“We started it. You young people finish this.
– Reverend Magora Kennedy, 82 on the fight for LGBT + rights
In a quiet neighborhood in downtown Brooklyn, a new photography exhibit – set up in a senior living center – invites viewers to ask a critical question: How do we measure the emotional and social costs of discrimination?
The ‘Not Another Second’ exhibition, taken in 2019 by German photographer Karsten Thormaehlen, features 12 older people who identify as LGBT + (the ‘Q’ is deliberately absent because the word ‘queer’ was often used as a pejorative term against profiled persons), through a series of portraits and video interviews.
Almost all of them have spent several years of their lives hiding from prejudiced eyes, even doing the most normal things – walking with their heads held high, living without being considered crazy, serving in the military, marrying their lovers, keeping their children. jobs.
A gay couple, Ray Cunningham, 83, and Richard Prescott, 79, talk in recorded video about their growth in the 1950s and 1960s. At one point, Mr Cunningham looks into the camera and explains how, while he was a 19 year old navy man, he was responsible for giving his gay colleagues “unwanted dumps”. He chokes, his lower lip quivers. He spoke to his mother when he was 21 and never came to his father.
Mr. Prescott remembers how, when he was in high school, one of his classmates called him out for always looking at his shoes when he walked around campus. This, explains Prescott, was a defense mechanism. “You just, you don’t look up,” he said. “I mean, you don’t want to face other people who you think are going to reject you. He came out at the age of 60.
For others, heterosexual marriage provided a sort of traumatic blanket. One subject, Paulette Thomas-Martin, 69, decided to marry a man because “that was the norm,” she said in an interview with The Times. She remained in this marriage for 20 years, which produced two children.
“Imagine being in a dark gaze and the lid is closed on you,” Ms. Thomas-Martin said, describing those years of her life. “You have no voice and you are living a lie. And from this lie anger and hatred are born and you go after those who are closest to you, which I did to my children.
At the time, she was apparently homophobic, unwilling to hang out with homosexuals and even going so far as to make fun of them, which she said was a “safety measure”, a kind of denial. She came out at the age of 40, when her children were growing up.
Another subject presented, the Reverend Magora Kennedy, 82, was forced to marry by her mother at the age of 14 to “cure” her homosexuality. Her husband was 21 years her senior and was violent.
“People who are in their 70s, 80s and 90s, for most of their lives, have been receiving messages from the law, from the US military, from our government, from doctors and psychologists that they were sick, that they were criminals, ”Michael Adams, chief executive of SAGE, an advocacy and nonprofit group that represents seniors who identify as LGBT +, said in an interview on Zoom. “In many cases, this has led to a natural self-protection mechanism of hiding.”
This injury continues later in life.
In the United States, there are approximately three million LGBT + people over the age of 50, according to SAGE. They are twice as likely to be single or living alone, and are much less likely to have children than heterosexual seniors. “What this means is that in many cases they will not be surrounded by children, grandchildren and spouses who can help support themselves,” Adams said.
In other words, they often age in isolation.
SAGE is one of the organizers of the exhibit, in partnership with Watermark Communities, which manages dozens of seniors’ communities across the country.
The genesis of the exhibit took place in 2017, during a training session hosted by SAGE to guide Watermark staff on the best ways to care for LGBT employees and residents.
A change at Watermark as a result of the training, for example, was to change who could be listed as the so-called makers for its residents. Initially, it could only be direct members of the family. But, after learning that LGBT people might not have direct family members to rely on, Watermark adjusted its policy to include friends, said David Barnes, CEO of Watermark.
The photo exhibit aims, in part, to help more people better understand the experiences of older LGBT people. The public can view it online or make an appointment to see it in person. It is planned to host the exhibition in other Watermark centers across the country.
And, despite periods of hiding, the people profiled in the exhibit have not been silenced: almost all of them – seven of whom are or have been residents of Watermark and five of whom are volunteers of the Watermark. SAGE – have devoted years of their lives to activism. , either by registering voters or joining the Black Panthers in the fight for racial justice. A subject was arrested in Washington, DC while protesting the Vietnam War. One of them came forward as the first openly gay candidate for Congress. Mrs. Kennedy was on the front lines of the Stonewall uprising. Ms Thomas-Martin’s partner, Pat Martin, whom she married in 2018, runs an organization that runs events and workshops for the LGBT community and its allies.
“We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go,” Kennedy said. “We started it. You young people finish this.
In Her Words is written by Alisha Haridasani Gupta and edited by Francesca Donner. Our Artistic Director is Catherine Gilmore-Barnes and our Photo Editor is Sandra Stevenson.
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