Michael Adams on SAGE and the Legacy of Ken Dawson

by Michael Adams

Michael Adams is the Executive Director of SAGE (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders).  SAGE is the oldest and largest organization in the country providing services and advocacy for LGBT seniors.  SAGE’s programs directly serve thousands of LGBT older people in New York City each month.  Prior to joining SAGE, Michael was the Director of Education and Public Affairs for Lambda Legal where he oversaw all of their community education, communications, and outreach programs throughout the country.   He was named one of the “100 most influential gay men and lesbians” by Out Magazine.

The enduring institutions of our beloved LGBT community in New York City – whether we are talking about Chelsea Pines Inn or SAGE or so many others – are  labors of love.  Their claims to fame include a seemingly endless capacity to survive, and indeed thrive, even during the most painfully difficult of times.  This is certainly the story of SAGE over the last 25 years.  In 1986, SAGE was led by the legendary Ken Dawson, who was a trail-blazer and inspiration not only for LGBT older people, but for our community as a whole.  That time has often been referred to as a “golden age” for SAGE and LGBT aging issues.  Thanks to Ken’s fierce leadership and the extraordinary willpower and commitment of the many SAGE devotees who worked with him, our community and City were forced to start coming to terms with the injustices, invisibility and marginalization regularly visited upon LGBT elders.  This was, of course, happening at the most painful of times, as we were struck with the devastating blow of AIDS.   In some ways SAGE’s mission of improving the quality of life for LGBT older people took on a twinge of irony during those years, as the prospect of old age seemed increasingly remote for the gay men who formed a large part of SAGE’s constituency at the time.   Ken himself eventually was taken from us by the epidemic.  Nonetheless, SAGE soldiered on through those years, both to support the many LGBT folks who were already elderly by the time of AIDS and as an act of defiance – a bold assertion that we would survive AIDS and that aging would remain relevant to all members of our community.

In the intervening 25 years, SAGE and our constituents have weathered our share of storms while continually and tirelessly pushing for better days for our older community members.  During that time, the numbers of LGBT elders that SAGE serves has grown dramatically.  The breadth of our programs is almost dizzying – everything from legal aid to social services to aerobics to computer classes.  Our training programs are having an impact all across the country through the new, federally funded National Resource Center on LGBT Aging.  Our advocacy is starting to dismantle the infrastructure of discrimination in government aging programs that has historically bedeviled LGBT older people.  SAGE recently purchased its own headquarters, has a thriving program in Harlem, has opened a federal relations office in Washington, D.C. and last year launched an office in Chicago that supports our 21 SAGE affiliates around the country.

The progress SAGE is making now, and will make in the years ahead, with and on behalf of LGBT older people is all built on the tireless and fearless work of Ken and his generation.  We’re fortunate at SAGE that a good number of Ken’s contemporaries – those who drove our organization’s spirit and work during those early days – are still with us and still very much a part of the SAGE family.  They continually remind us of our roots, of our values, of the reason SAGE exists.  They call us to honor Ken’s legacy, and theirs – the sacrifices and contributions of the past 25 years — in what we do today and tomorrow.  As I write these few words about the past quarter century, I can’t help but think of Ken and his band of LGBT aging advocates.  Here’s to doing everything we can to live up to their promises, their dreams, their vision, in the next 25 years.

This entry was posted in Anniversary, General, NYC and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply