LGBT senior centers in New York City received a $150,000 check on October 11 from state Sen. Jeff Klein.
Klein announced the extra funding for Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders (SAGE) on Tuesday afternoon in recognition with National Coming Out Day. Council member Ritchie Torres and Klein collaborated to give the funds to SAGE.
Around 100,000 LGBT seniors live in New York City, according to Torres.
“It’s an astonishing statistic because the community has been so invisible because it is heavily closeted,” said Torres, the first openly gay public official in the Bronx. “What we’re creating here is a safe space that allows LGBT elders to come out and to embrace who they are without fear of violence or discrimination.”
Two years ago, Torres allocated $1.5 million to open LGBT senior centers in all five boroughs, and with that funding, SAGE’s Bronx, Brooklyn, and Staten Island locations opened.
Forcing Bronx seniors to travel to Manhattan for LGBT senior centers is “outrageous,” said Klein during the event at SAGE’s Bronx location.
This funding, though it will go to all of SAGE and not a single location, is an extra boost to keep these centers open for LGBT elders.
Audrey Mckenzie, who uses an electric wheelchair, goes to the center around three times a week when she doesn’t have doctor’s appointments. Before the Bronx location opened up, she would have to take the train or use Access-a-Ride.
“It’s hard for me to get to other boroughs,” she said. “You use Access-a-Ride and they have you waiting for places and there are times where they’ve never picked me up. Being here in the Bronx, I can actually ride here from where I live and it’s just more accessible for me.”
Mckenzie lives around 20 blocks from the center, and even when she has to take a bus, it’s more manageable than leaving the Bronx.
“And if I can, I can just ride up on a good day with no snow,” she said. “It just makes life a lot better when you can just be around people that you can laugh and joke and just act stupid with. Sometimes it’s fun to be stupid – for lack of a better word.”
The center offers lunch every day, and there is something planned nearly every hour, including meditation, yoga, Zumba, tai chi, Pilates, painting, computer skills, and discussion sessions about current events. The center is housed within the Union Community Health Center, so seniors also have access to the clinic and legal services.
LGBT senior centers are already sparing. “It’s important because some of them are just coming out,” said Cherise Sherriffe, the program coordinator. Some of the seniors she works with come out at 50 or 55 years old.
“This is almost like a safe place that they can come and share their stories and be themselves.”