17 posts categorized "Federal Advocacy"

December 5, 2017

Equality Is Not a Cakewalk for LGBT Elders

SAGE’s Director of Advocacy, Aaron Tax, and Dr. Imani Woody—LGBTQ activist and founder of Mary’s House, the first LGTBQ senior housing development in Washington, D.C.—spoke at the ACLU’s rally on the Supreme Court steps before opening arguments for the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado on December 5, 2017. Below are their remarks.


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Equality Is Not a Cakewalk for LGBT Elders

Good morning! I’m Aaron Tax, the Director of Advocacy at SAGE. We are the nation’s largest and oldest advocacy and services organization for LGBT older adults.

Why are we here today? It’s because the opportunity for LGBT older adults to grow old with the dignity and support they need and deserve is fundamentally at risk in this case.    

When LGBT older adults get a meal at a senior center, enter long-term care, or seek funeral arrangements for a loved one, make no mistake, none of those institutions are making a statement about LGBT people.

Why? Because these institutions are open to the public. And they and their employees are simply serving the public.

We all agree businesses can make decisions about what kinds of products or services they provide—but they cannot pick and choose whom they serve. A senior center can choose to open its doors to seniors, it can offer canasta or bingo, or, let’s hope, something much more interesting. But it can’t decide to serve only people of certain religions or races, or specific sexual orientations or gender identities, but not others.   

If we allow businesses to exempt themselves from laws barring discrimination, we’d return to a time when businesses open to the public engaged in outright discrimination against people for all sorts of reasons. 

We, as a nation, decided to close that chapter of our history, which is why we have laws that ensure businesses don’t discriminate among customers based on who they are.

At SAGE, we know that LGBT older adults can’t afford to go back to a time when businesses, aging providers, and others, could display a sign in their window saying, “LGBT elders not served here.” That’s not the society we want to live in. And perhaps more importantly, our Constitution doesn’t protect that kind of discrimination. Thank you.


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We Cannot Turn the Clock Back to a Time When Discrimination Was Legal

I’m Imani Woody. I’m a daughter, sister, mother, grandmother and an elder lesbian of African descent.

This case is a personal one to me, because we all know that it goes beyond cake and wedding planners. My ability to go to a restaurant, catch a cab, go to the doctor, or even just go to the movies with my wife are threatened if people can use their religion as a license to discriminate.

In the ’60s, people used race to discriminate against my family and not allow my mother, who was deathly ill, to be treated at a hospital that was nearby. Because of this discrimination, my father drove us—his five children and his wife—to a hospital that accepted colored people. However, it was too late to save my mother; she died that night. I was 10.

And when my brother died of complications associated with AIDS, the funeral home refused to pick up his body from the hospital—this was after my father had pre-paid funeral arrangements.

So, I know firsthand the havoc discrimination can cause on families and individuals. No matter who you are—you and I, and everyone here today—has a right to equal treatment under the law.

Many LGBT older adults are not as lucky as I am. I am fortunate to have a wife and family. And I have a home. But many LGBT elders can’t be here today on the steps of the Supreme Court. Many of us don’t have family to rely on. Many can’t get to the grocery store, can’t get a meal, or can’t get to the doctor without the assistance of paid businesses. Unfortunately, many of the people and organizations we rely on as we get older are religiously affiliated.  

I don’t know about you, but I know I don’t want to live my life—and I know I can’t live my life—in a world where I never know if my next meal or my next visit to the doctor might be stopped in its tracks because someone wants to use their religion as a license to discriminate against me—because I’m a woman, because I’m Black, or because I’m a lesbian.

The Constitution does not give landlords, senior centers, nursing homes, or hospitals the right to put a sign outside that says “Straight people only.” That’s not my country. And I know that most of us don’t want to live in an America like that either.

By being here today, I’m giving voice to other LGBTQ/SGL elders who share their plight and can’t be here today. And I’m asking the Supreme Court to do the right thing and not turn the clock back to the time of earlier legal discrimination, where children lost their mother, a father lost consideration for a burial, and where people lose their quality of life because discrimination is again legalized. Thank you.

October 30, 2017

Masterpiece Cakeshop Case Pushing Us Back Into the Closet? No Way!

 

C72c6297-a7ff-4ad1-a0b2-6c366523d7a2Can you imagine being forced back into the closet when you and your partner apply for affordable housing? Or not being allowed to honor your spouse's last wishes upon their passing? And all denied to you because an establishment decides to discriminate against you based on its "religious beliefs" or its own definition of free speech? 

The Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case before the United States Supreme Court represents much more than allowing a same-sex couple its right to purchase a wedding cake. It's about protecting older LGBT people from having a license to discriminate in senior centers, housing, long-term care facilities, and funeral homes. That's why SAGE, with the assistance of the law firm of Squire Patton Boggs, joined the American Society on Aging when it filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of the Colorado Court of Appeals' Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling that everyone has a right to equal treatment under the law.

"This case could affect tens of thousands of older LGBT people," says SAGE CEO Michael Adams. "As we have stated in our amicus brief, many LGBT elders are single. Many are poor. And many are in declining health. Most of these LGBT older adults are not looking to buy a custom cake or purchase a floral arrangement or have their picture taken. They are seeking nondiscriminatory access to facilities such as senior centers, long-term care facilities, and funeral homes. They are entitled to live out their later years in dignity. SAGE stands in opposition to allowing discrimination under the guise of religious freedom.”

October 9, 2017

Trump Administration Issues License to Discriminate

 

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The Trump administration recently issued guidelines that dangerously give a license to discriminate against the LGBT community, especially our elders, under the guise of so-called religious freedom. 

Issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime opponent of LGBT equality, the guidance gives federal agencies broad leeway to discriminate against LGBT people based on their religious beliefs and allowing them exemptions from federal laws, rules, and regulations.

Of particular note to the LGBT older adult community, nearly 85 percent of retirement communities are faith-based, according to a recent analysis by LeadingAge and Ziegler, a Chicago investment bank. What’s more, these organizations make up more than 80 percent of all units available to LGBT elders, putting them at specific risk. LGBT elders’ care could be seriously compromised by allowing these institutions or individuals to find an exemption to refuse to care for LGBT elders.

This license to discriminate also exacerbates the challenge of LGBT people seeking housing. LGBT older adults already face extreme discrimination when seeking housing: A study by the Equal Rights Center and SAGE found that 48 percent of elder same-sex couples experienced overt discrimination when applying for senior housing, and the problem is amplified for older transgender people. When it comes to visiting a doctor or a medical facility, this license to discriminate could allow providers to refuse care to LGBT people or provide substandard service.

Further, this license to discriminate goes directly against the wishes of a vast majority of Americans and a bipartisan group in Congress (60 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of Democrats), who support protecting our LGBT community, according to a recent Public Religion Research Survey.

“Today’s Department of Justice guidelines are merely a license to discriminate based on so-called religious freedom, and they are a disaster for this country,” says SAGE CEO Michael Adams. “Neither individuals nor faith-based organizations—nor any other entity—have the right to elevate their religious beliefs above the laws that protect all Americans. For LGBT elders, this guidance is particularly dangerous."

Adams continues: “The vast majority of long-term care providers in this country are faith-based organizations. The notion that the federal government would suggest that such organizations can elevate their religious beliefs above their legal, ethical, and professional responsibilities to provide respectful and discrimination-free care is outrageous. SAGE and LGBT elders will fight any effort to implement this license to discriminate against LGBT elders and the LGBT community.”

SAGE will continue to stand with and for our LGBT pioneers. We will not back down. We refuse to be invisible.

October 6, 2017

SAGE Assures Same-Sex Married Couples That Their Rights Are Safe

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Given the severe challenges that LGBT people have faced under the Trump administration, we understand our community’s alarm when hearing news that the administration is planning to revoke a rule proposed in 2014 to protect married, same-sex couples in long-term care facilities like nursing homes.

In consultation with our community’s best legal minds, SAGE has carefully reviewed this announcement. The proposed rule from 2014 is no longer needed in light of the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision in 2015, which ensures that our marriages are federally recognized and afforded equal rights under all circumstances in all parts of the country. Therefore, in this case the Trump administration’s action will make no difference.  

Having said that, we all know that the progress our community has made is under regular attack by the Trump administration. This week alone the administration has moved to roll back protections for transgender employees and voted against a UN resolution condemning the death penalty for same-sex relations. Our elders suffer the consequences of these incessant assaults on our rights and dignity. SAGE  remains relentlessly vigilant to fight any effort to turn back the clock on our community.

May 31, 2017

LGBT Elders Tell Washington: We Refuse to Be Invisible 

InvisibleHomepageBy sending more than 9,000 letters to Washington, people across the country raised their voices with SAGE and many other organizations, LGBT and allies alike, to tell the Trump administration that we refuse to be invisible

Given the erasure of LGBT issues from White House and federal agency websites within hours of Donald Trump’s inauguration, we at SAGE were alarmed but not surprised when we learned of the Trump administration’s plans to eliminate LGBT elders from an annual federal aging survey, the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants (NSOAPP), which is overseen by the Administration for Community Living (ACL). This crucial survey helps determine how $2 billion in publicly funded elder services gets distributed. 

With the new regime in Washington seemingly determined to wipe out the progress toward LGBT inclusion in federal aging policies and programs, we at SAGE quickly realized that our LGBT elders and their advocates were in for a big fight. SAGE responded against this outrageous elimination with the #WeRefuseToBeInvisible campaign, a grassroots effort to mobilize a strong response during the Public Comment period that the administration is legally required to undertake before making major changes—such as erasing an entire population—to an important federal program. The Public Comment period for the survey exclusion ended on May 12, and thanks to an outpouring outrage against this erasure, Washington heard our unified message: We refuse to be invisible! 

On April 27, a bipartisan group of 19 U.S. Senators led by Senator Susan Collins, Republican chair of the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, publicly demanded a reversal of the Trump administration’s plans to erase LGBT elders. Then, on the last day of Public Comment, the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus sent a bipartisan letter from 50 members of the House of Representatives to Tom Price, the head of the Department of Health and Human Services. The letter admonished the ACL, the division of HHS that oversees the survey, for its the erasure of LGBT adults and demanded that it reinstate the LGBT demographic question. 

Now we await a final decision from the Trump administration on LGBT inclusion in the elder services survey. But while we wait, we will not back down in our opposition to the erasure of our older LGBT community, because unfortunately, there is every indication that more battles are looming on the horizon. 

Through all of these battles and those to come, SAGE will continue to stand with and for our LGBT elder pioneers. We will not back down. We refuse to be invisible.

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May 12, 2017

Remember: We Refuse To Be Invisible!

March 28, 2017

Thanks to all who helped defeat Trump's so-called healthcare bill!

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Dear Friends,
 

Two weeks ago, SAGE asked you to tell Congress to oppose the so-called American Health Care Act. You spoke up - loudly and clearly. Thanks to you, and to thousands of other outraged Americans, we stopped this dangerous legislation in its tracks.   

Last Friday, we were victorious. But there is so much work ahead.
 
Just last week we learned that the federal government's leading survey about publicly funded elder services - the National Survey of Older Americans Acts Participants - has completely eliminated questions that allowed people to identify as LGBT. SAGE fought for years for LGBT older people to be included in this vital survey that informs $2 billion in spending on critical elder services.
 
We only have until May 12 to tell the administration, that "we refuse to be invisible!"  Click here to make your voice heard, and tell the Trump administration that LGBT elders count.
 
Thank you for your activism!
 
Michael Adams, CEO
 
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January 19, 2017

LGBT Elders: Resilience and Inspiration

SAGEInaugurationDear Friends,

It is often said that one of the greatest measures of a society is how it treats and remembers its elders. SAGE’s commitment to an equitable world where LGBT elders are valued and have boundless opportunities is inspired by this time-honored maxim. The inauguration of our country’s 45th President is a critical moment to reiterate this message. 

Our values as a society must support and honor our elders both because their hard work and perseverance laid the foundation for all that we have today, and because we still very much need their wisdom and contributions. This is especially true for LGBT elders, whose courage in the face of danger and adversity paved the way for marked progress on LGBT equality in recent years. Our LGBT elder pioneers did not lead the movement birthed at Stonewall by being quiet and invisible. In the same vein, faced with dangerous threats on multiple fronts, LGBT elders and their advocate – SAGE – refuse to be silent and invisible now. 

We must ensure that our older generations have the support they need to age safely and with dignity and respect. Like older Americans in general, most LGBT elders rely on Social Security in order to have enough to live on during their retirement, and rely on Medicare and Medicaid for their health and long term care.  Just like other older Americans, LGBT elders rely on community services funded by the federal Older Americans Act. They rely on federal support for senior housing. They rely on the progress the federal government has encouraged through training of aging service providers and the establishment of anti-discrimination protections. These programs and protections are even more essential for elders who are LGBT, people of color and members of other diverse elder communities – all of whom are especially vulnerable due to the accumulated effects of lifetimes of discrimination and marginalization.

While our elders need and deserve our support, we need them just as much.  As we enter a threatening new era when our society’s fundamental values and commitments to each other are under attack, we need the wisdom and fortitude of our LGBT elders now more than ever. We will apply the lessons they learned through decades of hard work and struggle, using that knowledge to build a better future.  We need their creativity, their spirit, their resilience.

In the days, months and years ahead, SAGE will stand firm with our LGBT elders for a policy agenda that makes older Americans a national priority, and that ensures that LGBT elders and elders from all diverse communities are at the center of that priority. We will do everything in our power to advocate for such an agenda. We will vigorously oppose any effort to roll back progress. We will relentlessly pursue our commitment to equity for diverse elder communities.

We at SAGE are inspired and fortified by the wisdom of our elders who have lived through decades of witch hunts, brutality, criminalization, stigma, AIDS and so much more. Our elders remind us that through all of these unspeakably difficult challenges, we stood firm, spoke out, and pushed forward.  

Count on SAGE and our many supporters to continue that great tradition by standing with LGBT elders and honoring their unique voices and wisdom. This week you can find SAGE making sure LGBT elders’ voices are heard at the Women’s March in our nation’s capital, leading an elder activism institute at the national LGBT Creating Change conference in Philadelphia, and gearing up for a new initiative – SAGETable – that will connect LGBT people of every age all across the country.

Please, join us! Let’s be proud to be measured by how we treat and remember our elders.

Sincerely,

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Michael Adams

LGBT elders needing emotional support are invited to call the SAGE LGBT Elder Hotline. SAGE established the hotline to make sure that LGBT elders have support no matter where they live. Provided in partnership with the GLBT National Help Center, calls are being taken at 888-234-SAGE (7243) on Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to midnight and from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturdays.

January 17, 2017

What LGBT Seniors Stand to Lose in ACA Repeal

This post originally appeared on the Center for Consumer Engagement in Health Innovation website on January 13, 206. Read the original post here.

By Aaron Tax

This blog is part of a series to highlight the dangers of the repealing the Affordable Care Act. Multiple times a week, Community Catalyst will highlight a different constituency to draw attention to the benefits the ACA has afforded them and to outline what a loss of coverage would mean.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) older adults face many of the same health and aging challenges other older adults face, but more pronounced. As a result, they are arguably more at risk if the incoming administration and Congress repeals the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without a replacement plan and/or makes significant and harmful changes to Medicaid and Medicare.

LGBT older adults face unique risks within the health care system due to the standard issues facing an aging population combined with their sexual orientation or gender identity, such as:

  • Aging Combined with Discrimination: Similar to the older population in general, LGBT older adults face challenges with aging: declining health, diminished income, and the loss of friends and family. LGBT older adults, however, also face the added burden of actual or feared discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Many choose to go back into the closet for fear that caregivers will discriminate against them. Transgender adults, however, do not even have that option. Despite federal prohibitions on discrimination based on sex stereotyping and gender identity and the prohibition of discriminatory practices toward LGBT individuals based on health status - such as being HIV positive - built into the ACA, the sex stereotyping and gender identity protections are currently under attack in the courts, and LGBT older adults remain one of the most invisible, underserved and at-risk elder populations.
  • Isolation from Society, Services and Supports: Studies show that LGBT older adults are twice as likely to live alone; half as likely to have close relatives to call for help; and more than four times less likely to have children to help them. Nearly one-in-four LGBT older adults has no one to call in case of an emergency. At the same time, studies document that LGBT older adults access essential services – including visiting nurses, food stamps, senior centers and meal programs – much less frequently than the general aging population.
  • Lack of Access to Culturally Competent Health Care: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has found that LGBT older adults face additional health barriers because of isolation combined with a lack of access to social services and culturally competent providers. These barriers result in increased rates of depression; higher rates of alcohol and tobacco use; and lower rates of preventive screenings. 
  • Higher Rates of Poverty: LGBT older adults reflect the diversity of our nation in terms of gender, race and ethnic identity. But there is one critical statistic where they do not reflect the norm: they have much higher poverty rates and lower average household income than their straight and cis-gender counterparts. In fact, 35 percent of SAGE clients in New York City have annual pre-tax incomes below $10,000 and rely on Medicaid – a program with looming threats of block grants or per capita caps - to provide their medical care. An additional 35 percent subsist on annual pre-tax incomes of $20,000 or less and qualify for coverage under Medicaid expansion or could utilize tax credits to purchase insurance on the Marketplace. The Medicare-eligible segment of this population benefits from the ACA having lowered Medicare Part B premiums, the closing of the “donut hole” for prescription drugs, and payment and delivery reforms aimed at improving quality and the coordination of care for individuals with complex care needs.
  • HIV: As of 2015, the CDC estimates that one in two people who are HIV positive in the United States are now over 50. Yet little attention and money is targeted towards prevention for this population. One of the free preventive services covered by the ACA is HIV screening, though recommended testing in the U.S. cuts off at age 64. As a result, older adults are much more likely to be dually diagnosed with HIV and AIDS if and when they are ultimately tested.

Because of higher rates of health disparities, un-insurance, poverty and a greater reliance on programs like Medicaid and Medicare - two programs that could be facing significant retooling and subsequent funding cuts in the coming years - the protections provided by these programs and enacted in the ACA are critical for improving the quality of life for older LGBT individuals.

As we enter an uncertain time, we believe that we must do more to honor and support the LGBT elders who fought the fight and paved the way for the recent advances we have seen on LGBT rights. The least we can do is ensure that this population still has access to the foundational supports provided by the ACA, Medicaid and Medicare.

Aaron Tax, Director of Federal Government Relations, Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE)

 

November 14, 2016

SAGEMatters Fall 2016: Lives of Boundless Opportunities

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SAGEMatters Fall 2016: Lives of Boundless Opportunities

As we share the latest SAGEMatters with you, we are living through a period of unprecedented change. Perhaps nothing reminds us of this more sharply than this year’s high-stakes elections, which have turned long-standing political and social assumptions on their heads.

This theme of change runs powerfully through the features in this issue of SAGEMatters. Inside, you’ll find George Takei’s take on personal evolution; learn how Jeffrey Erdman has taken the LA leather scene by storm in his 50s; and follow an inspiring conversation with Kate Kendell, Mara Keisling and Carmen Vazquez about the changing landscape of gender identity. You’ll also learn how the federal government (after a lot of pushing by SAGE) is moving to transform publicly-funded aging services to make them more LGBT-friendly. Join us in celebrating the realization of a decades-long dream for our communities in New York City, as SAGE announces the construction of the first two LGBTfriendly elder housing communities in the Big Apple. And so much more.

This time of great change and evolution sets the stage for the launch of SAGE’s new strategic plan. The overriding goal of the plan is to dramatically expand the impact of SAGE’s work so that LGBT people can grow older with boundless opportunities for growth and enrichment. We believe that we can achieve this transformative vision by tapping into our legacy of “taking care of our own,” by building ties across generations, by encouraging communities to become LGBT age-friendly and by convincing partners of all kinds to get involved. This issue of SAGEMatters includes a special feature on our new plan—we hope you’ll be as excited as we are.

For me, all of this has a special personal significance as I celebrate my 10th anniversary at the helm of this amazing organization. I’m so proud of the great progress that we have made together on behalf of our LGBT elder pioneers. And I’m tremendously passionate about the next chapter of SAGE’s work.

I know that as you read through this latest SAGEMatters it will be even clearer to you why SAGE’s efforts matter more than ever. Let’s keep working together so that all LGBT elders have the support they need to live lives of boundless opportunity.

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Michael Adams
Chief Executive Officer

SAGEMatters is the biannual magazine of Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE). View and download the expanded Fall 2016 issue here.