LGBTQ Pride Month

I Attended An Intergenerational Meal For LGBTQ People And Learned That Age Is Just A Number

"There’s a lot we can learn from each other.”

My first instinct after processing the results of the 2016 presidential election was to somehow get involved in my community, the LGTBQ community, which I knew faced uncertain times ahead. I felt that I had to at least try to make a difference or impact in the world — no matter how big or small it may be.

I made a list of organizations to reach out to and volunteer for, ones that I thought could really use some help, and then did what I'd surmise lots of do-gooders do: I didn't follow through. Little did I know that my path would soon cross with one of these places, SAGE (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders), but that's exactly what happened when I heard about SAGE Table. I set out to cover the event for A Plus on May 18, eager to connect with LGBTQ people of all ages, not knowing exactly what to expect.

According to Serena Worthington, the director of national field initiatives for SAGE, the idea for SAGE Table came from a successful program created by the Chicago Community Trust called On The Table. Partnering with AARP, SAGE set out to create a version of this model that would be multigenerational, cross-generational, and intergenerational for LGBTQ people and allies alike. It started with plans to test it out in Los Angeles and New York City but quickly became a national event, with more than 230 SAGE Tables happening across the U.S. with an estimated turnout of 3,500.

Naturally, I was the first person to arrive at my event in Harlem, save for a few SAGE folks, so I got free reign to choose where I would sit. Being a reporter, I wanted to position myself to be able to observe as many people as possible, so that's exactly what I did. It was a very hot day in New York City, so the basement of an old school — the current home to that neighborhood's SAGE center as well as other organizations — was refuge from the heat. There was upbeat music playing, tiny colorful stars strewn across the table, and the air conditioning was kicking — so the mood was perfect. Soon enough, people from all across the LGBTQ spectrum showed up and things picked up.

This is a positive thing because, according to a May 2017 study from MAP (The Movement Advancement Project) and SAGE titled "Understanding Issues Facing LGBT Older Adults" details the challenges facing the aging LGBTQ population. While many perceive the LGBTQ community as largely youthful and social media-obsessed, there are an estimated 2.7 million LGBT people aged 50 and older — with 1.1 million of those being 65 and older — making up more than one-third of all LGBT adults. And this number will only get larger as the over-65 population in the U.S. is expected to double by 2050.

These elderly LGBTQ individuals — who represent a diverse set of races, ethnicities, genders, and ages — face more uphill battles than non-LGBTQ elders. These issues range from an entire lifetime of discrimination in the workplace, the healthcare industry — specifically affordable treatments, access to affordable housing, and lack of recognition in the social zeitgeist can lead to increased risks for poverty, isolation from society, and negative mental and physical health states.

Carson Blackwelder / A Plus
Carson Blackwelder / A Plus

I was lucky enough to sit at a table with Sandie Green, George Dixon, and Shelly Montrose. These three lovely human beings and I filled our entire time — at least the moments we weren't eating — by talking about anything and everything. Topics that might be deemed too taboo elsewhere — such as sex, politics, HIV/AIDS, and religion — were all brought up.

Green — a longtime volunteer for organizations such as GRIOT Circle and, most recently, SAGE — is just 46 and thereby found herself in the middle, not a part of the elderly population but also not exactly one of the youthful LGBTQ people either. With this unique position, Green is able to see how both older and younger generations can benefit from intergenerational mingling.

"It's a good idea for older and younger people to hang around together more often so they will feel more comfortable around each other," Green said. "The younger people have to find out how hard it was back then and that it wasn't that easy as it is now, that it was the older people who stood up and fought for us and helped them get as free as they are now.... If it wasn't for the older people sticking up for us, then we wouldn't be this far. And the older people have to learn from the younger people they don't have to be as closeted and closed up as they used to be. They have to remember that this is a new day and age. There's a lot we can learn from each other."

Carson Blackwelder / A Plus
Carson Blackwelder / A Plus

While there were moments that I definitely contributed to the conversation, there was also ample opportunity to just sit back and let my new friends have the spotlight. It was really satisfying just being there, meeting these new faces, and hearing other people's stories as well as sharing my own. Honestly, I could have spoken to these people forever and the event was soon over.

"We are extremely excited with not only the number of people who turned out and sat down and broke bread but we're excited about the quality of the interactions," Worthington said about the event's success. "We know that people really found it meaningful and, in some cases, very powerful to sit down together. And we also know that other groups immediately planning something else."

In fact, SAGE itself is "definitely" going to keep this as an annual event, Worthington said, adding that it "was not our plan to just do it once and then wait to do it again." They want to capitalize on the success of SAGE Table and keep the momentum going, especially given the preliminary results of a survey they conducted for those who attended events across the country. 

The organization found that 83 percent of people said they were interested in mentorship of some kind, 92 percent wanted to participate in more intergenerational events, and 56 percent of people wantedto help isolated LGBT people of all ages who are in need. Worthington called these results "outstanding — especially when we didn't know what the appetite was for this."

Carson Blackwelder / A Plus
Carson Blackwelder / A Plus

"On a personal level it was feeling this great big love from my LGBT and allied community," Worthington said about the big day, having attended multiple events herself. "We are in some very difficult times politically. There's a lot of anti-LGBT bills across the country and there's a lot of violence against LGBT people — specifically trans women of color — and that, I think, has been weighing on our community. But to have this day where we came together in companionship, love, and community was really beautiful."

I left thinking about something a fellow participant said: that it's what we have in common — not what divides us — that is important. The older folks didn't have to act like their younger counterparts and vice versa. We were all able to just be ourselves and connect with people that we probably wouldn't have connected with otherwise. Age is truly just a number because we're all part of one family.

A Plus is proud to have collaborated with Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) — the United States' largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults — for this story. Learn more about SAGE by visiting www.sageusa.org

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