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A SAGE Table is a program of SAGE Metro Detroit, an agency dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ older adults, and is an intergenerational dinner event designed to start conversations with those of varying generations. The latest SAGE Table took place at the Ferndale Affirmations LGBTQ community center on April 4, and I was invited as a reporter to attend and experience the evening firsthand. Upon arrival, I was greeted at the door by Judy Lewis, SAGE Metro Detroit’s training and education manager.
She told me that the first SAGE Table was held just last year, “But it was so successful that this year we’re going to have four.”
“Our next two are going to be in Macomb and Washtenaw Counties to make sure we’re covering every geographic area we service,” she said.
Allowed to sit where we chose, all attendees were encouraged to pick tables with people we did not already know. The invitation to the event said groups would be randomly divided at tables by the age groups of 21 to 35, 36 to 49, 50 to 65 and over 65.
Eventually, there were seven of us at our table and roughly 40 across the room — though our group was not as diverse as we would have hoped. There was Tim, 64, retired after 40 years on the line at Chrysler; Karen, 65, who works for the city of Detroit; Beth, 66, a retired social worker; Sam, 60, a cancer survivor; Keisha, 40, in charge of Sage Metro Detroit’s Friendly Caller Program; myself, 47; and a final individual, estimated to be in his 40s, who did not wish to be a part of this story and who eventually left the table.
Though we were all happy enough to share a meal, pizza and salad, I sensed that the group was slightly disappointed in the lack of diversity among those in attendance.
“That I’d like to see develop more,” Beth said. “Those intergenerational interactions. We certainly have a lot to learn from each other and we both need each other.”
As with almost any brand-new meetings, opening up is a slow process, but by the end we began to share basic information about our lives.
Tim was married twice to women and has, for the past decade, been married to a man. He was outed while in the process of divorcing from his second wife and he was so distraught that he became suicidal for a time. But today, he said he’s happier than he’s even been.
“It’s been the best 10 years of my life,” he said. “He is a great guy and his family is wonderful.”
Karen, despite being a year older than Tim, is not yet ready for retirement. Beth, on the other hand, is fully enjoying her retirement. She takes poetry classes and practices yoga at a studio called Silver Sneakers.
After generally chatting for a while, Beth prompts us to pay some attention to the list of suggested topics sitting on the table. The list asked such questions as, ‘What’s your super power?,’ ‘What was the defining event of your generation?,’ ‘How do you feel about the word “queer?”‘ and more. Though we all participated, it was clear that our mutual experiences and opinions really aren’t that varied.
But, the conversation was congenial and everyone in attendance seemed to be a fan of SAGE’s programming. Sam said he participates in the agency’s friendly caller program, too, and speaks two to three times a month with a 30-year-old from the program who, he said, lets him know what’s going on the world. Karen said that she’s hosting a potluck for the group later in the month.
“SAGE is a good organization,” she said. “They focus on my peers with a real positive attitude. They do fun things, educational things, house parties, conversations and everything’s free. You can’t beat that.”
Eventually, after cake was served, the crowd several dozen strong began to thin out. By the time I had my slice and said my goodbyes I’m able to say I’ve had a pleasant evening and I’m delighted to see that it’s still light outside. I left genuinely pleased to have shared in good conversation with some nice people. It was good to be reassured that our LGBTQ elders are still surviving and, at least from what I saw, thriving. Though it was my first SAGE Table, I hope it won’t be my last.
To find out more about SAGE as a national organization visit sageusa.org. Local events can be followed by visiting sagemetrodetroit.org.