Gauging Gay Aging
For 30 years a senior center in Jackson Heights has created a space for the LGBT community older than 65.
By Brad Groznik
the senior center on a rainy Thursday afternoon
and seeing the smiles from the members washed
away most of the day's rottenness.
Tony tickled the keyboard and let his aged, wobbly
voice wail, playing crowd favorites from the 1940s
The room, filled with the chatter of elderly men
sitting around card tables and lounging on couches
was chaotic but welcoming: like walking into a
family gathering. Dressed in high-waisted khakis
and old sweatshirts or Wrangler jeans and outmoded
button-ups, these seniors were having a good time
despite the weather.
But this wasn't just any senior center; this was
SAGE, or Senior Action in a Gay Environment.
"I like my being with my own people," the keyboardist
said between songs. "Here I can be free."
Tony went on to describe that at regular senior
centers, the discussions often center on life-long
spouses, children and grandchildren, to which
Tony has none.
members taking a break from playing Kings
in the corner to snap a picture.
"Here we can just be ourselves," he said.
SAGE is a safe haven for the elderly lesbian,
gay, bisexual and transgender community in Queens,
which is probably the most unseen demographic
of the gay population.
Most of the men at the center were still guarded
about their identities and would only offer their
first names. As seniors, these men have lived
with society's critical eyes for decades and their
friendly demeanor quickly turned to a nervous
shutter when this reporter asked their name for
"I just don't need everyone knowing," one senior
The tension faded after a couple minutes of conversation.
But it was clear; they're here, they're queer
but let's not make a big deal about it.
Claude, 66, a black man from St. Albans said he
did not have any contact with gay culture outside
of the community center.
For four years Claude has made SAGE a regular
thing because he feels at home.
Frank, of Woodside, said he has been a member
for six years and likes the company he's made
As for the rest of Queens, "you might as well
be in Iowa," he said.
Many gay seniors feel this way in fact. According
to SAGE's Web site gay seniors are twice as likely
to live alone, half as likely to have life partners
or significant others, half as likely to have
family members to call for help and four times
less likely to have children to help them.
For these stark reasons SAGE works hard to create
a community for gay seniors.
John Nagel, was recently appointed director at
SAGE/Queens and is determined to continue the
support SAGE has offered seniors for 30 years.
"Many people don't assume [seniors] could be gay,"
SAGE offers a variety of programming to aid its
membership. From trips to the park to socials
to financial information sessions, SAGE is committed
to helping the LGBT senior community whether you
notice them or not.
SAGE is located at 74-09 37th Ave. in Jackson
Heights. To find out more about the programs they
offer, call (718) 533-6459.