By Estelle Slootmaker | May 4, 2023
MiGen Executive Director Angela Gabridge and Program Director Kat Mehrer. Nick Hagen
LGBTQ+ older adults are more likely to live in poverty, as well as experience physical and mental health issues borne of a lifetime of stress and discrimination. If they move into a long-term care facility, they are more vulnerable to neglect and abuse. That’s why the Ferndale-based nonprofit MiGen is working to create safer, healthier communities for LGBTQ+ older adults across Michigan.
“LGBTQ communities experience disparities at every level,” says Angela Gabridge, executive director of MiGen. “When you layer in the intersectionality of being someone of color, trans, or non-binary, it amps all of that up.”
MiGen Executive Director Angela Gabridge.
MiGen was previously known as Sage Metro Detroit, the Michigan affiliate of the New York City-based national nonprofit Sage USA, which offers supportive services and consumer resources to LGBTQ+ older people and their caregivers. When Sage USA decided to draw down its affiliate infrastructure across the country in 2022, Sage Metro Detroit had to rename and rebrand its organization. To get started, the organization, which serves LGBTQ+ adults age 45 and over, convened a cross section of community members to help determine a name and a look that best reflected its work across the state.
“Outside of the state of New York, we were the largest Sage affiliate in the country. So, for an organization of our size and the length of our relationship with the community, it was a little bit larger of an undertaking,” Gabridge says. “We had a really diverse rebranding committee that included both employees and contractors from within the organization itself, as well as board members. We also pulled lots of LGBTQ leadership in the area.”
The group included representatives from Corktown Health, LGBT Detroit, volunteers, community members, community activists, and other community leaders.
“I think that it was a great opportunity for folks to come together and talk about what we wanted to stand for, what kind of image we wanted to present, and how we wanted to interact with the community,” adds Kat Mehrer, MiGen program director. “Even though it was not something that we had sought to do, it was a good opportunity as we are growing and expanding.”
MiGen Program Director Kat Mehrer.
MiGen had already outgrown its “Sage Metro Detroit” name. While the organization originally focused primarily on southeastern Michigan — Oakland, Macomb, and Washtenaw counties — it has engaged in statewide work for quite some time. Relationships with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Aging Services, Michigan’s 16 Area Agencies on Aging (AAA), and similar organizations around the state have created a statewide network for MiGen to share its training, technical assistance, and educational programs.
“In the last couple of years, we have become truly statewide,” Gabridge says. “We’ve trained every Area Agency on Aging around the state. We’ve trained long-term care facilities with support from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. We are working with lots of other LGBTQ organizations around the state who are looking to do more older adult programming.”
MiGen programming inspires, includes, and informs
MiGen offers in-person and virtual trainings across the state for groups, businesses, and organizations. These sessions focus on how to work with LGBTQ+ older adults and how to make their organizations more LGBTQ+-friendly.
“We have seen demand for our training and education services go through the roof with the implementation of implicit bias training for medical licensure requirements,” Gabridge says. “Our trainings do meet the requirements because we talk so much about intersectionality, issues related to race, and other topics as well.”
Other MiGen programs relate to creating community for LGBTQ+ older adults. Because older LGBTQ+ people may be estranged from their families of origin and are less likely to have children, social isolation is common. And social isolation not only raises risks for dementia, depression, and anxiety but also increases risk of premature death from all causes, a risk equal to that of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.
“A lot of our older adults are very isolated,” Mehrer says. “They don’t necessarily have a huge social network or people who are checking in on them regularly.”
If an older LGBTQ+ adult lives with a disability, as many older adults do, these risks are increased even more.
“There are a lot of different barriers that our folks face,” Mehrer says. “For one, the lack of personal supports. A lot of times in the LGBTQ community, people might be relying overly on chosen family. … Care providers, like children, might be lacking. There’s also all of the more ingrained societal aspects, such as lack of trust with health care providers due to a history of mistreatment or discrimination, and lack of safe housing options where people don’t feel discriminated against.”
A few of MiGen’s many other programs include food box deliveries to food-insecure individuals in Southeast Michigan; Tech Buddy, which teaches participants how to use web services; the Friendly Caller Program; and MiSocials, virtual and in-person events that bring together LGBTQ+ older adults from across Michigan to make new friends. Additional programs help LGBTQ+ older adults navigate a wide range of community resources.
“The face of LGBTQ aging and aging in general is certainly changing, versus where it may have been for prior generations,” Gabridge says. “While we want folks to know that we were here to provide support and all those other sorts of things, we are also an opportunity to engage with a vibrant, fun, thriving older adult community here within the LGBTQ space.”
Collaboration supports caregivers of LGBTQ+ loved ones
MiGen’s partners across Michigan recognize the valuable resources that MiGen offers. The Detroit Area Agency on Aging (DAAA) recently hosted a “Diversity in Caregiving” webinar to support family and informal caregivers. Gabridge represented MiGen on one of the two panel discussions that raised awareness of the unique challenges, common barriers, and resources available to people of any age or sexual orientation who find themselves caring for a loved one.
“Equity and inclusion are part of our vision and mission,” says Crystal White, DAAA caregiver support coordinator. “As an agency serving older adults, we work closely with MiGen as partners in this community work with older adults. They understand that there’s a gap there for caregivers in that community.”
The webinar shared information about the importance of respite, financial considerations, addressing food insecurity and social isolation, making use of technology, and self-care, as well as how to connect to various resources available across the state.
“When you’re coming from an African community, like myself, I’ve been excluded. I’ve experienced that. Other people of color and any minorities experience exclusion,” adds Laura Riddick, DAAA caregiver coordinator. “MiGen has a lot to bring to the table. They have a lot to give, as well.”
Estelle Slootmaker is a working writer focusing on journalism, book editing, communications, poetry, and children’s books. You can contact her at Estelle.Slootmaker@gmail.com or www.constellations.biz.
Photos by Nick Hagen.