A nonprofit organization advocating for older members of the LGBT population has been hosting bimonthly gatherings in Damariscotta in an effort to promote community among LGBT adults and their allies.
Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders, or SAGE, is a national association advancing awareness of LGBT aging. Currently, SAGE has affiliates in 20 states, including SAGE Maine, and the District of Columbia, and is one of the leading LGBT organizations in the country.
Mitzi Lichtman, of Northport, one of the SAGE Maine board members, said the mission of SAGE Maine is to provide services, education, and advocacy to improve the quality of life for older adults in the LGBT community in Maine.
“Not many people are aware of it, but there is a growing need for the services and education SAGE provides,” Lichtman said. “A lot of the folks we’re reaching are still fairly closeted because they grew up during a time of such stigma.”
SAGE Maine Executive Director Doug Kimmel helped found SAGE in New York City in 1978. At the time, Kimmel said there was a great deal of stigma toward those in the LGBT community, as it was only a few years after homosexuality had been removed from the list of mental illnesses in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association.
“We had a great deal of difficulty getting the word out about who we are and what we were trying to do,” Kimmel said. “A very brave group gave us a small grant so we could rent some office space and pay for a telephone. At the time, that was all we had.”
SAGE was able to grow despite the stigma and create some of the nation’s first programming for older LGBT adults, including a drop-in center and visiting program.
Kimmel said as acceptance of the LGBT community grew, SAGE also began to expand and add affiliates in other states. In 2012, AARP Maine conducted a community needs assessment in an effort to identify the concerns of older LGBT adults living in the state.
With 468 participants who identified as members of the LGBT community, the study found older adults in the LGBT community were concerned with finding access to LGBT-friendly health care and home-based support services.
Based on the results, AARP Maine recommended SAGE Maine focus on creating and educating health care providers, providing education regarding civil rights protections for LGBT individuals, and creating opportunities for social support in an effort to reduce the feeling of isolation.
“What we’ve found is the more rural the area, the more isolated people feel,” Lichtman said. “We really want to help make connections to prevent this.”
After receiving a grant from the Equity Fund of the Maine Community Foundation, SAGE Maine focused its first year on publicizing the organization and its mission through educational presentations around the state.
Lichtman said Spectrum Generations Coastal Community Center invited SAGE Maine to make a presentation about the organization and later offered to host gatherings to bring together older adults in the LGBT community and allies. The drop-ins take place the first and third Wednesday of the month.
“I think it’s been very meaningful for the group of people who attend,” Lichtman said.
Lichtman said SAGE Maine is currently exploring the option of a “virtual drop-in,” which would allow people across the state to connect by phone, rather than attending a meeting in person.
“There are some people who are interested in attending a drop-in, but are unable to get there for different reasons,” Lichtman said. “We want to still be able to reach those people and provide support for them.”
In addition to building membership, SAGE Maine also hopes to continue offering training for health care providers across the state. Kimmel said the organization recently offered training sessions about creating a safe and LGBT-friendly environment with the five Maine Area Agencies on Aging.
“The educational component is critical,” Kimmel said. “The more we can spread awareness about the challenges facing the LGBT community, the better we can provide for our members.”
SAGE Maine drop-ins are held at Spectrum Generations Coastal Community Center in Damariscotta the first and third Wednesday of every month from 1-3 p.m. Members of SAGE Maine will meet for lunch at King Eider’s Pub in Damariscotta at 1 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016.
For more information about SAGE Maine, visit http://sagemaine.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.