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4 posts from March 2018

March 28, 2018

"I Can Be a Voice for the Voiceless": Michigan Woman Calls for Increased Attention to Challenges Facing LGBT Older Adults

Southfield, Michigan's Faith Robinson-Renner has made it a priority to look out for LGBT elders in her community and make sure they have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. As a married lesbian woman, she has decided to fight for fair treatment in employment, having experienced discrimination herself.

After discovering a love for the electrical repair trade, Robinson-Renner decided to forego the education degree she had earned in college and dive into learning how to be an electrician. She was eventually hired by telephone utility company Michigan Bell.

As a woman working in this industry, Robinson-Renner was unfortunately on the receiving end of harassment, discrimination, and sometimes the threat of outright physical harm.

“They almost killed me,” she says. “They swung a sledgehammer at my head. They called me names. They were pretty rough with me, so I walked off the job.” After she went to the Detroit Free Press to tell her story, Michigan Bell pleaded with her to allow them to fix the situation. Not only did they solve the problem, they promoted her to the position of splicer. During her 27 years of work, Robinson-Renner helped develop guidelines on how to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace and how not to discriminate against women, even though she knows there is still work to be done.

“They haven't dealt with all of that stuff, especially among blue-collar women and women in lower-income areas,” she says.

When it comes to non-discrimination protections for LGBT people, “There are just so many people who lose their housing, lose children. It would be wonderful to see the state of Michigan adopt those protections,” Robinson-Renner says.

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 “There are so many of my LGBT friends who do not have the ability to live their twilight years in dignity,” she says. “I am one of the few lesbians who has been more fortunate than most. Because of discrimination, we are not always able to have a good and healthy retirement.”

After being married to a man and having two daughters with him, Robinson-Renner (right) came out as a lesbian in the late ’70s. In 1979, she met her partner Deb Renner, and they have been together ever since. In 2014, they were legally married. Now, in addition to helping raise and look after her grandchildren, Robinson-Renner has begun a new mission: giving back to the LGBT community who embraced her from the beginning. She has also resumed her volunteer efforts and serves as chair of the Jewish Gay Network. She hopes to help open a PFLAG West Bloomfield, Michigan, soon.

The work Robinson-Renner is doing to increase visibility and community among LGBT older adults is invaluable. Recent reports indicate that LGBT elders are disproportionately vulnerable to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, especially when compounded with discrimination based on age, race, and economic status. Discrimination haunts LGBT older adults in many different areas of life—in places of employment, but also at the doctor’s office, in communities designed for older adults, and in community centers that provide access to social networks and supports.


Learn more about the impact of anti-LGBT discrimination and religious exemptions on older adults in this recent report from SAGE and the Movement Advancement Project


It’s clear from her history of activism and her personal run-ins with discrimination that Faith Robinson-Renner is a fighter for equality and strongly believes in the principles of non-discrimination.

“I can be a voice for the voiceless,” she says. “We need to get more equity for everyone.”

March 13, 2018

Confronting AIDS and Coming Out Taught Us How to Age Well

By John-Manuel Andriote

John-manuelandriote

A first-ever survey in 2013 of LGBT San Francisco residents aged 60 to 92 found something startling: 15 percent of the 612 respondents had “seriously considered” committing suicide within the last 12 months. Commissioned by the city’s LGBT Aging Policy Task Force, the study found high degrees of disability as well as poor physical and mental health—both of which are associated with depression. The researchers were understandably concerned by the high percentage of LGBT seniors who had considered suicide.

But look at the numbers in a different way: 85 percent of the respondents did not consider suicide. What’s up with them? Are these folks healthier in general? How are they coping with being “old” and the changes and challenges that go along with it? Could it be that aging means something different to them?

Golden Men

In 2000, New York psychotherapist Harold Kooden and his coauthor Charles Flowers published a book that for many gay men, including me, was revolutionary in its candor and wisdom about growing older. Golden Men: The Power of Gay Midlife not only dared to say, loud and proud, there is life after 30. And not only are a whole lot of gay men living it with great gusto, but you (young and not-as-young gay man) can, too.

In an interview for my new book Stonewall Strong, Kooden told me the impetus for Golden Men “was to write a book for gay men to celebrate aging.” Gay men have a “wealth of experience where it comes to thriving and development,” he said. “Successful aging means looking at one’s history—pain, successes—and removing the false perceptions, the clouds, to look at the reality of our lives. It’s about becoming conscious and aware. Unless you become aware of the negatives, you don’t become aware of the positives.”

Hard-Earned Wisdom from AIDS

Ken South was the president of Prime Timers of Washington, D.C., for 15 years before moving to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2016 (he continues to be involved with the group). In an interview for Stonewall Strong, South reflected on his experience of aging as one of the men whose generation was hardest hit in the early years of the AIDS epidemic. He has worked professionally on HIV/AIDS since the darkest years of the epidemic in the early 1980s. “I never thought in my thirties, forties, and fifties I’d be looking at the obits in the paper,” he said. “That’s something that old people do, looking to see if their friends have passed away. Now that the epidemic has changed, people are dying of other things besides AIDS. I’m now in the senior cohort. In some ways it has helped me to be more self-reliant. It certainly has helped me appreciate the meaning of life, that life is very precious.”

Coming Out Gave Us the Tools We Need to Age Well

Coming out as gay men provides us with powerful weapons we can use in slaying the demon of what UCLA researcher Richard Wight calls “internalized gay ageism.” Throwing off the shame and stigma we were expected to feel for being “different” prepared us to do the same in rejecting stigmatizing attitudes about aging. We are survivors in so many ways—living with HIV or not.

Naming it and claiming our power as survivors is up to each of us.

“In the stories we tell of our lives,” said Brian de Vries, professor of gerontology at San Francisco State University in an interview for Stonewall Strong, “as gay men, as survivors, the victims story is one of discontinuity, how we’re not what we ‘should’ be because of all these things. The victory story is one that sees the ways we can grow from them. It provides hope, direction, and allows you to learn from the experiences.”

Hear more from John-Manuel Andriote when he speaks at the Edie Windsor SAGE Center on Monday, March 26, 2018, at 6:45 pm, on the topic of Defining “Old” for Ourselves.  

Andriote’s newest book, Stonewall Strong: Gay Men’s Heroic Fight for Resilience, Good Health, and a Strong Community, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2017. Andriote, a longtime health and medical journalist, also is the author of Victory Deferred: How AIDS Changed Gay Life in America (University of Chicago Press, 1999; updated 2011). His personal website is jmandriote.com.

March 12, 2018

Long-Term Care Administrators and LGBT Aging Training

Older womrnBy Tim Johnson, Director of National Projects

This week is Long-Term Care Administrators Week. In my capacity leading the day-to-day activities of SAGECare—which provides training and consulting on LGBT aging issues to service providers—and as a trainer myself, I have had the pleasure of working with administrators across the country.

After years spent leading our training efforts, I am certain that creating an inclusive environment for LGBT older adults requires instruction, partnership, and—importantly—support from administrators.

SAGECare's goal is to make sure that LGBT older adults and their loved ones are treated with respect no matter where they live. One way we accomplish this is by training every staff person working in a long-term care community. This training is essential, but it's also just the first step. It is the leadership of ally administrators (and their teams) that takes the training and bakes it into the culture of a community and of its staff.

That is why I am thankful for administrators who go above and beyond to put in the time, energy, and effort it takes to make sure that their staffs have the skills and knowledge to affirm LGBT elders.

As a division of SAGE, SAGECare is part of the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT older adults. Visit sageusa.care for more information on SAGECare's LGBT aging training. 

March 8, 2018

Op-Ed: Standing Up for America’s LGBT Elders

By U.S. Senator Bob Casey (PA), Ranking Member of the Special Committee on Aging

Senator Casey - Close Up

Older LGBT Americans continue to pave the way for equality. They display perseverance and courage, and regardless of the obstacles, they fight against discrimination and stand up to bigotry—and they have done so for their entire lives. Unfortunately, the Trump administration is attempting to roll back many of the hard-fought gains made by the LGBT community over the years.

It is for that reason that I have been using the resources available to me as Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging to fight on behalf of the millions of LGBT Americans age 65 and older.

Faced with prejudicial social stigma, this population experiences unique challenges that are often overlooked, including higher poverty rates, difficulty accessing health care, and social isolation. Older LGBT Americans may be less willing than younger generations to discuss their sexual orientation or gender identify, either out of generational norms or a life experience of discrimination. This can be particularly prevalent for older LGBT Americans entering senior living facilities.

When the Trump administration attempted to undermine the rights of LGBT elders by removing them from key survey questions concerning the LGBT community, I took action, alongside SAGE and Human Rights Campaign, among others. In June, the administration heeded my calls and announced it would continue surveying the needs of older lesbian, gay, and bisexual Americans who receive services through key programs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Recently, I hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill with SAGE to educate congressional staff about the unique issues facing older LGBT adults. During the briefing, representatives from SAGE, Movement Advancement Project, Human Rights Campaign and Mary’s House for Older Adults highlighted issues that included visitation rights for unmarried partners in medical facilities, health care for older Americans with HIV/AIDS, and a lack of resources and cultural understanding of the needs of rural LGBT seniors. 

Our work to secure equality for LGBT Americans is not done. The gains achieved by the LGBT community through years of hard work and perseverance are not set in stone. And with the number of LGBT Americans age 65+ expected to double by 2030, new challenges will continue to emerge. That’s why I will continue fighting to ensure that this administration recognizes and supports the rights of LGBT Americans of all ages.