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June 25, 2017

Boogie Nights

Vogue
By JULIA FELSENTHAL
“There was this woman at the last dance who was like, ‘I don’t care what anyone thinks!’” recounts photographer Ethan James Green, sitting on a park bench near his apartment in lower Manhattan. “She screamed it while I was taking her picture.”

Green is quite young (27) and best known for capturing a very youthful downtown underground scene, so it’s slightly surprising that he spends his free time hanging around LGBT senior center dances, taking black-and-white prom-esque portraits of the elderly attendees. His subjects may be old, but in front of his camera they seem anything but. They flirt, they flex, they cavort, they make out, they goof off. “It’s almost like we’re on a fashion shoot,” says Green. “People really show up. They get to have fun, not care, just be who they are and not think twice about it.”

The subjects he shot for Vogue attended two of these dances. The first, last fall in Brooklyn, was hosted by GRIOT Circle, a 21-year-old organization dedicated to serving the needs of elder LGBT people of color (its motto: “We don’t do bingo!”). The second, this spring at the Copacabana on West 47th Street, was a fundraiser in support of SAGE, a national services and advocacy group founded in New York in 1978.

Three decades ago, when SAGE organized its first women’s dance, Jerre Kalbas, then a sprightly near-septuagenarian, manned (or rather, womaned) the door. In those days, she remembers, “we were still very frightened, very hidden.” Now 99, Kalbas walks with a cane and wears gloves to ameliorate the pain of acute carpal tunnel in her hands. She can’t dance (“Not these fancy dances!”), but she’s still showing up. “I love to see all the women dancing,” she says. “I mean: It’s amazing.”

The past 30 years have brought a sea change in the quest for gay rights, but the need for gay-friendly community centers is undiminished. LGBT elders, explains SAGE’s Lynn Faria, are twice as likely to be single, three times less likely to have children, and far more likely to be estranged from their families of origin. At more mainstream senior centers, adds GRIOT’s Aundaray Guess, gay members often encounter straight peers who are less than accepting. “I’ve always been out of the closet,” echoes 70-year-old Maxine Irby, a GRIOT-goer of 15 years. “Now I live in a senior building. I don’t really talk that much about being gay here. There’s a lot of homophobia with older black people. They don’t understand it. There’s no representation in their lives. Thank God I still have GRIOT to go to, to be with gay people.”

And at these dances, says Sandra Hines, 69, they can really get down. “I’ll tell you this,” she adds. “I don’t know what I’d do without the opportunity to get out and kick up my heels once in a while. It makes me feel young.”

Read the original article online here.

Media Inquiries

Christina DaCosta
Director of Communications
917-553-3328
cdacosta@sageusa.org

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