The Older Americans Act (OAA) serves as the country's leading vehicle for delivering services to older people nationwide, providing more than $2 billion annually in services. It places an emphasis on vulnerable communities, but the OAA has not directed any of its sizable resources to LGBT older adults, despite a wealth of evidence that they are at heightened risk of financial insecurity, poor health and social isolation. SAGE has been advocating at the federal level for several years to change this—and last September, Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced the LGBT Elder Americans Act of 2012—a major step toward increasing the federal supports available to LGBT older adults nationwide.
A home that LGBT older adults could call their own was a major goal of SAGE's five-year strategic plan—and on March 1, that dream came true when we celebrated the grand opening of The SAGE Center, the nation's first full-time LGBT senior center. Now serving hundreds of LGBT older New Yorkers, the Center has garnered nationwide attention. It is also host to a number of new programs and services with the potential to be replicated in communities across the country, continuing SAGE's tradition of pioneering innovative service models for LGBT elders.
Over the years, as SAGE has successfully advocated for service providers to take LGBT elders' needs into account when offering services, we have often heard the question, "How can my agency provide inclusive and welcoming services to LGBT older adults?" SAGE's National Resource Center on LGBT Aging has provided guidance and training on this question since 2010, and in 2012, released Inclusive Services for LGBT Older Adults—a guide to help aging providers meet LGBT elders' unique needs. Immensely popular, it has been viewed thousands of times online and sold out two print runs—proving that LGBT aging issues are forefront in many providers' minds.
In 2012, SAGE made sure that LGBT aging issues stayed front and center in the minds of influential leaders. On May 7, several speakers from SAGE, alongside Obama Administration officials and other leaders in the aging and LGBT fields, shared their expertise with audiences at the first-ever White House LGBT Conference on Aging. And in July, SAGE constituent George Stewart was designated a White House Champion of Change in honor of Pride Month, and was featured on the official White House blog.
Transgender older adults face many challenges associated with aging, including declining health, diminished income and the loss of friends and family. Yet they also face additional challenges such as discrimination and hostility when accessing the services meant to support older adults. To address these challenges, in May, SAGE and the National Center for Transgender Equality released Improving the Lives of Transgender Older Adults—a first-of-its-kind report in the aging field. The report outlined priority areas of change—one of which was achieved when the Social Security Administration updated their procedures allowing individuals to change the gender designation in their Social Security record.
The Diverse Elders Coalition, of which SAGE is a founding member, recognizes that our nation's diverse elder communities deserve access to needed resources, including healthcare services and financial security, so that they are able to age successfully with dignity, greater self-sufficiency and in the best possible health—and that the best way to achieve this is to bring our communities together in working toward common goals. On July 25, the Diverse Elders Coalition brought our work to the nation's leaders, holding a Capitol Hill briefing on the economic issues facing elders of color and LGBT elders, and several potential policy solutions.
LGBT older adults live in communities large and small throughout the country, and their needs vary accordingly. Never an organization to subscribe to a one-size-fits-all approach, SAGE supports SAGENet, a growing network of affiliates that offer services and support to LGBT elders in 17 states and the District of Columbia. In November 2012, leaders from established and new affiliates gathered to exchange ideas, network with their peers and celebrate their accomplishments, such as affordable LGBT elder housing in Chicago, a new LGBT senior center in Rochester, or advocacy work on housing in St. Louis.
Medicaid is the single largest payer of long-term care in the United States, which is often necessary for older adults and people with disabilities who need institutional or in-home health services. Medicaid qualification rules include a series of "spousal impoverishment" protections that aim to prevent a healthy spouse from having to give up a family home or retirement savings, and live in poverty, in order to qualify his/her spouse for Medicaid—protections that most same-sex couples cannot access. Bobby and Ron's story, told here, illustrates the heartbreaking impact of this denial. In 2012, SAGE continued our state-by-state work to ensure that all same-sex couples are eligible for Medicaid spousal impoverishment protections—ensuring that all older LGBT couples, whether or not they live in a state with marriage equality, can access this essential benefit.