This article originally appeared on the SAGE blog.
SAGE is committed to keeping our community and staff safe in the face of COVID-19. As we continue to navigate this global pandemic, we are reminded daily of the isolation and unique needs that our community faces. SAGE’s response to COVID-19 has required flexibility, innovation, and new approaches to challenges. Learn more about how SAGE is continuing to provide LGBT elders with programs, services, and support during this time.
Direct services with NY’s Department for the Aging
Since ceasing in-person congregate programming in mid-March, at the direction of NYC government, SAGE has worked to ensure that nearly 2,000 LGBT elders across the city are receiving home-delivered meals, getting their nutritional needs met, and receiving updates to keep them informed. SAGE’s efforts to support and feed our community’s elders were showcased in the Washington Post. That story is written by reporters who shadowed SAGE’s heroic frontline staff delivering meals to LGBT elders living at Stonewall House – New York’s and the country’s first LGBT-friendly affordable elder housing. SAGE also pivoted its operations from an in-person model to virtual platforms during the pandemic. Every day, SAGE staff and volunteers are calling hundreds of LGBT elders to reduce isolation, conduct welfare checks, and address emergency needs.
To scale our reach across the country and ensure that more LGBT elders could engage in community building while staying at home, SAGE launched SAGEConnect, a program that matches LGBT elders with volunteer callers to combat social isolation. Matching volunteers with members of the SAGE community not only provides companionship, but also serves as an opportunity for folks to tap into the numerous resources SAGE is continuing to offer LGBT elders, such as SAGE’s National LGBT Elder Hotline, connection to local SAGE affiliates, and other resources. To date, this program has engaged over 1,000 LGBT elders and volunteers nationwide.
Providing the community with resources
SAGE, Lambda Legal, and Human Rights Campaign conducted a webinar to discuss the tools, supports, and solutions for older LGBT people navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, our National Resource Center on LGBT Aging has provided the following COVID-19 related resources:
- The Fenway Institute: Coronavirus, COVID-19, and Considerations for People Living with HIV and LGBTQIA+ People
- National Resource Center on LGBT Aging: Prepare for COVID-19: Tips and Resources for LGBT Elders and those living with HIV
- National Resource Center on LGBT Aging: COVID Resources from Aging Service Providers
- HRC & SAGE: COVID-19 and LGBT Older People
- GMHC: LGBTQ Older Adults and COVID-19 – What Providers Need to Know
Pride in Place
Together, though socially distanced, we celebrated #PrideInPlace with a virtual campaign commemorating the 50th anniversary of our country’s first Pride March. We honored the defiance and resilience of those, including LGBT people of color, who were the driving forces at historic protests like Stonewall. Throughout the month of June, we hosted virtual events, programs, panels, and more!
Throughout the pandemic, SAGE centers have remotely provided approximately 100 different programs on a weekly basis. The programs are accessible via Zoom or by dialing in for phone-based participants. Participants can enjoy a range of health and wellness programming for example yoga and meditation, Feldenkrais, Tai Chi, nutrition workshops, Afro-Brazilian dance, and much more. Centers also offer a range of arts and cultural programming such as weekly drawing classes, art history lectures, opera clubs, book clubs, virtual tours of New York based museums and galleries, language classes, and performances from vocal groups. Participants can stay connected via a selection of identity-based discussion groups and social programming. In addition, participants can continue to make appointments with tech support volunteers, benefits counselors, and legal clinic volunteers.
Combating racism and discrimination
Working to undo the damages left by centuries of hate, violence, and racism, SAGE took a strong stance with our peer organizations committed to building solutions. SAGE is fighting injustice with action, including centering our SAGECare LGBT cultural competency trainings on the experiences of Black LGBT elders and elders of color, and conducting ongoing and regular outreach to LGBT elders of color to check on their well-being and ensure that they are receiving the care and services they need.
SAGENet National Affiliates
SAGE coordinated with our 30 SAGENet national affiliates to make sure programs could continue virtually, as well as provide support for food and security for their members. SAGENet Affiliates have responded by moving programs such as such as yoga classes, coffee groups, and support groups to online facilitated groups using Zoom. Many of the affiliates who once had center-based congregate meals are now providing boxed meals for curb-side and porch delivery. Friendly volunteer visits have continued through phone and video calls to maintain intergenerational connections in the LGBT community.
Older Americans Act
At a time of political division, SAGE helped achieve unity and action with the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act — the first bipartisan piece of LGBT-inclusive legislation to become law during the Trump administration — which holds state and local departments of aging accountable for undertaking outreach to LGBT older people who need services in their communities. SAGE pledges to partner with the Biden-Harris administration to put this historic mandate into action, so it can make difference in the lives of our elders.
SAGE partnered with LifeCents to develop and launch SAGECents, a financial wellness platform created with support from the Wells Fargo Foundation, to help SAGE constituents navigate the unprecedented economic environment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. This program was created to ensure LGBT elders have access to resources that will support their financial literacy and stability. SAGECents aims to combat the difficulty of navigating economic uncertainty, especially at a time when access to a number of services and opportunities for LGBT elders is limited. Hear from a few of our SAGECents users here.
Be a SAGE Voter
In preparation for the 2020 election, SAGE partnered with When We All Vote. This partnership was a way for SAGE voters to help strengthen our democracy by increasing voter participation among all Americans, especially underrepresented populations, during the time of COVID-19. SAGE encouraged LGBT elders, allies, and members of the community to vote as a way to honor the LGBT pioneers who have been fighting for decades for their right to live with dignity and respect. SAGE also conducted virtual events, as well as provided support resources, not only via the SAGE Voter campaign but also through prompts via our SAGEConnect telephonic buddy system and the SAGE Hotline. These efforts will continue as we encourage and educate voters in Georgia with our partners at Georgia Equality in preparation for the Senate runoff election.
SAGE + Puerto Rico
Together with SAGE Puerto Rico, our affiliate hosted at Waves Ahead, the NYC Department for the Aging, and Thrive NYC, SAGE launched a new mental health awareness and suicide prevention campaign Open Up Puerto Rico – Exprésate Puertorriqueños. This program aims to remove the stigma of asking for help, especially for those who are suffering from depression and anxiety. Additionally, SAGE Centers in the Bronx and Harlem coordinated a series of events for members throughout Hispanic Heritage Month illustrating the power of connection and language in these virtual times.
SAGE + CV19 CheckUp
SAGE partnered with CV19 CheckUp to push out a free, quick, and easy tool for assessing your risk and getting personalized advice for staying safe.
The SAGEStrong Resiliency Fund
To continue to fuel SAGE’s services and support of LGBT elders during the COVID-19 pandemic, we created the SAGEStrong Resiliency Fund. Contributions to SAGEStrong help cement SAGE’s ability to be there for LGBT elders when they need it most and launch new initiatives to respond to our elders’ most pressing needs.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.