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SAGE (Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders) Metro Detroit will benefit from a $400,000 grant awarded to the ACLU of Michigan from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund. The grant will fund a two-year project that seeks to reduce isolation and improve care to LGBT older adults in three Michigan regions by replicating a successful Detroit-area collaborative pilot project between local LGBT service organizations and the Area Agencies on Aging (AAA). SAGE Metro Detroit is one of many partners working on this project.
AAA are experts on all aspects of aging. They were created by a federal law in 1974 to help older Americans and their caregivers live quality lives with independence and dignity. There are 16 AAAs in Michigan and over 600 in the U.S.
In Metro Detroit in 2013-2014, SAGE surveyed 55 area service providers for the elderly. The survey sought to identify “whether or not they had nondiscrimination policies that included sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Angie Perone, director of SAGE Metro Detroit, for an article that ran in Between The Lines earlier this year. “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 LGBT people from discrimination. So LGBT older adults often struggle to find welcoming service providers. And we’ve found that discrimination might attribute to health disparity in older LGBT adults.”
SAGE went on to work with the organizations to help those that didn’t have non-discrimination policies craft one and conducted trainings for the organizations on how to work with LGBT older adults and be more welcoming. When this work was completed they created the Rainbow Resource Guide as a tool for older LGBT adults to know where they go could to find LGBT welcoming and affirming services.
It was while conducting this work and presenting at Metro Detroit’s AAA that SAGE was approached about doing similar work in more rural regions of the state.
“We presented at one of their meetings and other regions from across the state reached out to us and asked for help,” said Kat LaTosch, project director for SAGE’s LGBT Aging Initiative. “We said, ‘we’d love to and were applying for grants and we’ll get back to you as soon as we have money.’ When we applied for money we approached these three regions and said, ‘you were interested before are you still interested now and if so let’s plan this together.'”
So SAGE partnered with Perceptions for Region 7, which includes Bay City and surrounding areas, the Grand Rapids Pride Center for Region 8, which includes Grand Rapids and surrounding areas and U.P. Rainbow Pride for Region 11, which consists of the entire Upper Peninsula.
“They’re all big regions and they’re all very rural,” said LaTosch.
The Challenges of Reaching a Rural Audience
Most recently, SAGE conducted a patented seven-hour training session in collaboration with the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging in two Upper Peninsula communities, Escanaba and Marquette.
“In the UP there’s no LGBT organization with paid staff,” said LaTosch. “Similarly a lot of the services in the UP are spread out more. So one agency is not going to serve only older adults. It’s going to serve young people, people with disabilities, etc.
“I can’t even get a cell connection in the middle of the UP, which means that reaching LGBT people is not going to happen over the internet,” LaTosch continued. “Many don’t even have the internet or a cell phone. So our reaching of people, how we reach people, will require different techniques than how we reach people in Detroit.”
LaTosch said that by the conclusion of this project, SAGE will have worked with six of the 16 AAA regions in the state extensively.
“By the end of this we’d like to have created a how to manual for the other regions,” she said. “One of the most interesting things about this project is we are using a model that we kind of grew in Detroit and applying it to rural Michigan. So we’re learning a lot of messages along the way. Our approach has always been from a learning perspective. Here’s what we did here let’s see how it applies to this region.”
The Rainbow Resource Guide SAGE created for Metro Detroit has also been a valuable tool in the outstate trainings.
“We wanted to use that an example,” said LaTosch. “We don’t want to be outstate forever. We’re Detroit. So we wanted to help them get the tools they need and then send them out to do it themselves. We’re continuing to learn and excited about what we’re learning and we’re also looking forward to sharing these lessons with other communities.
SAGE’s outstate LGBT partner agencies are also excited about the work the project is doing.
“Older LGBT individuals have a need to know that there is an organization in the State of Michigan that have staff trained, vetted vendors and partners who are accepting and welcoming of older LGBT persons,” said Perceptions Chair Chris Lauckner. “Perceptions, Inc. is glad to be partnering with the Region 7 Area Agency on Aging and SAGE in assuring older LGBT individuals they can be who they are in their home environment and assured they will receive quality service and care.”
Larry DeShane, Jr., center administrator for the Grand Rapids Pride Center, shared similar sentiments.
“We have the opportunity to make a positive impact almost immediately on the lives of those who came before us and helped earned the rights too many take for granted these days and to affect the quality of life for those LGBT community members nearing retirement age,” DeShane, Jr. said. “This initiative is as much saying thank you to our senior population but also laying the groundwork for future generations to truly age with grace, beauty, and dignity as their authentic selves.”