Roger Mácon, a 64-year-old Jamaica, Queens resident, has been out of the closet for many years.
But he didn’t realize there were many other seniors in the city like himself that are openly gay and lesbian, too — until he found a network of LGBT seniors through an organization called Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders, or SAGE.
“I’ve been out of the closet for many years, but at SAGE, I found out I’m not by myself,” he told Runnin’ Scared today at a launch event for the city’s first LGBT senior center, which is also apparently the first of its kind in the nation.
At an event attended by hundreds of LGBT seniors and their supporters, SAGE, partnering with the city’s Department for the Aging, cut the ribbon (they literally cut a ribbon, guys!), for the SAGE Innovative Senior Center, a new space for LGBT elders, located in a facility on 7th Avenue, by 28th Street.
It’s the first center of its kind in the city that will provide social services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender seniors — and it’s the first LGBT senior center in the country that is full-service with meals and other programming. The space will include mental health initiatives, fitness classes, health and wellness seminars, arts events, technology lessons, and more.
“This center is the culmination of many, many years of dreaming and hard work,” said Rosalyn Richter, co-chair of the board of SAGE, standing inside the new 8,200 square-foot space. “Our LGBT elders…have paved the way for those of us who have followed in their footsteps…They have earned this beautiful home.”
Before they cut the ribbon, the organization’s executive director, Michael Adams, told the crowd that SAGE owns this space, giving it real staying power. “This is a home for our city’s LGBT elders that will never go away.”
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a mayoral hopeful and openly gay pol who has rallied around gay rights, stopped by to offer her support. She thanked her City Council colleagues in attendance — Daniel Dromm, Rosie Mendez, and Jimmy van Bramer — who together, she said, represent the “entire LGBT caucus of the City Council.” (All are openly gay. City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito was also present).
“Having a senior center for the LGBT community in a space this nice is incredibly important…because space matters. What a space looks like matters. The quality of a space matters,” she said. “[It] sends a clear message…that we want to support you, that you are an incredibly important part of our community, that some of us want to be one, one day.”
Quinn tied today’s news to larger progress that has taken place in New York for LGBT residents. “It is really an amazing thing to think about, that we passed marriage equality. We have an LGBT senior center right here in Manhattan. There’s a time not so long ago when both of those things would have seemed impossible, and we are sending a message today that the impossible is not only possible, it is expected and will continue in the city of New York for all of us,” she said.
The city’s Dept. for the Aging commissioner Lilliam Barrios-Paoli told the crowd that she expects many seniors will flock to this center, and if the demand for this kind of space is high, she hopes to expand the effort.
“You have to make it happen — and if you make it happen, and it’s wonderful, I may get 10 more,” she said with a laugh. “So my fate is in your hands.”
Before the speeches, Runnin’ Scared mingled in the new space asking some of the seniors what the organization and the new center means to them.
Mácon told us that he recently lost his partner of 22 years, and said that SAGE has helped him handle some legal battles related to the death and has also been a key source of support for him. “This is very important for elderly gay and LGBT people. We need a place like this as we become [older]…We feel comfortable to be ourselves,” he said.
Gladys Berrocal, 62, of Elmhurst, Queens told Runnin’ Scared that she is excited to see more and more available for a population that was once entirely ignored.
“Before, there was nothing,” said Berrocal, who is a member of SAGE. “Now, we are going somewhere.”