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LGBT Community Stands Strong Against Isolation during COVID-19


By Sherrill Wayland, MSW, Director of National Education Initiatives

As the nation began to take shelter at home during the early days of the COVID-19 Pandemic, SAGE (the national advocacy and services organization for LGBT older adults) knew that older LGBT people would be at increased risk of isolation. Up until this time, there was a heavy reliance on in-person programming through SAGE Centers, Affiliate, and LGBT community centers across the country to reach older LGBT people. Remaining in contact with an already isolated older adult community became a number one priority for SAGE.

The response from SAGE was swift. Within a week of the SAGE headquarters closing the office and centers in New York City, a team of SAGE employees began the work of developing a new phone support program called SAGEConnect. SAGEConnect matches volunteer callers with an older LGBT person for a once-a-week friendly phone call, providing emotional support and connectedness during these challenging times. Once the program was ready to launch, SAGE quickly amassed volunteers from across the country prepared to provide cross-generational support. Today over 526 matches have been made to help reduce isolation. The success of the work is best summed up by Julie Ugoretz, SAGE Program Coordinator, as she states,” Many SAGEConnect participants describe their phone calls from volunteers as the highlight of their week, or a bright spot in an otherwise dark time. Particularly for LGBT older adults, who are more likely to experience social isolation, a friendly voice and a listening ear can make a big difference.”

Additionally, SAGE and the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging increased outreach efforts to promote the National LGBT Elder Hotline, a partnership with United Way Worldwide. The hotline experienced an increase in calls as the pandemic continued to spread across the country. The goal of the hotline is to promote the overall well-being of LGBT callers by providing support and connecting to resources in their community. Over 1,200 calls have been answered since March of 2020. Some of the concerns addressed include COVID-19 related stress and social isolation, housing and financial assistance, legal issues, and health-related problems.

It becomes clear the National LGBT Elder Hotline has provided much need support to older LGBT people during the pandemic. The latest survey of callers indicated 100% satisfaction with the hotline and used some of the following to describe their experience with the hotline: empathy, connect, listening, and compassion. Across the country, many local aging service organizations provide programs such as Friendly Visiting and Information/Referral and Crisis lines that address social isolation. It is essential to ensure these programs are welcoming to older LGBT community members and that staff and volunteers are provided cultural competency training. SAGE and the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging have several resources that can assist your organization in becoming LGBT welcoming. If you would like more information on the resources available, feel free to email at swayland@sageusa.org. To learn more about SAGEConnect and the National LGBT Elder Hotline, visit our website.

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Special Thanks to Judith D. Tamkin

We are sincerely appreciative to Judith D. Tamkin for her gift to help establish the USC Center on Elder Mistreatment’s website. Her deep and personal commitment to eradicating elder abuse is helping to reshape our understanding of elder abuse and ultimately save innumerable older adults from abuse and neglect.