Bronx LGBT Senior Community Center Receives $150,000 to Continue Growing
By Paula Seligson
The Bronx’s center for LGBT seniors strives to provide a safe and accepting community for this at-risk group. After opening in early 2015, the center now serves 30 to 40 people a day in just two rooms, and officials said they need more support to continue growing. On Oct. 11, National Coming Out Day, local politicians presented the center with new annual state funding of $150,000, increasing the budget by nearly 40 percent as part of a larger effort to help LGBT seniors in the Bronx.
Many LGBT elders don’t find a welcoming environment when they go to other senior centers in the city, said Michael Adams, CEO of SAGE, or Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders, the organization that runs the center. Instead, they often have to choose between being closeted or being rejected by their peers. “That’s why it’s important we did today’s event on National Coming Out Day because we feel that people should never have to choose between hiding who they are and getting the services that they need,” he said.
LGBT seniors often don’t have children and are estranged from their families, Adams said, which can lead to isolation and a lack of caregivers. SAGE also provides senior community centers in Chelsea, Harlem, Staten Island and Brooklyn, and estimates that 100,000 of New York’s senior citizens are LGBT.
If the lively lunchtime conversations are anything to go by, the seniors who come to the Bronx center have found the welcoming community SAGE is trying to provide. Tucked away on the second floor of the Union Community Health Center, the walls of the main room are lined with paintings, crafts and decorations. Here participants, age 60 and older, eat free lunch, exercise, dance, listen to music, make crafts and more, Monday through Friday, depending on what programs are on the schedule each day. Seniors also use the computer room for learning technology skills.
The center is growing as more LGBT seniors find out about its services. Last year, a good day meant 12 participants, said Jose Collazo, site manager. Now, after more outreach and encouraging seniors to invite friends, the center sees 30 to 40 people most days, he said. Cherise Sherriffe, program coordinator, thinks that will soon increase to 50 people.
Adams said the extra $150,000 will be used to hire an outreach staff member to raise awareness of the center with Bronx LGBT seniors. Collazo said he hopes to also use the money to offer more programs, including in Spanish, and to buy a van that can pick up those who have trouble traveling to the center on their own.
Before lunch on Tuesday, Bronx native and state senator Jeffrey Klein told the roomful of seniors that they deserve to have their needs met. He secured the state funding and promised to increase it in coming years. Klein presented the money along with New York City Council Bronx representative Ritchie Torres, who helped fund the center and is openly gay.
SAGE is putting more resources into the Bronx. In July, SAGE announced that it is partnering with developers to create two LGBT-friendly affordable elder apartment buildings: one in Brooklyn with 145 units, and the other at Crotona Park in the Bronx with 82 units set to open in 2019. “It’s designed to be a place that will be very welcoming of LGBT people,” Adams said. “There would be no question that you can be out and who you are and living happily in this building.”
Gwendolyn Offley, 74, of the Bronx, found that welcoming environment at the center when she first began attending last year. For her, the center means “being around my people.” “It means life, that’s all,” she said. “I found a lady up here, which, I’m very happy, and hopefully in the next year and a half, if it’s all good, we’ll be getting married.”
“If we have it, we’re going to have the wedding here,” Offley said. “SAGE right now means everything to me.”