NY1 continues its week-long spotlight on gay pride with a profile of a unique center in Jackson Heights, Queens is meeting the needs of an often overlooked portion of the LGBT community. NY1's Rocco Vertuccio filed the following report.
In one of the busiest, most diverse neighborhoods in Queens sits one of the few places where gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender elderly people feel at home.
Rob Sinacore, 78, is one of a thousand LGBT senior citizens who spend time at SAGE Queens in Jackson Heights. It is the only senior center in the borough for older LGBT adults.
They come to the center for companionship and support from other LGBT seniors.
"I feel comfortable here and the people I talk to feel comfortable here. We all feel part of a group," says Sinacore. "In a traditional senior center, almost everyone is married or have been married. Their main interest is their grandchildren and their aches and pains."
The center is funded by both the Queens borough president's office and the City Council. Social workers at the center help the seniors with everything from housing to dealing with a loss of a companion.
"Because we don't have marriage equality yet, a lot of people who have long-time partners aren't able to collect any of the money that they may have left behind," says Meryl Branch-McTiernan of Queens Community House.
For some of the seniors, the center has become their family.
"My partner and I have been together 21 years and basically my family has rejected me, and my partner is younger so he works. So I have a lot of alone time," says SAGE Queens member Mike Wichansky. "This gives me a real sense of community and less aloneness."
"They had to live a life of secrecy under the radar, not to be seen and heard, and to find their lives compartmentalized to very small pockets of friends and family and not be out to the general world, for fear of being found out for who they really are," says SAGE Queens Director John Nagel.
The center staff hopes the LGBT seniors, like so many others their age, can make their golden years as bright as possible.