SAGE: Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders
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August 18, 2017

Reynaldo Mireles Offers Sage Advice

Out Front
By Yvonne Wright
“I don’t want my voice to be silent, there’s so much I want to be able to tell younger people.”

Mireles is not alone. He’s part of the backbone of the LGBTQ community. The strongest part. The elders who paved the way — who today serve as the base — the widest and sturdiest part of the tree from which everything else blossoms, on which everything else relies.

At 51 he’s not what I think of when I think “elder”. Yes, his hair is tinged with gray. Tiny lines crawl up the sides of his intensely brown eyes and cradle his infectious smile. It’s a smile I see a lot during our conversation. It’s obvious he loves his job. His face lights up when he talks about the people he serves as the program director for the Colorado branch of Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE).

“Our community members have aged gracefully, have inspired others, [and] have gone before others,” he said. “Here we’re very fortunate to have a place where people can just be themselves. And that’s how people feel when they come here, you can just be yourself. That’s empowering.”

More than 100 people come to Denver’s GLBT Center every week to participate in a variety of activities that range from a “telling our story” group, to art, yoga, and cooking classes. Others meet outside the center for coffee. Community connection, he said, is the most pressing need for people over 50.

“As people get older, they get more isolated,” he said.

“We have quite a bit of people coming out at an older age. All their lives they’ve been told to be in the closet, to live a different lifestyle . . . Now they’re getting older and saying ‘I need to be able to find community, someone else that’s like me,’” he said.

Mireles’ story mirrors that of many who utilize the program.

Growing up in a small, Texas town, he was kicked out of his house when he came out at age 21. Religion played a big role in family dynamics in the 80s. When his Latino culture of strong family bonds clashed with his family’s Catholic beliefs that homosexuality is a sin, Mireles eventually found his family embracing him, but not his sexuality.

“My dad would just plead with me, ‘please change this, change this for your mom’s sake, for our sake,’” he said.

The silver and turquois cross he wears around his neck is a symbol of his Catholic beliefs, beliefs he still holds dear. “We have people in the church who are on the down low. We really just want to be ourselves. There’s some churches that are accepting and welcoming. Others who say ‘no we can’t have them here,’” he said.

“How do you form a bridge?” he asked. “One from the church hierarchy and the other from the LGBT community. And how can we actually walk together?” Building bridges is something Mireles does every day. As a social worker, he has helped hundreds, if not thousands of people work through issues like this.

It all began when he moved to Denver in 1997.

“I too was giving up on my own life, of not knowing where to find support. There was a time when I needed to find help that I came to The [GLBT] Center,” he said. From there he found the now defunct program El Futuro (The Future) and later became a program coordinator for the group for gay Latino men.

Mireles went on to become a program manager for the Colorado AIDS Project. This was what eventually led him to his passion for helping the LGBTQ’s aging population, as he realized that a lot of his clients who live with HIV were aging and needed support.

In addition to community connections, SAGE does outreach work with a variety of organizations.

“We are trying to build a safety net for people as they start aging into nursing homes and assisted living,” Mireles said. “Know that people when they get into nursing homes are more afraid to be out because it’s the same bullies they grew up with that are now in the nursing homes.” To combat this SAGE works on educating staff who can help elders in assisted living be who they are.

Politically, the organization works on many campaigns — like same-sex marriage. This one Mireles got to take advantage of himself when last year he married his partner of more than 14 years. He still notes generational differences. “We don’t walk down the street hand-in-hand,” he said. But he notices younger couples feeling comfortable with public signs of affection. They didn’t grow up in a time when doing this could cost them their lives.

Things are changing. For one, Mireles said more transgender members are coming to SAGE looking for support. The message he wants to get out is the program welcomes everyone.

“I know that there are many that will again spin their wheels going around The [GLBT] Center not knowing what people are going to say – are they going to be rejected – we are welcoming here,” again Mireles emphasizes the program is for everyone over 50.

As far as what he has to say to younger generations?

“You have a voice! You have a voice! Use it!”

Read the original article online here.

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