COVID-19 has been tough on everyone.
That’s especially true of the aging LGBTQ population.
SAGE Metro Detroit is stepping up to help. SAGE, which stands for Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders, is a national organization dedicated to “building awareness and promoting change so that LGBT older adults may age with dignity and authenticity.” The metro Detroit branch serves all of Michigan with a focus on Oakland, Wayne and Washtenaw counties.
LGBTQ elders have been particularly vulnerable during the pandemic, according to Angie Perone, executive director of SAGE Metro Detroit.
“They have faced cumulative decades of discrimination on multiple fronts — health disparity, poverty, housing and food insecurity. COVID has exacerbated all of these disparities,” Perone says. “In addition, cisgender older adults are more likely to have multigenerational biological family. Typically, that’s not the case with LGBTQ individuals. They rely on family of choice to provide care and support, and right now with COVID, that’s not possible. The pandemic has caused support networks to be fractured in a major way.”
Since mid-March, SAGE has helped more than 500 individuals through virtual programming, food delivery, information and outreach. Its Friendly Caller Program, which matches LGBTQ older adults with support and services, has expanded to provide additional resources during COVID, with volunteers logging 570 hours on the phone.
With June being Pride Month, the organization is ramping up resources and pivoting to offer programs online. And a virtual SAGE Table event will bring people together on June 30 to share dinner during these trying times.
“All sorts of things are happening right now that are much harder for the LGBTQ older adults we
serve related to aging, decades of discrimination, family formatting, housing and employment,”
Perone says. “But one thing that’s been incredibly powerful is the strength of community.”
SAGE is the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ older adults, dating back to 1978. Based in New York, SAGE has a growing network of 30 affiliates in more than 20 states.
The metro Detroit branch began forming at a grass roots level in 2010, becoming an official
nonprofit in 2015. It focuses on advocacy of LGBTQ policy at the local and state level, as well as training organizations, businesses and religious institutions to better serve the LGBT population.
One of its premier initiatives is its Rainbow Resource Guide, which highlights metro Detroit businesses that are LGBTQ-friendly. Another key function of SAGE is providing programs, including fitness classes, art and theater events, quality of life discussions, a weekly Koffee Klatch and an annual LGBT Older Adult Summit.
Although SAGE Table has been moved online due to the pandemic, Perone says it has spurred the organization to make sure its members are equipped with the proper technology and skills to stay connected online. She expects the multigenerational Zoom call will draw up to 100 people.
“The great thing about the event is it combines a lot of our initiatives — food insecurity, technology access and social connection — which is very important right now as people are feeling more isolated than ever,” Perone says.
In the end, she thinks COVID-19 will make SAGE and the people it serves even stronger.
“We have faced significant discrimination and challenges, but it is a very resilient community,” Perone says. “It’s really important that people know we exist, we’re here and we matter.”