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Conference Addressing Gay and Lesbian Issues Draws AARP Support

The oldest and largest nonprofit agency that serves gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender elders opens its national conference in New York on Sunday with AARP, for the first time, as one of the sponsors.

Although the two organizations have interacted previously, leaders of SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) say the sponsorship represents new recognition for a minority.

“AARP sponsorship is a major breakthrough for LGBT older people,” says Michael Adams, executive director of the 30-year-old, New York-based SAGE. “LGBT older folks and SAGE have gained the support and investment of AARP.”

Percil Stanford, AARP’s chief diversity officer, says that “AARP is saying very publicly that all people 50-plus are important.”

Discussions about a possible sponsorship of the three-day gathering, which expects 600 attendees, began last year in Los Angeles, at AARP’s conference on Diversity and Aging in the 21st Century. The New York conference, “It’s About Time: LGBT Aging in a Changing World,” will be SAGE’s fourth.

AARP president Jennie Chin Hansen will deliver the keynote address, “Divided We Fail and the Spirit of Inclusion.” Staffers will make several presentations, including one on AARP’s policy positions on LGBT issues and related activities in Virginia and North Carolina.

Karen Taylor, SAGE’s director of advocacy and training, says other highlights include a preconference institute on housing, a plenary session on diversity and a presentation by MetLife researchers on the insurer’s study of gay and lesbian boomers. Many of the 75 workshops and presentations aim to promote collaboration with mainstream elder organizations to address LGBT issues.

“We want to build within the existing elder services community,” Taylor says. “There’s a great deal of interest in doing that on both sides.”

Adams says this conference, compared to previous ones, is expected to attract service providers as well as LGBT elders.

Social isolation is one of the major issues. Two-thirds of LGBT elders live alone—twice the percentage of older heterosexual adults who do, according to U.S. Census data and survey findings.

LGBT elders are also less likely to have life partners, children or other relatives they can call for help. But health and aging-support systems, Adams says, “assume there is an unpaid caregiver you can rely on, a spouse or a child.”

SAGE, founded in 1978, provides caregivers and services to 2,000 older adults a month in New York. The organization has 4,000 members and a dozen affiliates around the country.

Kenneth J. Cooper is a writer in the Boston area.

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