My Time to Shine - Sage 

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Sage promotes better ageing for members of the older adult LGBTQ+ community in Leeds. Below we outline the project and hear from Sage member Colin Halstead.

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Feb 2021

If you are a member of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, more than 50 years old and looking to make new friends, have you ever thought about joining an organised group? Sage is a project managed by MESMAC Leeds and Age UK; it was formerly funded by Time to Shine. The aim is to help to support older adults in the LGBTQ+ community who are 50+ years old and living anywhere in Yorkshire, though the majority of members are from the Leeds area. Since its inception, Sage has undertaken advocacy and networking on behalf of the older LGBTQ+ community. It has also organised a variety of events to help combat loneliness and isolation for its members. And it’s provided opportunities to give back to the community through volunteering and training.

It’s a very accepting place,

that’s part of the appeal. We all seem to be talking a

common language

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Sage members meet up online every week. The group was forced online because of Covid restrictions. But a weekly meeting is more frequent than in pre-Covid days! Sage used to meet twice a month at MESMAC in Blayd’s Yard. Hopefully face-to-face meetings will resume soon. As well as the main group, more recently Sage is trialling a separate support group for men only. A more well-established women’s group - Women’s Space - meets regularly too.
 
Sage occasionally arranges outings for members (COVID compliant obviously) and has offered people training and development for members. A particular highlight was working with with Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food, offering short courses in how to prepare nutritious, cheap food. Sage has plans to offer sports and fitness sessions too, though this project is in development.
 
Sage produces a regular newsletter promoting various activities and opportunities which may be of interest to older LGBTQ+ people. Anyone can receive the newsletter as a PDF. The team can also send the newsletter out in the mail to older people who don’t access the internet. The project encourages older people to get more involved with the guiding of Sage. There are various opportunities to volunteer. Volunteers help promote the group, speak in public or organise activities. Sage takes part in celebrating several of the big LGBTQ+ events on the calendar, including Pride and LGBT History month (which is in February). In 2020, was part the inaugural Silver Pride celebration for older LGBTQ+ members. The next Silver Pride event is in the last weekend of July. Sage is a member of the Leeds LGBTQ+ Community Consortium, which supports organisations providing support to older and isolated LGBTQ+ people. Online activities are as varied as: yoga, Japanese, life-writing, poetry and book groups – and much more. As fewer lockdown eases online activities are required so the Consortium is planning to provide walking groups and other outdoor meetings.
 
Shine spoke to Sage member Colin Halstead to find out more about the project:
 
My partner had moved abroad, and I was feeling a bit on my own. Somebody put me in touch with Sage - it was a friend, but I’m not sure who! I found them to be an absolutely fantastic organisation. It’s for people who are over 50. Before the lockdown they used to meet every twice a month in person, the first Tuesday and the third Saturday of the month, but it’s been on Zoom since Covid.

I wanted people who I could talk to on the same level. Youngsters, God bless them, don’t want to talk to older people! They have other interests. They don’t want some old person saying, “Did you know, I was born before computers were invented?” That’s the last thing they want to hear! As an older gay man, it is hard to meet people. I’m not really comfortable in bars, especially gay bars. I’m comfortable in an old country pub. In gay bars, there are people “cruising”. And I just think, “that’s not for me”. I could never do that casual stuff, even when I was young. So, I find it very off- putting and prefer to meet people away from the “gay scene”.
 
Sage is definitely not a dating agency. It’s kind of a safe space, where there’s no pressure. People just relate to each other as human beings. You just sit and have a coffee together and guzzle biscuits! And talk about the weather – or whatever.

I have found some fabulous people in Sage. I have made a very close friendship with a male-to-female transgender person. It’s actually working really well, because we are on a level with our interests and outlook. I’m probably closer to Pauline than any of the others in Sage. After talking to Pauline, it turned out that we were born on the same day, of the same month in the same year. We kind of do this brother and sister act now! That’s the kind of warmth you get from Sage. It’s like family. Most people in Sage have had the same experiences in the past. They’re pretty much on a level, most people are anyway. Of course, there are differences. But they’re roughly the same age cohort. The eldest one we’ve got is in his 90s, a wonderful guy, with a background in theatre. And the youngest we’ve got is 50. So that’s a 40-year cohort. But the majority are intheir 60s. It’s a very accepting place, that’s part of the appeal. We all seem to be talking a common language.

For our generation, it was very different, being gay. When we were young, you could go to prison, you were ostracised, people would have nothing to do with you. You had to keep everything secret. And that caused psychological scars. And we look at the young, who seem to have it all so easy. Sometimes there’s resentment because it’s so easy for them, and they don’t know how hard we struggled – and how lucky they are. Then there’s a kind of resentment that young people seem to have for us older ones. Most of us aren’t looking for sex! When we say hello – we just want friendship. It’s just about companionship.

As our host we can use MESMAC facilities and supplies. But we also bring our own food – biscuits, teabags, that sort of thing. We do keep a kind of register, because Sage wants to make sure everyone is alright. So, if someone missed several sessions, they’d get a phone call to make sure they are ok. Which is really kind, really lovely. Like me, when I missed a lot of these Zoom ones because I had physiotherapy. They called me and it was really well meant. After tea and coffee, it’s just chatter. It’s not like there’s an agenda with Item 1, Item 2, you know, it’s not like that at all. Keith has organised one or two speakers, but it’s only every now and then.
 
Tracy (who used to coordinate Sage) thought of exciting ways to bring the group to the attention of other people. For example, she made a link with an old people’s care home. Sage members went along to read poetry. That was Tracy’s vision – a very good vision. After lockdown is over, we’ll probably try that outreach again. Everybody in Sage is very concerned about this generation gap.
 
I think there’s still a stigma amongst a lot of older people. When I was young, we never spoke the word
– never. My mother was ashamed that she’d given birth to a gay son. It’s silent, it’s subterranean – but it’s very real. A lot of people are still carrying scars. With maturity, they can see through those scars, but they can’t get rid of them. They might think, “I have nothing to be ashamed of” but the hurt is still there. Any new members we get would be so welcome. Everyone would want to make them feel at home but the rules do say you have to be 50+! Anybody eligible would be welcome - we’ve all had different starting points in life. It doesn’t matter what somebody’s background was. It doesn’t matter how somebody defines themselves: gay, trans, bisexual, queer, pan – whatever. That really doesn’t matter – it’s about getting to know them as people, not labels. Sage is pretty evenly divided amongst the genders. Around half men, half women. There is also a separate group for women and one for just men.
 
For me, Sage has been – mentally speaking – a lifesaver. If I had not made contact with Sage, I think I’d have grown into a rather eccentric recluse. By rooting down with Sage – finding people I can text, meeting in person - you feel you’re in touch with real people, who accept you as you are. My transgender friend, we meet up regularly for coffee. And that’s just wonderful. I was expecting to find a bunch of very closeted people, who were very wary of life – but I found the complete opposite. Keith is doing a brilliant job. He’s on the ball and he looks after people. He hosts little events sometimes to get us all laughing and joking. A pop quiz, something like that. Just for the fun of it. We bond together through the laughter.
 
I will be very glad to be going back to seeing people in real life. I don’t suppose it’ll be exactly life as it
was before Covid. There will be a difference. I’ll be delighted to see everyone at Sage. The Zoom works fine, but I really enjoy the WhatsApp group we have. Everyone says “hi” on a morning and we message every day. If one of us goes for a walk and sees a nice bit of scenery – a sheep, whatever – you’ll take a snap and post it on WhatsApp. It’s lovely.
 
I’ve got a message for older gay people: get out of your rocking chair and come to Sage!
 
To find out more about Sage, email Keith Hargreaves
at k.hargreaves@mesmac.co.uk or go to the www.mesmac.co.uk.


For more info on the Leeds LGBTQ+ Community Consortium, go to https://leedslgbtqcc.co.uk

For more information on Silver Pride 2021 events go

to www.facebook.com/silverprideuk.


Thanks to Keith Hargreaves for his help with this article.

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