Gay and Gray
(above) Seniors Talk with a SAGE counselor exprienced in heping the LGBT community with health, money, housing, and legal problems. (below) Sam Wilner, founder of the Sam Wilner Fund in The Trust.
At age 78, Daniel Thomas* was becoming forgetful, not showing up for doctors’ appointments, and neglecting to pay his rent. A gay ex-pat from Great Britain, Daniel made New York City his home years ago. He has no family close by, no children, and no partner—which led one of his friends to call Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders (SAGE) for help. Many gay elders don’t have biological children to take care of them, and are far more likely to grow old alone. Coupled with a fear of discrimination from mainstream service providers, these factors often lead these older adults to isolate themselves.
Building families of support
After meeting with Daniel, a SAGE social worker brought together his long-time friends to form a support system. One was appointed his health care agent, and another got power of attorney for financial and legal issues. The social worker taught Daniel’s friends how to deal with Social Security and Medicare, and when Daniel was diagnosed with dementia, SAGE provided him with home care through a roster of LGBT-friendly home health aides.
For other gay and lesbian seniors, the problem isn’t forgetting to pay the rent—it’s being unable to. Last year, The Trust made a grant to SAGE that helped 450 gay and lesbian seniors get counseling on medical bills, benefits eligibility, and finance-related stress. Thousands more got information from workshops and web resources. This year, a grant of $40,000 continues to support these services.
Griot Circle in downtown Brooklyn is a place where gay and lesbian elders of color come together and help each other—forming support groups, running activities, and pairing healthy buddies with frailer peers. But there’s some work, such as sorting out Medicare benefits, that calls for a pro.
Four years ago, we helped Griot Circle hire a part-time social worker, and with a recent $30,000 grant we are helping make this position full time. The grant is also providing stipends to social work interns from Long Island University who will help Circle members.
Sam Wilner’s commitment to the community
A native of the Bronx, Sam Wilner was a successful investment broker, a loner who was more apt to give help than to ask for it—and give he did. After Gay Men’s Health Crisis saw his partner through his final days, Sam began volunteering at the agency. Often spending hours each week answering hot-line calls, he learned about the myriad problems of less fortunate gay men and the amount of support they needed.
In his will, he created a fund in The Trust to provide that support. If Mr. Wilner were alive today, we think he would be pleased with the work of groups such as Griot Circle and SAGE—though he might pass on the bingo socials.
* Name has been changed for privacy.