RICHMOND, Va. — The Gay Community Center of Richmond plans to become the 19th organization nationwide to host a chapter of SAGE, an advocacy group for elderly LGBT individuals. The Gay Community Center, located on Sherwood Avenue between the Diamond and the Children’s Hospital, has been serving Richmond’s LGBT community since 2008.
Because Richmond’s elderly LGBT population exists in many ways as a minority within a minority, suffering discrimination from both heterosexuals and younger homosexuals, the GCCR felt that they should work to address the needs of this silent community.
Founded in 1978, SAGE is the largest group dedicated to the well-being of elderly LGBT individuals in the world, a fact that made the adoption of a SAGE affiliate in Richmond so appealing to the GCCR.
Cindy Bray, Program Director at the GCCR, explained why SAGE was needed in Richmond at a SAGE informational session held at the GCCR headquarters on June 28.
Cindy Bray stands before the audience at the Gay Community Center of Richmond’s SAGE informational meeting on June 28.
“The population is aging. That’s an incontrovertible fact,” said Bray.
“We’re coming into the first time when LGBT elders are entering facilities, really coming into aging agencies. I really think they need to be able to deal with LGBT issues. There are specific issues.”
Likewise, Jay Squires, President of the GCCR, affirmed his organization’s decision to establish a SAGE affiliate.
“This is, for me, is our most important programming opportunity,” Squires said. “We can work on growing from and benefiting from a well established network of other similar organizations.”
Many members of Richmond’s elderly LGBT community attended the event. 92-year-old activist Guy Kinman was one of them. Kinman explained what he felt SAGE should do for Richmond.
“The thing that elders want most, that we have not had, is to be real with people,” Kinman said. “Our needs are the same. We want to be real before we die.”
Shannon Marling, Recreation Manager at Covenant Woods Retirement Community, is spearheading the charge to establish a SAGE chapter in Richmond. Marling has worked with the elderly community as both a recreation manager and as a certified therapeutic recreation specialist. She is also working on her MS in gerontology from VCU.
“Some [LGBT] individuals have spent their whole life being activists,” Marling said. “Then you have another set of the population who is extremely closeted and because of that they’re very difficult to reach and may not be aging well.”
Click here to view an audio slideshow showcasing Guy Kinman, a member of Richmond’s elderly LGBT community.
According to the SAGE website, that may be an understatement. Older members of the LGBT community, the website says, “may be as much as five times less likely to access needed health and social services because of their fear of discrimination.”
Their website goes on to say that older LGBT individuals often face the stresses and pitfalls of living alone, of being without traditional forms of family care that many heterosexual elders count on, lack of clear non-discrimination policies at retirement communities, and little to no social interaction.
In March of this year, a coalition of groups, headed by SAGE, released a study which stated that LGBT elders are much more likely to experience financial instability, social isolation, and fall victim to laws and regulations in healthcare settings that do not take their unique family situations into account.
As Marling said later in the meeting, “It’s really important to understand what challenges exist for the GLBT older adult population that are different from their heterosexual counterparts.”
However, Marling also said out that due to the desire of many older LGBT individuals to remain hidden, very little information about the population is available.
“What do we know about the older gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender population?” Marling asked the assembled crowd of activists, LGBT elders, and assisted living staff at the informational meeting. “Well unfortunately not a whole lot. That is one of the areas where there is a lack of data.”
Click here to listen to a podcast interview with Shannon Marling
And yet Squires was confident that despite this culture of seclusion that many LGBT seniors have embraced, a SAGE chapter would help to bridge the gap.
“There’s no question that a substantial portion of the older population who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender aren’t as actively involved as some other age groups,” Squires said. “If that’s a true statement, one thing this program can do is to increase awareness.”
He went on to say that with increased awareness, the older LGBT population would grow to become more active in their communities.
Although there was generous support for the adoption of a SAGE chapter at the meeting, the economic feasibility of the program was discussed.
Shannon Marling (left) and Jay Squires (right) look on during the SAGE presentation. The economic feasibility of the plan was mentioned as a possible stumbling block.
Squires pointed out that by not duplicating services and by relying on volunteers and community leaders for help, costs could be more easily contained. But he was clear that a financial model had yet to be developed, and that there would still be a price tag for any services offered.
But before a model can be established, a set of services must be agreed upon. According to the staff of the GCCR, this issue has been left intentionally vague until they have received detailed feedback from the community.
Following the informational meetings and an in-depth needs assessment of the community, a clearer picture of what services will be provided will start to emerge.
“Every SAGE affiliate presents its programs and services very differently,” Marling said. “Each SAGE organization is really a mirror of whatever its community voices back that it wants.”
Squires echoed this sentiment.
“We’re going through the process of figuring it out,” He said. “SAGE efforts nationally have taken on a couple of different models. Membership based, fee based, supported by grants.”
While there are no concrete services or activities planned, the possibility remains that the GCCR could use other affiliates as a template.
One of the most recent SAGE affiliates for example, SAGE of the Rockies located in Denver, Colorado, provides, among other things, traveling opportunities, referrals to LGBT friendly services, educational services, and social events for individuals over 50.
Currently, Squires hopes to have the chapter officially installed in the GCCR in six months following official SAGE approval.
Later, Bray gave a rough outline of what she would like to see emerge from a Richmond-based SAGE chapter.
“I’m a big believer in intergenerational connection,” She said. “I’m a big believer in history. We need to know and respect our history. We need activities that’ll bring everyone together so that everyone can benefit for each other.”
For further information:
Official SAGE website: http://www.sageusa.org/index.cfm
Official GCCR website: http://gayrichmond.com/GCCR/
Official SAGE of the Rockies website: http://www.coloradoglbt.org/SAGEoftheRockies.aspx
VA Pride: http://www.vapride.org/
New York Times article about the elderly LGBT community: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/09/us/09aged.html