Sherrill Wayland came to the Brown School as a returning learner, to transition to a career working for the LGBT community. “In my course work I took every opportunity to research the barriers and needs of LGBT older adults,” she said. “I developed a critical understanding of what was truly needed in St. Louis.”
“We know that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender elders are five times less likely to seek supportive services and are also less likely to have children,” Sherrill said. “So this leads to a great amount of isolation and just concern about how our elders are going to age in their communities.”
Nancy Morrow-Howell, a Brown School professor and a leading researcher in gerontology, connected Sherrill to a New York City organization called SAGE—Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders. Sherrill’s research helped her develop a strategic plan for bringing the SAGE model to St. Louis.
“From the first day that I met her, Nancy was very encouraging and supportive of the work that I wanted to do,” Sherrill said. “The opportunity to learn from Nancy and to take her advice is really one of the reasons why we’re here today.”
SAGE Metro St. Louis was born in the summer of 2008, and Sherrill was named founding executive director. In 2015, SAGE Metro St. Louis merged with the LGBT advocacy nonprofit PROMO Fund to promote access to health services for LGBT elders throughout the state of Missouri.
The growing program, now known as SAGE of PROMO Fund, is a field site for MSW and MPH practicum students from the Brown School, and Sherrill serves as their field instructor.
“For me this work is really about honoring those who came before me,” she said. “Our LGBT elders were coming out at a time when it was not uncommon for them to be fired from their jobs and disowned by their own families. We want to honor the people that came out before us and really paved the way for the equality movement that we are seeing today.”