also had a number of organizations express interest in engaging in training so that their staff had better tools to work with and could respond appropriately to working with lgbt older adults."
Additional Projects Ongoing
Although the Rainbow Resource Guide is SAGE Metro Detroit's largest project, it's not the organization's only effort. Among other projects, the agency has put together the "Caregiving & LGBT Concerns Guide," available online.
"We put together and released it over the past few months. Basically it's a guide that focuses on caregiving for LGBT older adults. It's also a guide for LGBT caregivers," said Perone.
Another project is the LGBT Aging Initiative, which is funded by a grant from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.
"This is basically kind of carryover from a previous group that we had," Perone said. "It's for training and working with service providers to enhance their ability to respond and work with LGBT older adults."
The initiative will help SAGE Metro Detroit to expand their focus throughout the state. "Our area is metro Detroit or southeastern Michigan but we've been doing work all over the state since we're the only sage in Michigan," said Perone. "We're going to be working over the next couple of years with organizations in the Upper Peninsula, the Grand Rapids area and the Saginaw-Bay City area. We'll be working closely with area agencies on aging to create more training and procedural changes on how these agencies collect and record information about sexual orientation and gender identity."
An additional project taken on by the group is the Friendly Caller Program.
"The idea here is to connect volunteer callers with LGBT older adults who might be more isolated," Perone said. "To have regular, periodic calls to stay connected and check in and reduce the social isolation of older LGBT adults. There's a lot of research about the devastation of social isolation on older LGBT adults. There's lots of reasons why LGBT older adults are maybe more isolated that their heterosexual peers. There's also some research suggesting there's more hesitancy and more concern among LGBT adults to go visit senior centers, even if transportation is not an issue. It's about making sure that they feel welcome. So this is an opportunity that will connect people and address this health issue. It also builds community within the LGBT community and allies."