After the Supreme Court’s decision for marriage equality in late June, 26 million friends of the LGBTQ community showed their support — at least on that issue —by putting a rainbow filter over their Facebook profile picture. Ultimately, the freedom to marry and #LoveWins became a “sexy” way for new allies to express their solidarity en masse. It was easy — by clicking a button the supporter and supported both could feel good basking in the glow of new equality and community. I won’t critique the value of the effort– – I have to admit that when I saw the rainbow over the face of my staunchly Catholic straight cousin, it meant a lot.
But the gritty work that forges equity at the deepest crossroads of disenfranchisement and marginalization in our society often isn’t so sexy. What it takes to be an ally isn’t as easy as momentary solidarity and the click of a button. It takes commitment and sacrifice — putting a real stake in the ground. That’s why it’s noteworthy that at SAGE in recent years we’ve seen the emergence of true new leaders in the struggle for dignity and equity for LGBT elders. Even more importantly, some of the most game-changing new leaders have come from outside LGBT communities.
These stories of new leadership are a tribute to the courage and vision of new leaders for our cause — individuals who know how to “connect the dots” of social justice and are willing to do so. The stories also reflect emerging strategies of SAGE and other diverse elder communities — strategies that recognize how systems of oppression and privilege intersect, and turn that recognition into powerful action for change and greater equity.
Stepping Out for LGBT Elders of Color in New York
It’s not surprising that the country’s first full-fledged senior center for LGBT elders is located in Chelsea. The historical roots of New York City’s modern LGBT community, and of SAGE itself, are located right down the street in the West Village. Many elders from the Stonewall generation still live, as they have for decades, in the rent-controlled walk-up apartments that remain in these neighborhoods. While this is SAGE’s historical backyard, we also recognize that many of those who most need senior center services are LGBT elders of color — who live at the intersection of LGBTQ identity, race, advanced age, and in many cases poverty. Yet, for the most part, that’s not who was using the SAGE Center in Chelsea. The fact is that, apart from the valiant efforts of GRIOT Circle, the country’s only LGBT elders of color organization, the needs of LGBT elders of color have largely been disregarded. Most elders want to age in place — by continuing to reside in their neighborhoods and communities. For the vast majority of New York City’s LGBT elders of color, that means Harlem, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens — not Chelsea.