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6 posts from February 2016

February 29, 2016

The History & Future of the Black Trans Rights Movement

Presenters-- History and Future
Martin and Vazquez with SAGE event attendees

In honor of Black History Month, SAGE will be sharing a series of posts from partners and constituents sharing their stories. SAGE's Digital Media Assistant, Vera Lukacs, shares her experience from attending an event at the SAGE Center Midtown.

On February 23rd, 2016, Jevon Martin and Mya Vazquez hosted a talk on the History and Future of the Black Trans Rights Movement at SAGE Center Midtown. The speakers discussed the past, present and future of the black trans rights movement throughout history, while facilitating an ongoing discussion with those who attended. 

In recent years, the transgender rights movement has become more visible in the media and our everyday lives. However, trans people, and especially trans people of color, are being killed and discriminated at an alarming rate. According to the NCAVP’s Anti LGBTQ & HIV-Affected Hate Violence in 2014, 80% of homicide victims in 2014 were people of color. Furthermore, 55% of homicide victims were transgender women. “The transgender rights movement is something that feels new to a lot people, and to other people, it doesn’t feel that new. But we don’t tend to recognize just how far back it goes and how intertwined it is with the history of the entire LGBT movement.” said Pony Knowles, the program coordinator for the event. 

Sylvia and Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson (far left)

Jevon Martin, the NYS Chapter president of Black Transmen Inc., spoke about his own transgender heroes from the past, present, and his vision for the future. Martin began by showcasing transgender individuals such as Tracey Africa, a transgender African-American woman from New Jersey. She modeled all over the world from Milan and Paris, and eventually was the face of the Clairol Born Beautiful hair color boxes. Next on the list was Willmer “Little Ax” Broadnax, a famous musician born in Mississippi. It wasn’t until Willmer died that people found out he was assigned female at birth. Martin went on to talk about a few notable individuals, such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two of the most visible pioneers in the transgender rights movement and Stonewall riots. 

Some of Martin's and Vazquez’s current heroes are Miss Major Griffin-Gracy and Kim Watson (who was scheduled to be a speaker at this event, but was injured and unable to attend). Both Watson and Miss Major are influential leaders in the black transgender rights movement.  

Kim Watson is the Co-Founder of Community Kinship Life, an organization that is dedicated to “provide the trans community with the tools needed to achieve their personal goals while having a sense of community and kinship.” Griffin-Gracy is the Executive Director at Transgender GenderVariant Intersex Justice Project, an organization that serves trans people who are currently incarcerated or are former inmates.  
As the event drew to a close, it was clear the audience was left with an appreciation of a community they were not deeply familiar with prior to the meeting. This event, sponsored by SAGE, is part of a larger effort by the organization to bring visibility to the transgender community and create solidarity within the larger LGBT movement.  

February 16, 2016

Supporting Diverse Older Women Seeking Jobs

In honor of Black History Month, SAGE will be sharing a series of posts from partners and constituents sharing their stories. SAGE's partners at the Diverse Elders Coalition are pleased to present this guest post from Jenna McDavid, Communications and Logistics Associate, Diverse Elders Coalition.


I remember reading this article in the New York Times back in January – on New Year’s Day, no less; what a way to kick off 2016! – and thinking about the older women I’ve met and worked with at the Diverse Elders Coalition. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with elders at the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging and the Asian Counseling and Referral Services here in Seattle, and I was fortunate to observe a computer class at SAGE’s Midtown Manhattan Center in New York City when I visited their offices last year. In almost every instance, I heard about the bleak job-hunting prospects for diverse women over 50.

The New York Times article linked above offers some heartbreaking anecdotes of women who are unemployed and unable to find meaningful work; in addition to those who are counted on census data as “unemployed,” still more women are working but unable to make ends meet with low-paying, low-skilled jobs. Add in the multiple layers of racism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia that our elders of color and LGBT elders may face, and we find harsh employment reality for the communities we serve.

This graph from the New York Times shows long-term unemployment in older American women, but does not account for race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

This graph from the New York Times shows long-term unemployment in older American women, but does not account for race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

 So, what can we do to support the women in our communities who are looking for work? One solution comes from SAGE, whose SAGEWorks program provides education and training to LGBT job-seekers over 40. I love this program, because it offers support from start to finish through the job-hunting process, including technology and resume-building workshops, computer software and internet access, and job placement assistance.

A colleague at SAGE recently shared with me a recent video interview with Diane Wilson, a SAGEWorks participant from New York, and I was moved by Diane’s years of experience with unemployment and underemployment. She is trained in film and TV production but is currently working only part-time as a professor at a local university. Like so many of the women in the New York Times article and in our families and communities, Diane has skills, knowledge, and training in a specialized field that hasn’t manifested in steady employment, especially since the 2008 recession.

The economic security of our diverse elders is a key priority for our coalition; without steady work, retirement and financial planning, and money to keep a roof over our heads, our communities can neither survive nor thrive. We love what SAGEWorks is doing to support the diverse women who come to their doors seeking employment assistance. Other members of our coalition are fighting, too, to bring economic security to our communities: both NAPCA and NICOA both run successful Senior Community Service Employment Programs (SCSEP) that connects elders with job training and placement. NHCOA advocates for paid leave so that our community members never have to choose between their families and their jobs. And SEARAC has worked to support the economic empowerment of the Southeast Asian American communities across the country.

My resolution this year is to better support the older women in my communities who are seeking employment. Through my work with the DEC and in volunteering with programs like SAGEWorks, I hope that on New Year’s Day 2017, we’ll instead be reading articles about the employment gains being made by our diverse elders. I’ve already even worked out a headline: Baby Boomers Enjoy Employment Boom! New York Times editorial board, take note.

- See more at: http://www.diverseelders.org/2016/02/15/supporting-diverse-older-women-seeking-jobs/#sthash.oimp9DGL.dpuf


February 12, 2016

It’s Never Too Early To Start Retirement Planning…Is It?

In honor of Black History Month, SAGE will be sharing a series of posts from partners and constituents sharing their stories. SAGE's partners at the Diverse Elders Coalition are pleased to present this guest post from Vega Subramaniam of Vega Mala Consulting.

VegaSometimes I wonder if I’m being a bit too morbid, spending as much brainpower as I do thinking about end-of-life experiences. I’m not that old yet. People older than me who are smart and thoughtful about their lives are not thinking about post-retirement life yet. Actually, sometimes when I bring this up, friends will look at me like, “Vega. You’re 50. I think you’ll be working for maybe a year or two still.”

It’s not that I don’t know that I’ve got some employment time ahead of me. It’s that when I witness the stories of my elders, what keeps haunting me is premature death. And let’s be honest: every death is premature.

I think about my father-in-law, Raj: a public administrator, CPA, and active community member. Back in the late 1980s, he and a group of (South Indian Hindu) community members came together to begin conversations about their futures. He was among the oldest of the group, at the time being in his mid fifties. Some of the others were as much as ten or fifteen years younger.

What brought them together was a growing sense of urgency about having an end game in mind. They – their community – were the first generation of post-1965 immigrants from India. They were Hindu and well educated and came to the U.S. expecting to provide a strong education for their children – and then “go back home to India.” That was a dream cherished by probably the vast majority of those early arrivals.

And yet.

A decade, two, three went by, and they remained here in the States. They might have been doing fine financially, but when it came to their retirement – and beyond – they had no idea. In the India they left back in the day, they’d have moved into their oldest son’s home. Here? In the late 1980s? Not likely.

So what was left? What did they have? Each other, as it turned out.

So there they were, in the late 1980s, starting conversations with each other about their post-retirement plans. That led to research on retirement communities, which led to conversations with real estate agents and developers, financial advisors, lawyers – and which culminated in the early 2000s in plans to build a Hindu, vegetarian 55+ condo community on land adjacent to the Sri Shiva Vishnu Temple in Lanham, MD. The community was to be called Bhagya Village, and those initial community members all invested money toward making it happen.

Fast forward to 2008, when the economy was ripped out from under us. The Bhagya Village team had escaped losing money by virtue of a fortuitous decision to postpone buying land based on murmurings of a real estate crash. Averting that disaster, though, meant delaying development for years.

Fast forward to 2013. Raj was now 80 and newly diagnosed with Stage IV cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (i.e., emphysema). Bhagya Village had finally bought land and contracted with a developer. According to the timeline, the first units were due to open in the autumn of 2015. Raj died in December of 2013.

This story, which swirls in my head, is joined by others. One woman I know had a circle of friends who schemed together for their whole lives about their post-retirement adventures. By the time she did retire, she looked around and realized all of her friends had already passed away.

I want to honor and learn from these stories and lessons. So I reflect on them. What’s the lesson? Plan as obsessively and as early as possible so you can realize your dreams before you die? Carpe diem because you never know how long you have? Or are those the poles that we’ll inevitably swing between, like inhaling and exhaling?

There’s a model out there called polarity management, which notes that there are pros and cons associated with each end of any polarity. We’re drawn to the pros of one pole, but then the cons push us like a pendulum to the other pole – where it happens again.

My wife Mala and I are finding our own way through this polarity. Being the self-development process nerds that we are, we spend one weekend in January on an intentional life planning retreat, a practice we started in 2003. As part of that process, we connect with our mission and values, and sketch out our plans for the next couple decades until we (hope to, let’s see what happens) retire. And then we structure our days for this year, and this moment, firmly grounded in our values and long-term goals, regardless of our longevity. At least that way, we can take some comfort in knowing that we have a true north that we’re following.

I had hoped, now, to loop back to the beginning of this post, and offer closure to the question of how morbid I’m being and the stories of my elders that haunt me. But honestly, they still haunt me. For Mala, she’s more settled with the uncertainty, and finding a place in the polarity: carpe diem but feel at peace living intentionally, rooted in values, and heed the Bhagavad Gita: “Be intent on action, not the fruits of action.”


February 9, 2016

The Time to Act is Now! United for Paid Family Leave

In honor of Black History Month, SAGE will be sharing a series of posts from partners and constituents sharing their stories. SAGE's partners at the Diverse Elders Coalition and are pleased to present this guest post from Dr. Yanira Cruz, President and CEO of the National Hispanic Council on Aging.

YaniraThe time has come to make a change and support paid family leave for everyone. As President and CEO of the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA), the leading national organization working to improve the lives of Hispanics older adults, their families, and caregivers, I will be testifying in a public hearing for the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015 on Thursday, February 11, 2016.

Hispanic older adults face substantial challenges to aging in economic security and in the best possible health. Limited education and English speaking ability, combined with a lack of financial literacy, means that many Hispanics enter old age with little in the way of savings. In 2014, 80% of Hispanics lacked health insurance and 23.6% lived in poverty. Hispanics have the second highest labor force participation rate among non-Hispanic Whites, African Americans, Asian Americans, American Indians, and Native Hawaiians; however, they are over-represented in low-paying, physically demanding jobs that offer little in terms of health benefits or paid sick days.

Washington, D.C. and its Hispanic population need the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015. Many of the health and economic barriers that Hispanics face could be lowered by access to paid family leave. Not only will this policy encourage the use of affordable preventative health care, it will also keep workers healthy so they do not develop conditions that are expensive to treat. Paid family leave will help intergenerational households by allowing adult children to take time off to care for their parents or to take them to the doctor. They shouldn’t have to choose between their jobs and their families.

I invite you to join and support paid family leave for a better Washington, D.C. United, we can make a change!

February 6, 2016

Remembering Our Seniors on National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

In honor of Black History Month, SAGE will be sharing a series of posts from partners and constituents sharing their stories. SAGE's partners at the Diverse Elders Coalition and MetroWeekly are pleased to present this guest post from Earl D. Fowlkes, President/CEO of the Center for Black Equity. Read the original here.

Earl D. Fowlkes,
President/CEO of the Center for Black Equity

February 7, 2016 marks the 16th National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD), a national HIV testing and treatment community mobilization initiative targeted at Blacks in the United States and the Diaspora. This year’s theme is “We are Our Brother/Sister’s Keeper: FIGHT HIV/AIDS.” I had cause to take a moment to reflect on the impact that HIV/AIDS has on my life, particularly as a Gay Black Man. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has been with us since 1981, and I have worked in the HIV/AIDS prevention and care field since the mid-eighties as a caregiver, volunteer, service provider, and administrator. I have often referred to those days as the “time of darkness,” as an HIV diagnosis meant pain and heartache, both physical as well as emotional; at that time, there were very few medicines or medical interventions available. My mind floods with the names of friends, clients and loved ones who were taken far too soon.

Several months ago, a close friend who is in his sixties and lives in another part of the United States called to informed me he had tested positive for HIV. I was a bit taken aback: this friend had tested negative for years and understood HIV prevention practices. He was very upset but not for the reasons I would have thought. He complained that he didn’t feel supported on his journey for information and medical care. Most of the staff he encountered were in their 20’s and 30’s and could not relate to him being a sexually active senior. He was concerned about how his HIV diagnosis would impact his senior housing and how his neighbors would react if they found out. He said one younger staffer at the HIV/AIDS service provider treated him as if he was a “dirty old man.” I asked him if he knew about Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and he said he did but thought it was for younger Gay men. He said was shocked to find ageism so rampant as he tried to access care and treatment.

I gave him additional resources, and I also did a little research on the impact of HIV/AIDS on people over 50. In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated the rate of new HIV infections among people over 50 was 17%. Also, the CDC estimates that by 2020, over 50% of People Living with HIV/AIDS will be over the age of 50. In 2014, 44% of new HIV infections were African Americans, who only make up 12% of the population. These statistics and my friend’s call to me were stark reminders that we must include all parts of our community in our HIV/AIDS prevention outreach efforts, care, and treatment. Many of our seniors are sexually active and vulnerable to the same circumstances of the lack of information and support as the younger and more visible members of the community. On this NBHAAD, remember: we are our brother and sister’s keeper, from our teens to our seniors. Let’s fight HIV/AIDS together!


February 4, 2016

2016: A View of Hope

In honor of Black History Month, SAGE is publishing a series of posts from our diverse partners, constituents and allies. This post was originally published on the Diverse Elders Coalition's blog. Dr. Imani Woody is the Chair and Program Executive for SAGE Metro D.C. and is the Founding Director and CEO of Mary’s House for Older Adults.

I have been thinking about what it means to be me: an older, African American out lesbian, wife, mother, grandmother, caregiver, educator, and CEO, living and working in the United States. In 2008, the words Audacity of Hope and hopeful came to mind, in reference to then President-Elect Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope and my experiences.

Caregivers.-Office-on-Aging.-ImaniI was born in segregated Washington, DC in a time when nonwhites couldn’t eat in dining establishments; when people of color were treated at two medical hospitals, Freedman’s, the hospital for Negroes, or DC General, the city hospital. It was a time where my parents would have to go back “home” to North Carolina to vote for President, where a retired professional was found living in a chicken coop, and being outwardly gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or anyway same-gender loving carried a mentally ill diagnosis from the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-I).

Fast forward to the 1960s, which are indeed a time of hope. Mary Church Terrell has won her lawsuit and leads a successful movement to desegregate public facilities in Washington, DC; Ethel Percy Andrus, after finding a retired woman living in a chicken coop, leads two organization to create decent living conditions and financial stability to elders, and Bayard Rustin, an openly, gay, Black man and confidante to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is one of the key organizers of the 1963 March on Washington. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 becomes the law of the land. The audacity of hope – things can change.

The 70s bring marriage and a son, and I open an independent Black school for young people to learn African history; DC has its first gay pride march and the APA removes homosexuality from the DSM. The 80s bring the enactment of the Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is dedicated in DC, and I join more than 5 million people to make a chain in the Hands Across America campaign to fight hunger and homelessness. Me, I recognize my love for women, come out to my son, and divorce my husband.

In the 90s, Clinton signs “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” into law; I find an increased commitment to advocate for people of color, elders, women, children and people who identify as lesbian and gay. I volunteer and sit on boards and committees of organizations to promote the health and wellbeing of people who look like me.  The audacity of hope – things can change.

Early in the new millennium, Washington, DC adds sexual orientation and gender identity to its Human Rights law, Massachusetts is the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, and I start working at AARP, joining the small, dedicated and growing movement working to embrace LGBT into the meaning of its “whole person” inclusiveness. At AARP, I work to change policy to include domestic partnership for staff and members, organize the first AARP LGBT 50+ reception at a LIFE @50 event, and sponsor Services and Advocacy for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Elders’ (SAGE) 30th Birthday Conference Celebration. I become the chair of SAGE Metro DC, an affiliate of SAGE, in part to reflect the presence of older, gay, Black people. Older out LGBT people are visible at AARP. Older, out Black LGBT people are visible at SAGE.  The audacity to hope – things can change.

However, the more things change the more things remain the same. Black elders as a whole are still over represented in the lower economic strata. Elderly Black people are being pushed out of the public housing that they have lived in for decades. The Supreme Court voids the formula that protects voting rights. LGBTQ elders are going back into the closet because it’s too hard to be old and gay. Workers are still marching and campaigning to receive a decent living wage. Black men, women and children are being killed by the police in record numbers. LGBTQ people continue to be killed at an alarming rate and the murder of Black transgender women is still the highest.

This brings me again to the audacity to hope, that things can change and that things do change. Amid racial tension and atrocities, a Black man is completing his second term as the President of the United States of America. A police officer was indicted for killing an unarmed black person – in Georgia. Senator Elizabeth Warren, along with other white, Black, Asian, Jewish, Muslim, Spanish, female, male, Transgender, older, younger, middle class, working poor, retired, truck drivers, teachers, students, professionals, housekeepers, parents, children, politicians, actors, undocumented residents, and citizens created a hue and cry to remind everyone that Black Lives Matter.

As an older, African America, out lesbian, wife, mother, grandmother, caregiver, educator, and CEO, living and working in the United States, I have witnessed events that give meaning to Jesse Jackson’s “Keep Hope Alive.” I am forever grateful to stand on the shoulders of Black folks like Sojourner Truth: “Ain’t I a Woman Too?” W.E.B. Dubois: “Either the United States will destroy ignorance or ignorance will destroy the United States.” Fannie Lou Hammer: “…And whether you’re from Morehouse or Nohouse, we’re still in this bag together.” Maya Angelou: “And Still I Rise.” Nikki Giovanni: “Show me someone not full of herself and I’ll show you an empty person.” Audre Lorde: “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” Barbara Smith: “One of the greatest gifts of Black feminism to ourselves has been to make it a little easier simply to be Black and female.” And Eleanor Holmes Norton’s (“You can’t win what you won’t fight for”) audacity to hope, to advocate for action that leads to change. Such change, in turn, leads to an audacity to hope.

Note: This is an adaptation of a piece written in 2008 for The Spectrum Newsletter Fall/Winter Vol II Issue 3.