NEW YORK - A community center for LGBTQ+ seniors is providing a safe haven in Harlem. Sage Center Harlem spreads Pride in life and love.
Joyful colors greet visitors when they arrive at Sage Center Harlem. Art created by seniors fills the walls with passion.
"I'm the queen of the village of Harlem," said Elaine Livingston, showing a multi-media creation of paint and jewels. "This is me right here. And this is my village."
A full roster of classes keeps the seniors busy, and keeps them together.
"It's addressing loneliness. It's addressing isolation," said Paul Ortiz, Sage Center Harlem's senior director of programs and services. "They get to meet each other, and we have a beautiful love story with Pat and Paulette."
Pat and Paulette Martin first met volunteering for a Sage Center event.
"I watched her walk away and I had that feeling that I should be walking with her," Pat remembered.
Six years later, they walk together as wives.
"The fact that we met here is so important," Paulette added. "For me, coming to Sage was because I was getting depressed and being alone."
This is a second life for the 70-year-old mothers, whose previous paths led to this point by very different routes.
"I had my first kiss by a girl at 16, liked it and got pregnant at 17 because then I thought I'd be normal," Paulette confessed. "My actual coming out was when I was 40, my children were all grown."
"I had a fake boyfriend for a while who would come and pick me up and we would leave together and I would go meet up with my girlfriend," Pat said. "There were times that I would walk like six blocks so my mother wouldn't see me as I was going to hang out with my friends. And then when I had enough, I had enough."
The Martins feel like long-lost souls reunited through a new purpose, to pave an easier path for those who follow.
"Being visible, it's important because we don't want our community to go back into the closet," said Pat.
"It's not like you pretend putting on a suit and now I'm masculine," Paulette said to her wife. "I am very proud of what you're doing."
From friends to family, Sage Center Harlem keeps seniors like Pat and Paulette smiling.
"Pride is 365 days a year," Pat said.
There are six Sage Centers throughout New York City serving LGBTQ+ elders. You can find the Harlem location on West 143rd Street between Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevards.
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