In a world that seems to be dominated by the trends of the younger generations, it’s easy to forget that people over 50 represent the highest growing demographic in the U.S., at 34 percent of the population. It’s called the Silver Tsunami and the wave is huge!
It’s easy, too, to overlook the needs of these individuals, especially those who are LGBTQ+ who often experience greater social isolation and need for services and advocacy than their heterosexual counterparts. SAGE Central North Carolina exists solely to ensure its LGBTQ+ older adults, those 50 and above, ride that Silver Tsunami in style.
According to its website, this Triangle-based group, which serves individuals across central NC, seeks to strengthen individual and community development by addressing the needs of its members and advocating for resources for all LGBTQ+ elders, their friends, and supporters.
An affiliate of SAGE USA since 2014, the organization strives to offer opportunities that ease social isolation, educate the community on this population’s special needs, and advocate for the rights of our seniors as they age.
If you ask Joe Wheeler what SAGE Central North Carolina is all about, you’re in for an enthusiastic conversation. Wheeler is the Coordinator for SAGE Central NC and is one of its biggest cheerleaders.
“SAGE is made by and for LGBTQ+ people and we recognize that our folks are dealing with homophobia, heterosexism, heteronormativity, and ageism. One of the issues for all people as we age is the potential for isolation, which is of particular concern for LGBTQ+ people because many senior services environments haven’t been created by and for us,” he explained. “Sometimes our members feel like they need to go back into the closet because they don’t have the confidence that their needs will be addressed or even that they have emotional or physical safety. For some folks, our gatherings are great social events, but for others it’s a lifeline for being who they are.”
“Regularly, we get indications that we’ve become their family, the one place they can be themselves,” Wheeler noted, pointing the example of a man who moved to the Triangle from up north because his daughter lives here. She was concerned that her father didn’t have any friends, so she contacted SAGE, and that made all the difference. According to Wheeler, the man recently wrote, “I really enjoy the SAGE meetings. I feel like I’m now with part of my family.”
Wheeler likens it to anytime a person is in an environment where they’re in the minority, whether because of race, ethnicity, identity, or disability. In those types of situations, it’s easy for a person to feel out of place and uncomfortable, making them act more constrained.
“That’s how it is with us [LGBTQ+ elders],” he explained. “When we get together with people in our tribe, we can get rowdy, we have fun! We can be more at ease.”
According to Wheeler, “The three pillars of our organization are programs to increase social interaction, education, and advocacy. Our education efforts include educating our own constituency, as well as the senior services community, about needs specific to LGBTQ+ people as we age,” he said.
To ensure this, SAGE Central NC has members on the board of the North Carolina Coalition on Aging, Resources for Seniors, and the Governor’s Advisory Council on Aging, to name a few. They’ve developed close relationships with organizations and businesses that provide services to seniors, including Carol Woods Continuing Care Retirement Community and the Forest at Duke, both of which are Platinum sponsors at the upcoming 2022 PrideLife Expo.
Social events include things like “Fun & Games” trivia nights, LGBTQ Bingo, and an annual Valentine’s Day Dance, Memorial Day Party, 4th of July and Labor Day Picnics, and Winter Party. SAGE has weekly Zoom drop ins for all LGBTQ+ elders, and one specifically for women. There are also groups focused on gardening, classical music, and travel, and they offer caregiver support programs and a support group.
SAGE Central NC conducts workshop on managing finances, end of life directives, and how to navigate Medicare, and they also educate senior service providers about the needs of the LGBTQ+ elder population.
The headquarters of SAGE Central NC is at 4 North Blount Street, Raleigh. They have joined the Equity and Justice Coalition NC at that location, which includes the offices of Alliance of AIDS Services NC, the Triangle LGBTQ Group, St. John’s Metropolitan Community Church, and Vision Church RDU.
Wheeler expressed excitement about SAGE’s participation as an exhibitor at the 2022 PrideLife Expo, stating that “It’s a great chance to showcase service organizations and businesses in the Triangle that serve LGBTQ+ individuals. Many of the Expo’s sponsors and exhibitors are here because of their relationship with SAGE, and we’re pleased that portion of the Expo is dedicated to services for older adults.”
To learn more about SAGE Central NC’s many programs and view its event calendar, visit www.sagecentralnc.org. They also have a Meet Up group @SAGE Central North Carolina and a Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SAGECentralNC, which Wheeler encourages everyone to check out and follow.
Also, be sure to visit SAGE Central NC’s Platinum Sponsor booth at the 2022 PrideLife Expo on April 2 at the McKimmon Center at 1101 Gorman Street in Raleigh. The Expo will take place from 9 am to 3 pm and is free and open to the public. You can learn more and register to attend at www.PrideLifeExpo/Attendees.