BTL Photo: Alex Godin

LGBTQ Elders and Young People Work to Close the Generation Gap

BY KATE OPALEWSKI

A SAGE Metro Detroit community building event was held on May 18 in Detroit to coincide with a national movement to strengthen and unify the LGBTQ community across multiple generations.

More than 200 SAGE Table dinners took place simultaneously across the U.S., held in partnership with AARP, to launch conversations between LGBTQ people, young and old.

"We are starting a movement to build bridges of understanding between generations," said Judy Lewis, training and education coordinator for SAGE Metro Detroit, during the event at the Hannan House Cafe at 4750 Woodward Ave. where the Detroit Elders Project hosts a discussion and support group on the third Thursday of the month.

"It appears that that's one thing that's been missing," she said. "This empowers us to make progress. We need to get to know each other."

Lewis said the SAGE Table is an opportunity to follow up and address some areas of concern raised during focus groups with members of the older LGBTQ community including the Senior Koffee Klatch, a group hosted by Affirmations in Ferndale. Cornelius Wilson who facilitates the Detroit Elders Project noted that he looked forward to the depth of conversations that a SAGE Table could help facilitate.

For example, many LGB elders are less familiar with terms like gender expression and gender identity used by transgender or gender non-conforming people. Some LGBT elders are not comfortable with the use of the word queer based on histories of discrimination and harassment associated with this word.

By hosting events like this, SAGE Metro Detroit hopes to raise more awareness and sensitivity on these issues, among others, and to open up interesting intergenerational dialogue.

Cornelius Wilson of the Detroit Elders Project. BTL Photo: Alex Godin

"These conversations, while sometimes difficult, strengthen our community and uplift our voices. This kind of activity allows us to remind people in various echelons around us that we are visible and we matter, and there needs to be greater access to culturally-sensitive services for LGBT older adults," said Angie Perone, director of SAGE Metro Detroit.

A research arm of the University of Michigan, led by Beth Glover Reed, associate professor of social work and women's studies, was present to conduct research based on questions provided to all the participants of the SAGE Table.

A facilitator was assigned to each table to guide the discussion between LGBTQ elders and young people in attendance.

Questions were asked about navigating peer pressure, relationships, LGBTQ role models or mentors, family composition and acceptance, growing old, circumstances that create stressors and difficulties, and how race, economic status and religion affect life experiences. The group's findings will be reported back to SAGE Metro Detroit to be used for future planning.

Judy Lewis, training and education coordinator for SAGE Metro Detroit. BTL Photo: Alex Godin

Perone said this will help the organization understand how it can do better outreach and will help them provide a response to some of the policy efforts that will render LGBTQ elders invisible.

"We oppose any efforts to take away protections from LGBTQ elders," said Jay Kaplan, SAGE Metro Detroit board member and staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan's LGBT Project. Kaplan said the organization is carefully looking at policy changes relating to Medicaid, healthcare, and the elimination of questions from surveys that give LGBTQ elders access to funds and services that they already fight to get.

Pat Baldwin said she was "honored to have the event here." As the director of the Hannan Center for Lifelong Learning and Volunteer Services, she said it is their mission to promote the well-being of people over the age of 60.

"We are intentional about helping older adults accomplish what they set out to accomplish and to discover new possibilities," said Baldwin.

That way of thinking falls in line with the AARP's mission to enhance the quality of life for all people as they age.

"I am honored to be a part of the SAGE family," said Lisa Whitmore Davis, AARP Michigan Associate State Director for Multicultural Outreach, who announced upcoming Caregiving Resource Workshops in partnership with the Detroit Medical Center.

LGBTQ older adults and young people engage in conversation. BTL Photo: Alex Godin

The workshops will include nutrition and exercise demonstrations; interactive presentations on how to manage money, relieve stress and protect individual health as a caregiver; information on local resources available to support caregivers; and opportunities for positive and supportive social interaction with other caregivers.

When caring for an LGBTQ older adult, members of SAGE Metro Detroit want caregivers to understand the importance of unique circumstances faced by LGBT people ages 65 and up. More so, for LGBTQ people to be aware of the supports available to them when caring for another.

That's why the organization created the Caregiving & LGBT Concerns Guide in collaboration with the ACLU of Michigan and the three Area Agencies on Aging serving Southeastern Michigan - Detroit Area Agency on Aging, AAA1-B, and The Senior Alliance.

The organization also released a Rainbow Resource Guide to help LGBTQ older adults make informed decisions about which specific service providers to use.

AARP Caregiving Resource Workshops

July 8

1 p.m.

Sinai Grace Hospital Auditorium

6071 Outer Drive, Detroit

Aug. 5, Sept. 9, Oct 7

1 p.m.

Harper-Hutzel Hospital Kresge Auditorium

3990 John R. Road

Register for these free events by phone at 877-926-8300

For more information about SAGE Metro Detroit, visit the organization's website. Mark the calendar for SAGE Metro Detroit's free LGBTQ Older Adult Summit "Moving Forward, Letting Go" on June 24 at 8:30 a.m. at the MSU Detroit Center, 3408 Woodward Ave.
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