Forty-Year-Old Battles Gay Senior Citizens Group
I just got a letter from a man who's been involved in senior citizens groups (including SAGE of South Florida), even though he's not even close to SAGE age. He simply likes to be around older gays and figures that shouldn't be a problem. But the man claims New York's branch of SAGE told him that they're exclusively for oldies only and he should take his spry self elsewhere. Maybe he should next try to join a kindergarten class or a womens organization?
Anyway, I'll run his letter, but first let me tell you the response I got from SAGE's Tom Weber: "I am shocked by this letter. The situation is totally mischaracterized and in no way was I verbally abusive to this man. I would be happy to discuss this more with you if you like...I need to let you know this is not factual. Also, for the record, I do not serve on the SAGE Board of Directors, I am a staff person at SAGE."
There you have it, people. And now, before it gets old, the letter:
I am a 40 year old man who likes older men. I moved to New York City in March of 2009. In the last two cities I lived, Austin, Texas, and Wilton Manors, Florida, I was accepted and welcomed into groups for older GLBT people. I was in Prime Timers of Austin, where I served as that group's treasurer. I was active in Fort Lauderdale Prime Timers and SAGE of South Florida. I never had problems being in any of those groups. I was treated like any other member. I made a lot of friends in those groups. It was great.
I moved to New York City for work, but also because of New York City's large GLBT population. In April of 2009, I went to the SAGE New York program office located in the Gay Community Center in Manhattan. I told the woman who greeted me, Alex Kent, that I wanted to join SAGE New York. She looked dismayed. Ms. Kent told me in a condescending tone of voice, "You know this is a group for seniors, right?" I replied, "Yes, but I was in other senior groups in Texas and Florida, and I was even the treasurer of Prime Timers Austin." I asked Alex Kent directly, "Does your group discriminate on the basis of age?" "Absolutely not" was Ms. Kent's reply.
Ms. Kent then got me a membership application to fill out. She tried to come up with a reason why a guy my age would want to join SAGE. Ms. Kent even suggested that maybe I wanted to join SAGE to learn how to be a caregiver for an older relative. "No," I replied. After I filled out the membership and Alex Kent took my $35 membership fee, she showed me a list of the current SAGE events for the month. It was then that Alex Kent told me something which would stick in my mind as something I never imagined anyone would say in New York City, in the Gay Community Center, in 2009. Alex Kent told me after showing me the list of SAGE events, "You cannot go to any of these." I was shocked.
I went home and sent SAGE of New York a complaint email. I spoke with another woman from SAGE, Christina Da Costa, who was very nice to me and who didn't see any reason why I could not attend SAGE New York events. But Ms. Da Costa told me she was not the person to make the final say. Another SAGE board member, Tom Weber would be calling me later that week.
Tom Weber, Director of Community Services at SAGE New York, called me on a Saturday afternoon. The call lasted only about half an hour. But it was by far the worst phone call of my life. Mr. Weber was so verbally abusive to me that he would not give me a chance to talk for much of the call. He kept shouting at me things like, "The E in SAGE is for Elders. Therefore, you cannot go to SAGE events." Or "if I let you attend a SAGE lunch or walk in the park, then other SAGE members would stop going." Mr. Weber told me that the minimum age for SAGE members to attend SAGE events is 60. I asked Tom Weber where is that written. He said it was common sense.
I still cannot find any place in any SAGE literature or on the SAGE website where it states a minimum age of 60. To the contrary, on one of SAGE New York's web pages it states, "SAGE is for everyone, regardless of age, race, gender identity or sexual orientation." During the few times when Tom Weber let me speak during our phone call, he would repeatedly interrupt me. I don't understand why SAGE of New York would let such an angry, hateful man like Tom Weber serve on their board. But since SAGE of New York codifies discrimination and hatred, maybe that explains their choice of Tom Weber too.
I was still a member of SAGE of South Florida at the time that SAGE of New York blatantly, grotesquely discriminated against me. I find the board of SAGE New York to be extreme hypocrites in that they want the general public to accept them for who they are while at the same time SAGE of New York hates me because I am a younger man who likes older men. I also find it horrible that the SAGE New York board seems to agree with the rest of society that senior citizens need to be segregated from younger people because SAGE New York seems to think that senior citizens have nothing to offer people outside their age group in terms of companionship, knowledge, stories, and jokes.
Sincerely, Dennis Reed
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