Kevin WilliamsSAGE Board Member
Kevin Williams joined SAGE's Board of Directors in 2012. He serves as Senior Director/Group Leader in U.S. Medical Affairs for Rare Disease at Pfizer, recipient of a 2012 SAGE Award. He tells us why he wanted to work with SAGE.
What inspired you to join SAGE’s Board of Directors?
Often in life, timing is everything, and, in many ways, I feel that was the case in joining the SAGE Board of Directors. I have served on the Board of Directors of other LGBT and AIDS-related non-profit organizations over the years, but none since 2007. During that time, I have turned down multiple opportunities to reenter the non-profit world and frankly had more or less decided that I would support those organizations near and dear to my heart financially but that I really was not willing to devote the time and energy necessary to be a fully engaged and effective Board member.
However, a couple of things happened that made me open to the opportunity to join SAGE’s Board. First, turning 50 a little over a year and a half ago had started me thinking more about getting older from a personal perspective and becoming more aware of some of the challenges faced by elders on a more global basis. Second, Pfizer was preparing to launch its “Get Old” campaign at the beginning of the summer. “Get Old” is designed to advance Pfizer’s interest in partnering with society to advocate for key health issues by engaging audiences in a dialogue about living longer and healthier lives.
So when current SAGE Board member, Bill Weinberger, approached me about my interest in learning more about SAGE and considering Board membership, the pump was already primed. Then I met with Michael Adams, who spoke so passionately about the work that SAGE does, I could not help but be inspired to do my part. And second, I had already begun to think about how SAGE might be able to leverage my joining the Board to partner with Pfizer on its “Get Old” campaign. So when I discovered from Michael that those conversations between Pfizer and SAGE had already started, the timing just seemed right for me to reenter the non-profit world and this felt like the right opportunity with which to do that.
What, in your opinion, makes SAGE and its mission so important today?
As a society, we are getting older as people are living longer. Still we remain a culture that is focused on youth. In addition, we are more fragmented and dispersed than ever – often separated from family and close friends by large geographic distances. As one grows older, this can become even more pronounced and lead to isolation and loneliness, and I suspect this sense of isolation is probably even greater for LGBT elders.
The despair and loneliness that many experience as they age was driven home to me recently through a couple of personal tragedies. I had two friends who had recently turned 50 years old, one of whom I was extremely close to, commit suicide within a month of each other this past winter. Of course, there were other things that played a part in their decisions to take this step, but getting older was something with which both struggled. To me, one of the reasons that SAGE and its mission are so important today is that these deaths are particularly sad, because after living through the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, getting older is something we should be embracing and celebrating; and if we are not doing that, there is a need to address those issues that make it difficult for us to embrace growing older. Through its advocacy work and the services it provides, SAGE is a critical player in ensuring that we are able to age with dignity and celebrate getting older.
Are you an activist in other areas, and if so, how does that work intersect with SAGE?
I have really never considered myself an activist, though I do see myself as someone who is very committed to doing my part (however small that may be) to create a better world, particularly for LGBT people. As I was thinking about this question, I realized that I have been involved in non-profit work for the majority of the past 20 years. Much of that work has been in support of people living with HIV and AIDS, either volunteering my services as a physician to treat people living with the disease or serving on the Board of Directors of a couple of AIDS services organizations. In addition, a significant portion of my time and effort to “do my part” has been focused on LGBT issues in general, having served on the Board of Directors of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center for about four years and on the Board of Directors of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force for six years. In many ways, joining the Board of Directors of SAGE feels like a natural progression of the work in which I have been involved for the past 20 years to help make this world a better place for LGBT people.
Any other thoughts for our readers?
My only other thought is to say how excited I am about joining the SAGE Board of Directors. I want to believe that things happen for a reason, and so I cannot help but feel that Pfizer’s “Get Old” campaign, and Bill approaching me about board membership at a point in my life where I was open to it again, means that joining the SAGE Board is what I was meant to do. And if I believe that this is what I was meant to do, and I do believe that, then it is my duty to do the best that I can in my role as a Board member to advance the work that SAGE does.