SAGE gives LGBTQ+ older adults a seat at the table

Shannon Reyes

How do you see historical events impacting and shaping the lives of LGBTQ+ older adults? What needs to change in our society and community to allow all LGBTQ+ people to thrive as they get older? How do we build inclusive, intergenerational communities?

These are just some of the questions posed for discussion at SAGE Table, a gathering of LGBTQ+ friends and allies of all ages for good food and lively conversation. Prior to the pandemic, these discussions regularly took place at senior community centers funded by Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA).

In 1978, SAGE (formerly known as Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders) was created with the mission “to ensure that LGBTQ+ older people could age with respect and dignity.” Today, SAGE is the longest-serving and largest nonprofit advocating for LGBTQ+ older adults. For the past 40 years, SAGE has worked to develop tools for inclusivity in aging services and supports, including the Long-Term Care Equality Index (LEI), SAGECare Cultural Competency Training and SAGE Table.

SAGE’s partnership with PCA-funded senior centers started several years ago, when staff at Southwest Senior Center asked the important question: “What more can be done to promote inclusion within our center?” This led PCA to partner with SAGE to provide trainings each year for staff to help them create a welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ older adults. To implement the knowledge and tools learned in the SAGE trainings, Southwest Senior Center adopted the SAGE Table initiative with the two-fold purpose of building community and creating support systems for LGBTQ+ individuals and allies.

“The catalyst was to bring older adults together with younger folks to have multi-generational conversations around what it means to be LGBTQ, what does it mean to be an ally and how to learn from each other,” says Terri Clark, a SAGE consultant.

Clark fondly recalls the first SAGE Table held at Southwest Senior Center, which she led with Senior Programs Coordinator of William Way LGBT Community Center, Ed Miller. The SAGE Table included a catered lunch for all participants. Clark recalls one senior center member brought her LGBTQ+ grandchild to join in the conversation, while another member and ally brought their longtime LGBTQ+ friend.

“It was really the kindling, the catalyst, to show other senior centers that ‘yes, we can do this,’” Clark says.

Following the success of Southwest’s first SAGE Table, several other senior centers also adopted the initiative, bringing in Clark or Miller to facilitate the discussions.

“We went from one senior center holding SAGE Tables to five and then to 10,” says Karen Washington, PCA’s assistant director of community engagement, who oversees the management of PCA-funded senior centers.

While many straight or cisgender senior center members continued to bring their LGBTQ+ family members or friends, Washington explains that the tables also helped many other individuals talk about approaching a conversation with a friend or family member who has recently come out as LGBTQ+. In one instance, a senior center member had an LGBTQ+ family member who had been disowned by their family. Conversations at the SAGE Table gave this member the tools needed to contact that family member and begin rebuilding their relationship.

“The SAGE Tables are somewhat like a support group, but with an emphasis on learning,” says Washington.

This can also include unlearning some generational behaviors or stereotypes that reflect negatively on the LGBTQ+ community. Other learning can also come from intergenerational conversations between LGBTQ+ individuals at differing stages of comfort with their identity.

“There are prompts that SAGE Table moderators can use (to encourage discussion),” says Washington. “But a lot of times people come with a question that they’ve wanted to ask for a long time.”

Categories: LGBT Milestones eNews