Nonprofit aims to create a safe space for the elderly and youth LGBTQ+ community in New Orleans to connect

Constituents of SAGE New Orleans, Frank Abbruscato (right) converses with Courtney Sharpe (center) during the thanksgiving tabling event held at St. Anna’s Episcopal Church on Nov. 17, as Jim meadows (back) organizes the room. SAGE New Orleans is a nonprofit organization that supports elders in the local queer community through building relationships and hosting social events.

Elderly LGBTQ+ people in the city are being bullied, detransitioning, or going back into the closet in nursing homes and assisted living in Louisiana, said Jim Meadows, former Loyola student and executive director of SAGE New Orleans.

SAGE is a nonprofit organization that supports elders in the local queer community through building relationships and hosting social events, according to Meadows.

Meadows said he came to appreciate what people of an older generation, who fought for LGBTQ+ rights in the late 60s have done. His involvement in SAGE is his way of giving back to the elder queer community in the city.

“To come out of the closet when it could mean losing everything: family, friends, religious communities, jobs, homes, you name it, and they took that risk,” he said. “They created a world where we could be ourselves, and we could live authentic lives and love authentically, so I’ve come to understand that we owe this generation a great debt.”

SAGE not only brings awareness and support to the elder LGBTQ+ community by advocating for their safety in care facilities, but it also works to establish communities and intergenerational relationships, Meadows said.

He said there’s a lot of ageism, not just in the LGBTQ+ community, but everywhere. Older LGBTQ+ people are more likely to become more isolated over time, and they feel the stigma of being older, Meadows said.

According to Advocacy and Services for LGBT Elders, LGBTQ+ older adults are twice as likely to live alone, making them vulnerable to social isolation.

To combat this, SAGE offers opportunities to meet new people and connect with others across generations, according to Meadows.

SAGE hosts a variety of events such as a weekly walking group, virtual coffee talks, an aging HIV support group, book club, and SAGE table — a free dinner event that promotes conversation and connectivity. 

“I’m so grateful for this community and for the opportunities SAGE has given me to build a community,” said Loyola alum and member of SAGE New Orleans’ board of directors Bart Folse.

Meadows extends an invitation to all Loyola students to visit the SAGE New Orleans website and to attend the events hosted. Meadows said this is his way of giving back to the Loyola community which, unbeknownst to him, was the beginnings of his career supporting the elderly queer community. 

Meadows was a member of Loyola’s first LGBTQ+ organization, Gay Outreach at Loyola whose mission was to seek, to educate, and to give support to those students who were interested in gay and lesbian issues. 

Gay Outreach was founded in 1991 and run primarily by Loyola’s former assistant director of publications, Arthur Stern, whom Meadows said kept the program running and helped a lot of queer students at that time.

“It was not very common for people to be fully out on campus or to talk about it outside of a group like GOAL,” he said.

For Meadows, his role in the New Orleans LGBTQ+ elderly community began small on a college campus due to his interest and involvement with Gay Outreach. 

However, Meadows said that wasn’t his plan at the time, as he was in the process of coming out [as gay] at a young age, and Gay Outreach was the first program he had been apart of that helped queer people. 

Although GOAL is no longer around, Loyola’s current LGBTQ+ group, PLUS+ provides a place for queer people to unite. PLUS+’s mission is to provide a positive, supportive environment for LGBTQ+ folks, and everyone who is part of or an ally to the LGBTQ+ community in our student body, according to PLUS+ vice president Ti Zampino.

“LGBTQIA+ students are imperative to a college campus,” Zampino said. “The queer community has been shunned from public places for so long, and we deserve to have a place in our communities as educated leaders and creators to help better the world around us and make it a more accepting place for future generations.”

Meadows plans to continue making the city a more accepting place at SAGE by continuing to cultivate social opportunities and increase queer education training for healthcare professionals. 

“We have a huge community of LGBT people [in New Orleans] compared to other places,” Meadows said, “We are a sizable block. We bring money to the city. We bring culture to the city. We’re part of the city’s culture. And we’re not going anywhere.”