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August 12, 2014

The Man Who Wants to Build a Haven for Gay Seniors in the Bronx

New York Magazine
By Richard Morgan

At 26, Ritchie Torres is both the youngest member of the New York City Council and the first-ever openly gay councilmember from the Bronx. These days, he is partway through a very challenging self-assigned mission: To build a community center for gay senior citizens in his home borough. Already, he has secured some funding for the project, which he sees benefiting "the most underserved part of the most underserved New Yorkers." The Bronx is the only borough without a gay community center of any sort.

Asked what he envisions, Torres pulls out his smartphone and shows an image of the Bronx River Art Center, with the letters BRAC written across the sides of the structure. "Picture that," he says, "at Fordham and Bainbridge, in the geographic heart of the Bronx, the cultural heart of the Bronx, the commercial heart of the Bronx — with big letters like this:PRIDE." He hopes to see it built in 2015.

There are about 100,000 gay senior citizens in New York, roughly 32 percent of whom live in poverty, according to Service and Advocacy for GLBT Elders, a national group that opened the nation’s first publicly funded, full-time gay senior center, the SAGE Center, in Harlem in 2004 and a second location in Chelsea two years ago. There are 9,900 gay seniors living in poverty in Brooklyn, 8,700 in Queens, 6,300 in Manhattan, 5,400 in the Bronx, and 1,800 in Staten Island, according to the group. A 2010 study found gay male couples have roughly double the poverty rate of their straight counterparts. 

"Manhattan doesn’t define LGBT New York," said Kira Garcia, a spokesperson for SAGE. "Unfortunately, we see many gay elders go back into the closet as they age. Many retirement communities and nursing services are not welcoming or accommodating."

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