Today, May 16, is National Honor Your LGBTQ Elders Day. What would it look like to truly celebrate our pioneers — the people who paved the way for the progress we’ve made as LGBTQ people — today and every day?
Let’s start by remembering just how much our elders have lived through. For starters, they fought through decades and decades of witchhunts, violence, bigotry, government-sponsored discrimination, criminalization, and conversion therapy. Through the AIDS epidemic, they cared for each other when their government and communities turned a blind eye. They built one of the most transformative and successful equality movements this country has seen. Through it all, they broke out of gender straitjackets, built alliances with other social justice movements, created an entire culture, became leaders in the arts, threw some of the greatest parties, and unleashed some of the best humor of their generation.
Given all that, our elders should be honored not just on May 16, but every day. Instead, too many LGBTQ elders grow old isolated and lonely, face discrimination in housing and care, and don’t have enough to live on in their later years. To add insult to injury, our elders are often invisible and ignored in the very communities they created.
We have to change that, and there is no better time to start than now. So, what does it look like to honor our LGBTQ elders not just today, but every day?
It means moving our elders from the margins to the center of our LGBTQ community life and priorities. Their needs must be high on the list of the work that we still need to do to achieve full equality and equity.
It means making sure that LGBTQ elders have access to housing where they are welcomed and celebrated —housing that they can afford as older people living on fixed incomes.
It means opposing and defeating efforts by the Trump administration to erase our elders from federally funded elder services, and pushing back against current campaigns to give religious people, companies, and care providers a license to discriminate against us.
It means creating all kinds of opportunities for LGBTQ people and allies of different generations to come together and care about each other — allowing community members of all ages to be inspired and supported by each other, to learn about our collective history, and to have each other’s backs as we push through difficult times, and forge our future.
As we gear up to celebrate Pride, it means making sure that Pride celebrations across the country are what we at SAGE call “age-friendly” — events where you don’t need the abs, legs, and the bladder of a 20-something to feel like you belong.
This year, I see evidence that we’re getting closer than ever to honoring our LGBTQ elders every day. Our elders are becoming more visible in our communities and, little by little, are being celebrated for the heroes that they are. SAGE is building the country’s biggest housing development for LGBT elders, and supporting more than a dozen cities across the country that want to build housing for older community members. This week, we launched Care Can’t Wait, a national campaign that shines a spotlight on how LGBTQ elders are threatened by religious discrimination, and asks people to take a stand against that bias. More and more intergenerational initiatives like SAGE Table and mentoring programs are popping up around the country, and, with Pride right around the corner, we are also working to make all Pride celebrations in the country age-friendly by 2019, the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising that helped launch our movement.
So today, on National Honor Your LGBTQ Elders Day, let’s each of us pledge to do something each and every day to support and celebrate the people who fought for so long for the freedoms that we’ve won. You can start by actually taking a pledge — a pledge to stand with LGBT elders in the face of religious discrimination, right now.
I pledge to care for LGBT elders, and all LGBT people, without discrimination. I stand with them because Care Can’t Wait.
Honor your LGBTQ elders — today and every day. See you at Pride!
MICHAEL ADAMS is the CEO of SAGE, Advocacy and Services for LGBT Elders.