The black tie fundraiser at the Hyatt Regency at The Arch will serve as a lofty venue for distributing the organization’s Equality Awards: Coleman receiving The Individual Equality Award and SAGE receiving The Group Equality Award.
SAGE Metro St. Louis Founder and Executive Director, Sherrill Wayland was happy to provide insight on the organization’s history and in turn, why the area non-profit proved deserving of this year’s award:
“SAGE Metro St. Louis began with a simple phone call to the SAGE USA office in the summer of 2007 where I received guidance and technical support in starting a SAGE affiliate in St. Louis,” she explained. “St. Louis’ LGBT community is greatly geared toward younger members, whereas older members are marginalized, and the need to generate advocacy and focus compelled that call.”
SAGE’s first major initiative (which continues to be a priority) is access to older adult service. They also welcome supporters, their caregivers and their families. The organization’s goal was not to duplicate services that should be readily available to these individuals—but to ensure their access—which prompted The SAGE Referral Network. The latter elicits the assistance of over 60 senior service organizations, each stating a desire to provide safe, welcoming nondiscriminatory services.
Additionally, SAGE provides LGBT Grief Support and Caregiver Support Groups, Social Activities, Information and Referral, Consultations, and Community Awareness activities including the LGBT Health & Human Services Resource Fair. New to organization this year is the SAGE Friends program, designed to match volunteers with LGBT older adults who may be facing isolation due to age, health status or disability. Further, The St. Louis office will be working to establish an outreach and training program to reach all nursing homes across the St. Louis region to promote cultural competency in serving LGBT older adults.
A great deal of SAGE’s work goes into making the aging LGBT community visible, creating a safe environment for these individuals to age, as well as a comfortable setting for later life “coming out.”
“LGBT older adults have been at the forefront of LGBT equality, and other progressive movements, and continue to lead the way today,” Wayland said. “As this year’s PRIDE theme, “Aging with PRIDE!” states, older adults have a wealth of history to share with us. If we just take the time to listen, we can learn a great deal and find the inspiration for our futures.”
“It was like answering a call about a disease that not many knew about…
and when you watch your friends waste away, how could you not help?”
The Director of Promotion/Marketing at B & B Music Group carries an unassuming attitude in regarding the things that he has done, has learned and has experienced. For Bert Coleman has been involved with organizations such as Equality Across America, St. Louis Effort for AIDS, AEA and countless others. Majoring in Political Science & Theater, the St. Louis native’s activism began while he was in college—but influences began at home, with his aunt who assisted with the ENDA proposition. Coleman didn’t become extremely active, however, until the AIDS epidemic hit New York while he was performing on Broadway.
A member of the HRC board (also co-founder of St. Louis’ chapter of HRC), Coleman was actually in the room when nominated for the Individual Equality Award.
“Others were lobbying to nominate me, and I had gotten to the meeting late,” explained Coleman. “I never dreamt that I would receive the award… I think we should make the best use of our lives, I was simply committing to something I believed in. I never thought I was doing anything special.”
Coleman’s concern motivated him to create groundbreaking benefits such as The AIDS Dance-A-Thon (with Madonna and Powr106), Best of the Best (held at The Met), and he also founded LifeBeat –The Music Industry Fights AIDS.
“We spent our 30s in mourning—always going to funerals because of AIDS,” Coleman said, referring to the roots of his activism. “It was a level of loss that none of us was prepared for…and I wanted to do something about it.”
Coleman also shared concerns about being a minority wthin a minority, often touching on the discrimination dealt because of race instead of sexual orientation. He cited that even after others discovered that he was gay, he experienced racial division more so than discrimination based on his sexual identity, particularly in St. Louis. He maintained that the threat of being gay in America has never quite been on par with the struggles of African Americans in this country.
“The U.S. doesn’t know government-sanctioned physical violence against gays,” Coleman stated. “Of course, there are individual incidents—the closest thing being Stonewall—but they didn’t have to suffer that kind of brutality. It’s why gays aren’t as active as they should be, they don’t see the threat. [African Americans] were dying, just so they could vote.”
Coleman insisted that younger generations of gays have lost their fight, and consistent with SAGE’s suggestion, they should look to past struggles for insight to better prepare to fight for their futures.
BY: NICOLE THOMPSON