Highlights from this week’s conversation include:
Abundant Aging is a podcast series presented by United Church Homes. These shows offer ideas, information, and inspiration on how to improve our lives as we grow older. To learn more and to subscribe to the show, visit abundantagingpodcast.com.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 00:07
Hello and welcome to The Art of aging part of the abundant aging podcast series from United Church homes. On this show, we talk about what it means to age in America and in other places around the world with positive and empowering conversations that challenge, encourage and inspire all to age with abundance. Our guest today is Michael Adams. Michael is the Chief Executive Officer of SAGE, the world’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ plus older people. Founded in 1978, and headquartered in New York City, SAGE is a national organization that offers supportive services and consumer resources to LGBTQ plus older people and their caregivers. Advocates for public policy changes that address the needs of LGBTQ plus elders provides education and technical assistance for aging providers, and LGBTQ plus community organizations through its National Resource Center on LGBTQ plus aging, and it offers cultural competency training through SAGE care. With staff located across the country. SAGE also coordinates SAGE collab, a flexible partnership model with collaborations nationwide. Prior to joining SAGE Adams was the Director of Education and Public Affairs for landed legal. Prior to that he spent a decade leading cutting edge litigation that established new rights for LGBT Q plus people. First as Associate Director of the AC l us LGBTQ plus project, and then as deputy Legal Director at Lambda Legal. A graduate of Stanford Law School and Harvard College. Adams has authored numerous publications on an array of LGBTQ plus issues. He has taught law school courses on sexual orientation and gender identity, and has served on advisory councils for AARP fortune 500 companies, leading universities, and the New York City Department for Aging, among others. Adams is the former Chair of the Board of Directors of the American society on aging. Welcome, Michael.
Michael Adams 02:16
Thank you, Beth. It’s really great to be here. I’m looking forward to our conversation today.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 02:21
Absolutely. So let’s start with your personal story. How is it that you have come to SAGE? And how long have you been with this organization?
Michael Adams 02:33
Well, I’ve been with SAGE for a long time. I’m actually in my 18th year as the head of the organization. And I would say that my connection to SAGE, maybe my love affair with SAGE has, has three chapters to it. When I was quite young, when I was in my early 20s, I was the first time I got exposed to SAGE I was in the I was visiting New York City at the Pride Parade, when I saw the SAGE plus go by much all the elders on it. And as a young gay man, I, I just until then had no concept of what it could be like if it were like to be an old gay person. And so seeing all those SAGEs on that bus really caught my attention. And then fast forward, I guess, almost 25 years later, back in 2006, when I was contacted about applying to take the job leading the organization. And at that time, I was really drawn to the mission because my grandmother who I was very close to was, was quite sick and was failing. And she had a big family, our family surrounding her and supporting her and it was still hard. And it made me think a lot about what it must be like for so many folks in our community aging without that kind of support. And then now, you know, my 18th year on the job I’m in. I’m in my 60s now. And the work of SAGE has become much more personal to me, as I start to experience my own aging. So it’s just a little bit about my kind of sense of connection to our to say just cause.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 04:13
Absolutely, thanks. I was asked a question recently. And when I gave them what I thought was the correct answer. They’re like, No, it stands for something to SAGE stand for anything anymore. I think it used to but I think you abandoned that association. Is that right? That’s right.
Michael Adams 04:31
It no longer was an acronym way back when we got started back in 1978. SAGE stood for senior action in a gay environment. And we went through a couple of permutations and acronyms. And then probably about eight or so years ago, we realized that the word SAGE was enough. It’s emblematic of really the spirit of our organization, which is that we celebrate and brace and support The wisdom of LGBTQ+ elders. So now we are just SAGE.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 05:04
I had the right answer they didn’t like. I’m glad that I was up on that. So one of the things that’s near and dear to our hearts here at United Church homes is SAGE care. Do you want to talk about that program? And how that’s going, how it got started? And what are your goals for SAGE care?
Michael Adams 05:23
Yeah, absolutely. So SAGE care is a program that focuses on providing training and technical assistance and a variety of supports to long term care providers, elder care providers, elders, service providers, who are working with LGBTQ plus older adults, as frankly, all care providers are whether they realize it, focus on it or not. And the program emerges out of our experience in conversations with many 1000s of elders from LGBTQ plus communities across the country, who often have talked with us about how extremely difficult and painful they found the long term care experience feeling unwelcomed unrecognized, not understood. And in fact, many of our elders have told us that they felt forced to re closet themselves in order to avoid the mistreatment or their fear of mistreatment and care. And so we started SAGE care as a training program, with the goal of providing care providers with the information with the tools with the knowledge that they need to do a good job and a respectful job when working with and providing care with LGBTQ plus older adults. And we work in partnership with providers, we, we really are excited as we see providers progress and their knowledge and their understanding of working with elders from our community. And we provide a form of recognition for for providers that make this commitment in the form of what we call a credential with SAGE care credential. So in a nutshell, that’s what SAGE care is about.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 07:05
It’s been really important for us that United Church homes, and it’s based on a couple of things, but part of it is the percentage of our employees who have participated in the educational opportunities each year. And when we first started on the were earnestly on this education track and connected with SAGE care, one of our administrators called me up and she said, Oh, my gosh, everything they’re talking about, I can tell you is happening. You know, she could tell she, she she talked about the story about somebody, you come back from the closet, and she talks about a story of a trans resident and the challenges they were having staff caring for them. And it was nice to have almost immediate feedback that, yeah, this is really important for us to be aware of in order to care if it’s great. Great to hear. Yeah. And then I was really excited when probably 2017, I think leading age had printed an article that said, SAGE and leading age and HRC are going to be developing a long term carry quality index. And and at the time, your staff person, Tim Johnston, I talked to him about it. He’s like, yes, and it’s not going to happen real fast. So do you want to talk about what is the long term care quality index? And how it does? And then we could talk a little bit about how does that connect with SAGE care? Sure.
Michael Adams 08:41
So the Long Term Care Quality Index was started several years ago as a project of SAGE and the Human Rights Campaign foundation or HRC, with support from leading age, to create a series of very transparent and public best practices that can be used to measure the how providers are doing in terms of their work and care with and for LGBTQ plus over results. And it provides a series of measures to score providers on on the progress they are making or not make it and this and so each provider a provider has to sign up and agree to participate in the long term care, a quality index, and then they self score on a whole series of measures. And then those that scoring that self scoring is then confirmed or verified. And then the scores are shared in a public report that comes out every other year in which we show what providers across the country are doing in terms of how they are working effectively with LGBTQ plus older adults, where they’ve made progress, where they still need to make progress. And this is both an educational tool for the providers. But it’s also very helpful to LGBTQ plus older adults in their caregivers who need to actually find care facilities for their loved ones for themselves, and can use the LMI as a consumer guide, essentially, to choose a facilities that are really making the effort to provide respectful and welcoming and welcoming care.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 10:32
Yeah, we like remember conversation with one of our chaplains, who has joined us probably 2016. And United Church homes is in covenant with the United Church of Christ and had already kind of done the work, the board had decided that we would become an open and affirming agency organization. So we already had that distinction within denomination. And this Chaplain said to me that he knew that, but he was also interested in so he had gone to the HRCS website, and at that time, there was the health care equality index, we said, You’re not included in the healthcare equality? Well, we don’t really fit the healthcare Equality Index. But he was looking at not from a standpoint of someone who’s seeking care, but as a potential employee in he was looking for that verification that yeah, we weren’t just saying this, to say it, but that we were kind of putting our, our money where our mouth is making sure that we were, you know, really working on best practices.
Michael Adams 11:45
Well, that’s an interesting point. And I think that, you know, this also, the Long Term Care Quality Index is certainly a good resource for employees who are considering where to work. And I’m glad that you mentioned the Health Care Quality Index, because the long term care quality index is based on the Health Care Quality Index, but obviously adapted to the particular circumstances of the elder care sector. And this is why the partnership between SAGE and HRC is so important, because of course, SAGE brings all of the experience and expertise of working in the aging sector. And HRC brings that prior experience of these indexes. So when you bring our two organizations together, it’s really a great partnership that puts together all the kind of expertise that’s needed to have a really great index project.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 12:37
Yeah. And I had the privilege of serving on that advisory committee that helps to doing that in the process, then, yeah, and I think some of the staff from HRC, were a little surprised that they couldn’t just easily flip the healthcare Equality Index, that there are a whole host of differences in both regulations that we have to follow that hospitals systems don’t have to follow, in addition to the fact that organizations like United Church homes, you know, of our 90 communities, you know, 10, maybe have health care components to them. And the rest are various components of housing. And so one of the pieces that had to be decided along the way was okay, we’re gonna go ahead and include housing, and recognize that there’s some questions that just aren’t going to be applicable for housing. But still, we have our staff and our housing communities participate in that as well.
Michael Adams 13:38
That’s great, you know, and this is why to something you referenced earlier, Beth, it took us a while to get the LEA off the ground for just what the reasons you’re describing, because we had to work through the particularities of long term care and an elder care. And we really needed to make sure that the index was something that reflected the sector that reflected the industry and that and the providers could could relate to and feel that it was reflective of in fact, the way that they do the work. And so it took us a while to get it off the ground. But we’re really happy with the launch. We had 200 Long Term Care Providers participate in the initial LCI report last year, that’s a great start, when the Health Care Quality Index got started it at less than 100 Not that we’re competitive, but it just gives us a benchmark to know that’s a good number to start with.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 14:29
Well, and the launch was happening during the pandemic. Yes, you know, was probably one of the roughest periods of history for those of us long term care and, and, and I know that, that also helped us slow things down a bit. And I’m continuing to recognize that as we come out of this, there are still some other pretty significant realities that folks who provide Long Term Care are having to face because we have not yet fully recovered from the pandemic. So yeah. How can we get other folks to to participate in? Well, first of all, before we get there, the SAGE care and the LTI. So those are two separate processes. And in how do you see those working together going forward?
Michael Adams 15:26
They very much work together. Because the, you know, the LTI is measuring how effective providers are on a variety of kinds of activities, in working effectively and respectfully, with LGBTQ+ older adults, many providers, I would say most providers have room for improvement, because this is a relatively new area of focus for providers. And so the training and technical assistance that SAGE care provides, is one means not the only means, but one means that providers can utilize to build up the experience and the knowledge they need to keep on improving, and therefore get a better score on the LEA. So that’s how the two are interconnected.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 16:13
Yeah. So we started then, as I mentioned, doing SAGE care and then participate in the LTI. And actually, that set us set us up very well, there were still things still are things that we need to improve three of our communities, not in the labor category. Sure, the one thing that we have to do, regardless of everything else that can be improved is we don’t have gender neutral bathrooms in public areas in these buildings, which were built in the 60s with cinderblock walls, and whatnot. So we’re working on trying to figure out how to take care of some of those words, substantial infrastructure pieces. Now.
Michael Adams 16:58
I’m glad you mentioned that, Beth, because within the LTI, there are different levels of accomplishment, basically, or progress that providers have made leader being one of the categories. And we recognize that it’s not possible for every facility for every provider to be in the same place, because there are different sets of circumstances and, and some of them are literally physical is the way a building is built, and there are others as well. So what the FBI does is provide a roadmap to to help support providers on their journey to get to the strongest possible place in terms of working effectively and respectfully, with LGBTQ plus sellers.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 17:39
So how, what are your thoughts? How, what do we need to do to have others participate in both aged care and the LMI going forward?
Michael Adams 17:49
Well, I think, you know, a big part of it is awareness. And this is one of the things that really, fortunately has changed. A great deal, I would say, over the last 10 or 15 years, you know, it used to be that when SAGE would reach out and contact an elder care elder service provider and talk with them about providing training, etc. Very often the response that we received was a we don’t have people like that here. And of course, that wasn’t reflective of realities, it may have reflected the reality with the people that they had, within their community who were LGBTQ+ were closeted. But it’s not that they weren’t there. I think we’ve come a long way in terms of a growing awareness on the part of providers of the existence of LGBTQ plus elders, the fact that we are in every community of every sort, across this country. And so now it’s really important to build, continue building awareness of that, but also to build awareness of the fact that there are concrete steps we can take as providers in order to do a better job and that there are resources out there to support providers and making that progress and SAGE care and the LSI are, are among them. And so one of the things that we’re really excited about is when we see SAGE care participants and Lea participants, publicizing in any way talking publicly about what they’re doing, whether it’s at their conferences, whether it’s with their stakeholders, whether it’s in the media, to keep on putting that spotlight on this work, because at the end of the day, it’s about something really simple. It’s simply about ensuring that every human being who happens to be aging as an LGBTQ plus person has the care and support and respect that they need. And so if we keep on building that conversation and building that spotlight, and helping providers get the resources they need, we’re going to make great progress.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 19:58
Yeah, we I did a workshop for leading edge Ohio several years ago. And what it was really interesting, there was one woman who attended the workshop. She’s the executive director of another community here in Ohio. And afterwards, she came up to me and she said, I came to the workshop and I thought, why am I coming to the workshop, we’re doing this in our community. They live in an area that has a very progressive, active college campus. And so a lot of retired professors and folks who are LGBTQ empowered. And so they’ve been doing the education. And she said, at the end, she said, Okay, now I get it, this isn’t something that we can do once and check off. And it is, it is an ongoing practice, because of the education that we have to do with staff and staff leave and staff retire, and then you have new folks coming in. And it hits just, it is a long term, ongoing commitment.
Michael Adams 20:59
It absolutely is. It absolutely is. And that’s why it’s, you know, for, you know, we love partnering with many different providers, and we encourage folks to start wherever they can start. But we always emphasize that it is an ongoing commitment. You know, a provider cannot train for one year, and then stop and think what they’ve accomplished, what needs to be accomplished for just the reasons that you said, this is a, this is a permanent commitment to continually build the competency and understanding and knowledge of every person that works in that particular community.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 21:36
The other interesting thing about that workshop is, we had a member of the board, we had an administrator who had experience with residents and staff, myself and our Vice President of HR. In at the end of the workshop, it was the vice president of HR who had people lined up, because we could say anecdotally, and we’re still we’re still in the process of gathering some of these figures. But we know anecdotally, particularly in some key communities, people are attracted to, to apply and come work for us, because we have this commitment, because they want to bring their authentic selves to work. It’s not just about caring for residents, and it’s about caring for for the staff and everyone in the community.
Michael Adams 22:31
I think that’s such an interesting observation, Beth. And, and it’s interesting, that certainly is true, right? For LGBTQ plus folks who are interested in working in the long term care sector, that providers communities that have made this commitment are going to be attractive to LGBTQ plus employees. But it’s not just members of our community, I’ve had conversations with, with heads of different long term care communities across the country who have observed that they find that it attracts many other kinds of employees as well, people who have had, who have or have had loved ones who are members of the LGBTQ plus community and see how they’re mistreated sometimes, and really want to work and support some place that that operates in a better way, right. And people who are hoping to work within a community that looks like the kind of community they would like to live in, as they age. And so it’s a win on so many friends, which is really encouraging.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 23:31
Yeah, I, you know, I’ve had people stopped by my office, after they come to work here. And the one person said, you know, when I found out about what you’re doing with the LGBTQ plus community, I knew I wanted to work here because my first husband is gay, and he’s the father of our children. And I know that through my children, they’re going to be accompanying him as he ages. And this is something I think I need to know more about. And then someone else said, you know, I want to work here because I have a niece, who’s lesbian, and they just, I want to be able to with pride say that I work someplace that that is respectful to you are even though she’s not, you know, looking to be employed by us, or whatnot. The other thing is we’ve had and this has been part of the, you know, part of the concern, oh my gosh, once you do this, then your communities just going to turn into being LGBTQ people and this could be alienating to everyone else. It’s like, no, what we’ve seen are, for instance, the woman who about a month after she moved into the community, went into the chaplains office and sat down and closed the door and she said, Okay, I live here now you’re now my pastor, you need to know my story. And she proceeded for the next hour telling her life story. And at the end, what she was really getting to is, she had moved from another community And she moved to our community because her youngest son is gay. And he is the one who’s going to be predominantly her care provider care, caregiver. And in the previous community where she lived, he did not feel safe walking in that building. And she said, as soon as I saw that sticker, that rainbow sticker on the door, and I knew that my son can walk in here and be safe, I knew this is where I wanted to live, I had to kind of call up the outing of the parents, you know. So we want people at the dinner table, everyone to be able to talk about all their children and all of their grandchildren, and not to feel that they’re going to be bullied or have to defend and that does happen, it’s not perfect, but at least they know that organizationally, they’ve got the organization behind them, that that can help support them in setting that culture.
Michael Adams 25:59
I so appreciate you sharing that story, Beth. And what it makes me think about is the reality that the vast majority of Americans know somebody has somebody close to them, who is LGBTQ plus either a family member, close friend, a neighbor. And that means that the vast majority of Americans actually care about LGBTQ plus people and want to see us treated decently and with respect, including, as we age. So this isn’t about creating some exclusive community at all, it’s about creating a community where all of us can see that no matter who you are, no matter who you love, you’re going to be supported and celebrated and respected as you age. And I think that’s the kind of community most people in our country would like to live in as they get older.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 26:51
Yeah. So other phone calls that I get are from folks who are associated with other organizations. And there’s one individual in Colorado, and she had heard about what we’re doing. And we had a couple conversations that she said, I’m volunteering in this organization. And we’ve got residents who are out and they have a support group, and they want to be doing more, and how do we get our organization to do what you’re doing, to kind of doing some investigation and some deeper conversation with her come to find out it’s a faith based organization, and it is very much affiliated as, and I think everyone on the board has to be a member of that denomination. And once I heard her name, that denomination, he said, theologically, I think you’re gonna have a really tough time convincing that board that this is what you need to do. What has been your experience in these conversations with other faiths? faith based institutions?
Michael Adams 27:53
Yeah, so this is a complicated topic. I mean, you know, we have many faith based providing faith based providers in the elder care sector. And of course, we have denominations and non denominational providers who are very welcoming of LGBTQ plus people, and we have others who are not, and they’re not for theological reasons. And we have a lot of work to do, frankly, in this space, we have had circumstances that this which SAGE has been directly involved, in which older members of our community have been denied access to, in some cases, what is more or less the only affordable elder care provider in their community for for these kinds of reasons, because in one case, in St. Louis, it was an older lesbian couple who were denied access to a faith based provider because the provider refused to recognize their relationship and said that they only that they would only recognize couples and biblical so called biblical marriage relationships. And so we have a lot of work to do. And this is some work that SAGE is starting to develop now in terms of how can we build dialogue and build bridges of conversation that leads to a space in which a provider of faith based provider can can not give up its religious beliefs, and still, at the same time, recognize that it will have LGBTQ plus older people within its community. And that there, there has to be a way and we believe there is a way in which every provider in this country can provide an elder in their care with the support and care and respect that they need as they age. And that the reason why all of us work in elder care and elder services is because that’s what we’re trying to do and so we We have these conversations with different providers with with employees within different providers on an ongoing basis. But there is a lot of work to be done in this area. And I think an important part of what needs to happen is that we have to build conversation, build bridges, you know, we live with an extremely polarized country, and polarization and not talking with each other is not going to solve this problem, it’s going to result in elders who need care not getting the care they need. So at SAGE, we’re looking at how can we build more conversation? And how can we help as many faith based providers as possible in this country? Help them provide LGBTQ plus elders with the care that we all deserve as human beings in our old age?
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 30:50
Yeah, absolutely. And how do we get beyond the litmus test of the theological stance of a person’s faith tradition and take a step back. And in a, we know that in order for folks to age abundantly, that’s what we’d like to say, for people to thrive. They need to know that their meaning and purpose, they need to be able to feel safe, and that’s both physically and psychologically and spiritually. And I, and, you know, from what I have learned on this journey, there are aspects of life experienced by those of you in the LGBT community throughout your lifetime that I have not experienced of having not had to face. But it is really important for me to understand those historical contexts so that when individuals come into our community, I have that in my background ID that are more important than the biases and the stereotypes that I might have. And then I can really listen to the individual to be able to meet their needs and know, what do we need to do to make this feel like it is your home, and it’s going to do to every resident.
Michael Adams 32:15
And it’s so essential, and also essential at a very human level, to understand the human cost if you do not make that effort, and I think about a elderly lesbian, who was actually SAGEs oldest constituent in New York City, until she died last summer at the age of 105. And her name is Jerry calvess. And Jerry had lived on her own actually, until she was 100 years old. At the age of 100, she went into a facility that was actually run by an organization that comes from her religious community and culture. And actually, interestingly, it’s an organization that had done some important work to to become more LGBTQ welcoming. The challenge was that Jerry had grown up in an environment in which who she was as a lesbian was not accepted. In fact, Jerry’s birth name was Emma. And as an adult, she took on the name Jerry, because she felt that it express more of who she was. And so after she ended up and in this long term care community, I heard that she was feeling very depressed and very alone. And I went, and I met with her and she, and I asked her, what was going on, and she said, you know, and I’m actually referred to her as charity. And she such, please, you can only call me Emma here, I don’t feel safe being called sherry. And I’m sad because I miss being in a community that accepts me for who I am. And in that particular circumstance, Jerry had been part of SAGE programs in New York City, and we arranged periodically to, you know, take her, you know, take her and medicalized transport to SAGE on a number of occasions for gatherings which lifted her spirits. But we shouldn’t have to do that, right. We need to ensure that every environment is one where somebody like jerry can feel supported and respected and cared for, for who they are, and not be hiding and not be fearful at that age of life. And I believe that should be the commitment that every chair provider that every care provider makes, and we have work to do to help providers live into that responsibility. Absolutely.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 34:46
And it’s a challenge every day. Because it depends, you know, there’s so many different people who interact with the with our residents. And that’s, again, why the educational piece is so important. You know, Those statistics research shows that those folks who are closeted or go back into the closet, their quality of life is is jeopardized. Their physical health is jeopardized. Can I can tell you, in adult Lee within our own family, Three brothers, and the two heterosexual brothers lived into the the 90s, and barely into 90s. But the 90s and their brother who was closeted gay man died at 75.
Michael Adams 35:32
Yeah. I mean, it’s just the reality, it is very difficult to live a long and healthy life. When you feel forced to hide a part of yourself, and to make believe that you’re something that you’re not. And often, it ends up translating into a whole variety of challenges, mental health issues, substance abuse issues, which, among other things, shorten your life. So
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 35:58
what are some of those elements that that that are needed in the physical as well as the cultural environment in order for LGBTQ folks to feel safe or included? Or that they can be authentic? What are those basic elements? Yeah, we need to have to alert people? Well,
Michael Adams 36:21
you know, as you know, Beth, the SAGE Care Program and the long term care quality index have very a whole array right and extensive guidelines and approaches to this work. But I think, to simplify it in a way, it’s the fundamentally in many ways, it is the mesSAGE that gets delivered to an older person who is LGBTQ plus when they come into contact with long term care and elder care community. And what has happened historically, is that the message that most LGBTQ plus elders receive is that they should hide who they are in this community, because they see no evidence, but this community is welcoming to them, they see no evidence, but this is a community that has them in mind. So some of the things that can be done, that make that difference are really not that complicated. I think it’s as simple as putting a rainbow sticker on a wall or on a door. I was talking to a longtime SAGE supporter a couple of weeks ago, who is looking at assisted living. And it’s going around and looking at several different assisted living communities. And we were having a conversation. And he talked about the community that he eventually chose. And he said that when he went into the office into the reception area, that he saw a rainbow sticker on the door, and he said, My shoulders went down, know that he was able to relax, because that one simple thing, right delivered such an important message to him. Not that this is a perfect community, no communities perfect. But this is a community that is trying to be welcoming to me. So things as simple as those kinds of visible marker. So rainbow flags, Rainbow stickers, you know, the SAGE care, credential, what kind of literature you have on a table? What kind of magazines and newspapers and things like that? Do you have to any of them reflect the lives and realities of LGBTQ plus people? What kind of pictures you have on the walls? Does it just show different sex couples and traditional heterosexual families? Or does it actually show folks who are LGBTQ plus as well, all these visible cubes? That’s the first step in a way because that is what somebody sees and takes in before they have much of any experience, right? What the staff person with the activities and cetera, it’s what they see what they see if they go to your website, what they see if they are asked to fill out some kind of a form, whether the form presumes makes assumptions about who they are that don’t match their lives. For example, if a person is transgender, and there is no opportunity on that form, to indicate that if a person has a partner or a spouse of the same gender, and there is no opportunity on the form to reflect that, right. So all of these basic things that are really not that difficult to change, if the will is there that make a huge difference for LGBTQ plus older people in terms of their initial perceptions and then in In addition, as you know, because you all have been through SAGE care and our balls in the AI, when there are a whole series of practices in terms of activities that can be undertaken within the organization, policy, anti discrimination policies that should be put in place different kinds of trainings, for employees, the importance of ensuring that all employees are trained, we should recall, remember that every person that works for the community that comes interaction with into contact with the resident impacts their life, every person from the driver of the van, to the person who was cleaning their room to the person who was serving food. It’s not just a select group of employees. So it’s a, you know, once we, once we drill down into the specifics, there were a lot of different kinds of things we have to look at. But it really starts with what are the story? What is the story that your community is telling to LGBTQ plus elders, when they first come into contact with you in that very visceral and visible way.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 41:07
Just a quick story, from our experience is part of a larger, more complex story by a woman was brought into one of our communities directly to a memory care neighborhood. And she was having a rough time. I mean, she was obviously angry and frustrated, and there may have involved throwing a glass of juice at a staff member. And one of the nurses aides came in the afternoon, and she kind of stepped back and observing and her what people had said. And she just kind of had an intuition, there was only one person listed on this person’s medical record, it was a woman. And so she went and got our our magazine that we publish. And on the back of the magazine, and on every edition, there’s a little rainbow, comma, which isn’t a symbol with the United Church of Christ. And she grabbed one of those because it was close. I mean, we’re talking a little rainbow coma. And she held it up to this woman. And she said, You’re safe here. Do you see? You’re safe here? And she looked at that. And she said, I’m safe here. And she said, yeah, do you see that rainbow? You’re safe here. She didn’t outer. She didn’t, you know, she just thought there’s no harm and just pointing this out. And that was enough to calm her down. And, you know, however many other staff had been in her presence that day. That little symbol brought to her attention. This worked all she needed. Wow. That’s great. So where do you see hope? We’ve come a long way over the last 20 years since I was 18 years, since you’ve been at SAGE, we have a long way to go. But where do you see hope? Because there’s a lot of fear right now. Yeah,
Michael Adams 43:05
I mean, there, there’s a lot of tough stuff going on in our society in our country. And there’s a lot of fear. And at the same time, I see tremendous hope. And certainly in the work that we’re doing and in the, in the opportunities for LGBTQ plus elders, we have made a great deal of progress in terms of the awareness, and the openness providers and elder care communities to working with and respecting LGBTQ plus elders, there’s a great deal of interest in programs like SAGE care, and the long term care equality index. And that just is growing all the time. And so that gives me a lot of hope. At the same time, you know, we are realistic and we recognize sadly, there are forces in this country that are seeking to make LGBTQ plus people and issues, some kind of a cultural wedge, some kind of a political weapons, some kind of way of whipping up hope and fear and, and resentment that, sadly, is part of the society in which we live. But we are optimistic at SAGE that we can overcome that because fundamentally, at the end of the day, we’re talking about human beings. And we’re talking in the case of SAGE of human beings who’ve lived their entire lives, who’ve worked hard. We’ve made tremendous contributions to their community. And all they are really asking for in their old age is that they be treated with respect and that they get the same kind of dignity and support and recognition that every other older person in this country gets and I just have to believe that this country is big enough and open hearted enough to meet that, and to meet that commitment, and so I’m hopeful and we have SAGE our hope.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 45:05
Thank you. Thank you. We could talk for a very long time. Yes, we can. But we will have other conversations, I’m sure. But I’m aware that we probably need to bring this to a close. So there’s one thing that we like to do as we come to the end of our podcast, ask our guests questions about your own perspectives on aging. So are you ready? Sure. Go for it. Okay. Before I do that, I don’t, we don’t want to forget, where can people find you?
Michael Adams 45:30
The best way to find SAGE is sageusa.org, which is our website or just SAGE USA on our various social media channels, you know, Instagram, Facebook, etc.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 45:41
Okay, so ready? Question number one. When you think about how you’ve aged, what do you think is changed about you or grown with you, that you really like about yourself?
Michael Adams 45:51
I think maybe the thing that’s grown in me that I really like is that I developed much more of an appreciation for the nuance and complexity of life. You know, when I was younger, I tend to see things much more in black and white. My, my, my husband, who is Presbyterian tells me, but that was my Catholic upbringing that I don’t know if that’s really the case. But it is true that I used to see things in, in much more binary ways, one or the other. And I’ve just come to understand their real life that often things are a lot more complicated and nuanced. Thank
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 46:29
you. Now of question number two, what has surprised you most about you, as you’ve aged?
Michael Adams 46:36
I think that what maybe one of the things that surprised me, and I kind of got a sense of this during COVID. But I continue to get a sense of it as we’re emerging from it is, I’ve been really surprised as I get older, and how much joy and peace I find. And being at home, whether it’s alone or with my partner, and not doing anything, just chilling out. I’m a very energetic person. And I’ve always kind of been somebody who’s always on the move. And I’m always doing something and a long list of things to do next. And I’m just so surprised to see how happy it can make me sometimes to do nothing. And so that’s been a real, that’s been a real revelation for me. And I think it’s kind of convenient, since I do believe that there was some value and slowing down a little bit from time to time as we get older.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 47:28
Yeah, there I can’t remember who it is a talks about this. But that one of the changes that happens between adulthood and moving into elderhood is a moving away from the feeling that we have to do, and then being able to be understanding the importance of studying. Yeah. Okay. Last question. Number three, is there someone you’ve met, or who has been in your life that has set a good example for you and aging someone that inspires you to age abundantly?
Michael Adams 47:58
Well, I only met her one time, but I feel like I’ve met her many times, because I’ve been a huge fan. And she’s definitely my role model in and getting old and getting older. And that’s Joan Baez, I’ve just summarized by how, how she has aged in such a beautiful way and just become, you know, I don’t know, I’m just feel like, you know, wiser and more full of light with every year. I just, I’ve always loved her music, but I just saw a documentary about her life that was made just a couple of years ago. I think she’s 82 years old now. And I thought, yeah, this is what I want to do as I get older. So she’s my role model in that regard.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 48:39
And that’s how you know, when you haven’t been an aging influencer, when you say I want to be like that person when I’m their age. Absolutely. Well, thank you, Michael, and our listeners for listening to this episode of The Art of aging part of the abundant aging podcast series from United Church halls and we want to hear from you. What’s changed about you as you’ve aged, that you love? What has surprised you most and how do you define abundant aging and who is your abundant aging influencer or hero? Join us at abundantagingpodcast.com to share your ideas. You can also give us feedback when you visit the Ruth Pross Parker Center website at UnitedChurchHomes.org/parker-center. And Michael, tell us one more time where can people find you?
Michael Adams 49:25
www.sageusa.org. Thank you
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 49:29
Thank you very much for your time and this has just been lovely. Just been great.
Michael Adams 49:35
Thank you so much, Beth.