Take pride in your community, take initiative, and be a voice for LGBTQ older adults
It’s Pride Month, and the Diverse Elders Coalition is excited to continue its series of interviews with advocates from SAGE || Advocacy and Services for LGBT Elders. This week, we talk with Daniel Puerto, Outreach Coordinator, about what LGBT older adults and their allies can do to celebrate Pride Month — in June, and beyond.
What is your role with SAGE?
I just joined SAGE in March, so I’m very new to the organization. Prior to working at SAGE, I come from an immigrant rights/social justice advocacy organization called Make the Road NY, where I’ve worked since I was 16. My position with SAGE supports outreach capacity and visibility, particularly in Harlem and the Bronx. The goals for my work here are to increase membership participation and visibility of SAGE Centers, especially in underserved areas.
What does Pride Month mean to you?
Pride Month is a month where I am more visible as an LGBT person and I’m more visible politically. It creates a platform for me to do advocacy through my own lens. This a month during which I like to spend time with my sister, who is also a member of the LGBT community, and we can go to events, answer questions, and reconnect with people. It’s also a time to meet new LGBT people, especially those who are new to New York City or new to advocacy.
I also like to connect Pride Month to a larger movement being developed for LGBT people in New York. During my time at Make the Road NY, I helped with the formation of the LGBTQ Justice Project, which is one of the only transgender-led groups working to protect the rights of the transgender immigrant community.
For SAGE, being part of an outreach team during this month feels really special. I’m getting the word out there to younger generations about aging, and what it means to age, and who is aging in our community. Many LGBT people don’t think about aging, or aren’t given the opportunity to age: the life expectancy of a transgender woman is age 35.
Pride Month is also a great time to get older LGBT adults in the community more involved with SAGE, and connecting those who aren’t yet involved with SAGE with our services. I’m working to make SAGE more visible in the Harlem and the Bronx, and we’ve partnered with Destination Tomorrow for a Bronx Pride event. It’s been over a decade since Pride Month was celebrated in the Bronx during the month of June, so this was a really beautiful opportunity. And SAGE was there with a table and information for the community.
Working at SAGE throughout Pride Month really lets me encourage our participants to take pride in their community, take initiative, and be a voice for SAGE’s services in the most authentic and transparent way. This is an opportunity for them to celebrate that they are older, they are alive, and they have crossed all those hurdles throughout their lives. We’re re-energizing our populations to come out, to be proud, and to go beyond just being a service recipient.
Why did you decide to become an aging advocate?
At Make the Road, I had been working as a career advisor for LGBT older adults who have experienced employment discrimination due to their limited English proficiency or their immigration status, and this work was the first time I was working with people outside of my generation. This made me want to focus on intergenerational work and advocacy. We expanded our focus beyond just finding employment but also working to eliminate wage gaps that prevented them from economic security. I worked with communities to establish worker collectives and co-ops, including the first transgender Latina-led worker cooperative in the country.
I started thinking about how I could make an impact in different communities and use my skills and experience to benefit SAGE and our constituents. Outreach is the backbone of community organizing, and this position allows me to get to know the constituents, get to know the community, and work with other staff at SAGE to address gaps in our service.
How has your work in the immigrant right space influenced your work and advocacy?
Through its services, programming and multilingual staff, SAGE has reached many communities. I remember in my first SAGE staff meeting, maybe my second day on the job, we were talking about SAGE Table, and we decided it was important to have this material accessible for our LGBTQ Spanish-speaking communities. Thankfully, we were able to rely on some of the bilingual staff here to support the development of Spanish-language SAGE Table materials, and as a result we were able to reach more community members. This was transformative. It’s always uplifting to see national organizations make a real effort to reach those most vulnerable, and I am glad to be working for an organization that cares.
Having worked with individuals and populations who are limited English proficient, or who face challenges because of their immigration status, or who are otherwise typically overlooked by mainstream movements, I’d like to bring their voices into the room with me as I am doing this work with SAGE
What is the biggest issue faced by LGBTQ elders, and how can our readers help?
I am not an older adult, so I don’t think I’m the right person to answer that question. So many interviews and articles ask people to speak on behalf of other communities – I want to ensure that our constituents are the ones giving out the information about their lives!
For example, SAGE participants were recently able to meet with their local elected officials here in New York City as a part of our civic engagement and empowerment work. People from the SAGE caregiver program gave a press conference about their experiences as caregivers – for one woman, it was her first time talking about her experiences after nearly 10 years of caregiving.
People also have an opportunity to ensure that transgender elders are not erased from federal surveys about the US’ aging population. SAGE is currently collecting comments for the Trump administration and the Department of Health and Human Services at sageusa.org/TransEldersCount. Comments must be received by July 22nd.
Our movements are more powerful when we work in coalition and collaboration not just with other organizations, but also with the people whose lives are affected by our work.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.