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SAGE takes initiative on LGBT elder housing, policy
by Melissa Wasserman

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Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders ( SAGE ) has an active year planned, starting with the launch of its national LGBT elder-housing initiative.

"It is very safe to say there is a housing crisis among LGBT older adults in the country, but we cannot build our way out of this crisis," said SAGE Executive Director Michael Adams during a recent visit to Chicago for the national conference Aging in America. "The crisis is of a scale that's enormous."

SAGE was established in New York City in 1978. Today, it serves as the country's oldest and largest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT older adults and their aging experience.

Adams has been at the head of SAGE for about nine years. He gained a personal lens into the challenges of aging when he and his partner witnessed close elder family members aging and having health issues. He recalls being drawn to the work he does as he saw how aging and being LGBT intersect.

"I'm seeing the significance of this work and how the country is graying, so to speak," Adams said. "It's just as true in the LGBT community and yet historically we've paid very little attention to older people. We have a lot of catching up to do."

Adams pinpoints isolation, health disparities and lack of financial security in the later years, as causes for a greater need for LGBT older adult services, supports and greater reliance on what he calls the so-called safety net within the federal government.

A big emphasis for SAGE's work, Adams said, is collaborating with various organizations across the country as the small organization has what he details as an ambitious national agenda. One of its partners is the Equal Rights Center.

According to the Equal Right Center's 2014 report, "In a recent national investigation, 48 percent of older same-sex couples experienced at least one form of adverse differential treatment ( as compared to heterosexual couples ) when inquiring about housing in a senior living facility, including receiving less information about additional available units and receive advice with additional fees, higher costs and a more extensive application process."

Also, as detailed in SAGE's 2014 report Out and Visible: The Experiences and Attitudes of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender ( LGBT ) Older Adults, Ages 45-75, when searching for housing, 13 percent of LGBT older people report they have been discriminated against based on sexual orientation, while 25 percent of transgender older people report discrimination based on their gender identities.

Due to the statistics caused by problems such as economic insecurity, housing discrimination, lack of legal protections and racial and gender disparities, SAGE's LGBT Elder Housing Initiative is a national strategy to address the issues within LGBT elder housing, ensuring a welcoming housing option for LGBT older people.

"There are a lot of issues—lack of cultural competence, a lack of welcoming environments. Some of that is about the program designs, staff, etc. Some of that is unfortunately about other older adults programs," said Adams.

SAGE's initiative is made up of five steps to increased and improved LGBT housing for older people: building housing, training providers, changing policy, educating consumers and expanding services.

"I think perhaps the most important component is the training component," Adams said. "So, we have made a commitment to build a national training program to provide cultural competency training to senior housing providers across the country. The focus there will be working with senior housing providers to equip them to do a much better job in creating environments for older members of the LGBT community that are welcoming. Our belief in this national initiative is that if we can provide good quality training, we can provide senior housing facilities with the information and skills they need to do a better job working with LGBT older adults."

In the United States, there are four affordable LGBT older adult housing facilities; Center on Halsted's Town Hall Apartments is the newest. SAGE is now preparing to build the next facility, which will also stand as New York City's first LGBT-inclusive older adult housing. The housing will be located in the Bronx and is still in the preliminary stages.

"One of the elements that is very important is that they're all designed to provide services on-site for people who are struggling with financial security, health issues etc.," said Adams. "You can't just build a building. It's got to be a community. There have to be services available."

Along with the new housing project, SAGE also looks forward to the 2015 White House Conference on Aging happening later this year. The conference, which happens once every 10 years, focuses on key issues and determines federal aging policy for the next decade. Adams said this year's conference is a dramatically different experience from the 2005 conference, when no LGBT content was included. Adams said that 10 years ago, SAGE secured just one official delegate slot and they were the only LGBT representation at that conference of 3,000 delegates.

Adams explained SAGE was invited to the table to the planning process for the 2015 conference, so far having had multiple meetings and conversations with the staff organizing the White House Conference on Aging.

According to Adams, LGBT elders will be present at five summits across the country to speak and share their experiences, which will lead into the conference.

SAGE's policy recommendations for the 2015 White House Conference on Aging fit into four themes of the conference; so far they have had retirement security, healthy aging, long-term services and supports and elder justice.

"The Obama administration has indicated that they intend this year's White House Conference on Aging to announce some policy breakthroughs, which is different from past conferences, which have only been about conversation and talking about the things we're going to do over the next 10 years," Adams said. "The Obama administration says, 'Yes, we'll do all that, we're going to talk about what's going to happen in the next 10 years, but we also want to talk about what we're going to do now.' So we're hopeful one or more of those policy announcements will be about LGBT older adults."

For more information on SAGE and the National LGBT Elder Housing Initiative, visit

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