What happens when the heroes of Stonewall descend on Capitol Hill?
Fifty years ago this June, the global movement for LGBTQ rights was born at New York City’s Stonewall Inn, and the people who started that movement — first a riot, then a revolution — are responsible for the access that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people have today. Many of those heroes are still among us, and on Wednesday, March 13th, SAGE brought a busload of activists, allies, and the heroes themselves down to Washington, D.C. for a national day of advocacy. More than 100 people spent the day on Capitol Hill, meeting their Members of Congress and urging support for policies that would improve the lives of LGBT elders.
I had the honor of attending Wednesday’s National Day of Advocacy as a chaperone for two incredible advocates from SAGE Metro Detroit, Pat Baldwin and Angie Perone. Additionally, we were joined in the morning by Pele Le, an intern with fellow Diverse Elders Coalition member organization the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC). (Stay tuned to this blog for reflections on the day from Pele!) We had two scheduled meetings with policymakers from Michigan, and we ended up dropping in on three other Congressional offices, where we were welcomed with open arms. SAGE’s key policy asks for the day included:
- Support for the Equality Act, which was re-introduced into both the House and the Senate on the very day during which we were advocating in D.C. and which would update Federal nondiscrimination policies to include both sexual orientation and gender identity
- Support for the Elder Pride Act, which would increase services and supports nationwide for LGBT older adults in rural parts of the country while also establishing a Federal Office of Older LGBT Policy
- Support for the LGBT Elder Americans Act, which designates LGBT older adults and older adults living with HIV as groups of “greatest social need” in the Older Americans Act, and permanently establishes the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging
We were thrilled to see the groundswell of support from our elected officials for policies like these, especially since the Elder Pride Act was based on a pilot program that launched very successfully in the state of Michigan. Pat and Angie had many stories to tell about the constituents they serve at SAGE Metro Detroit, and their hopes for better lives for future generations were evident in their passionate conversations with policymakers. Five Congressional meetings in three hours is no joke — and Angie was rewarded at the very end of the long day with a meeting with Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), who shared her candid reflections on her first few months in office and the challenges she’s been hearing about from LGBT constituents. It was an inspiring day, especially for Angie and Pat, who were on the Hill for their first time ever. And I couldn’t help but feel immense pride and optimism at the number of people who were willing to do this work despite lengthy travel, jittery nerves, sore feet and tired bodies.
After the Hill visits concluded, we enjoyed a warm reception in the Rayburn House Office Building with several legislators making remarks about the impact of the day and their hope for legislative success in the not-too-distant future. I was particularly moved by Rep. Deb Haaland — who, just days before, had been the first Native American woman to sit in the Speaker’s chair in the House of Representatives — who delivered emotional remarks about her daughter, who identifies as queer, and the importance of passing legislation that will make her life easier. We also got to hear tearful stories and powerful calls to action from Ruthie Berman, namesake of the LGBT Elder Americans Act and star of the documentary “Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House” alongside her late partner of 40+ years, Connie Kurtz.
I feel so grateful to have been a part of this amazing day, SAGE’s first of what will hopefully be many visits to Capitol Hill with and for LGBT older adults. These pioneers paved the way for us to live our most authentic lives and begin to climb the ladder toward a more equitable world. The least we can do is ensure that they are afforded the opportunity to age with dignity and pride. If you weren’t able to join us for the National Day of Advocacy in D.C. you can still make your voice heard by sharing your support for SAGE’s national policy agenda with your elected officials.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.