The Stories of Those Who Lost Decades in the Closet


— The Rev. Magora Kennedy, an 82-year-old on the combat for LGBT+ rights


On a quiet block in downtown Brooklyn, a brand new pictures exhibit — housed inside a senior dwelling middle — invitations viewers to contemplate a vital query: How will we measure the emotional and social prices of discrimination?

The exhibit, “Not Another Second,” shot in 2019 by a German photographer, Karsten Thormaehlen, profiles 12 older adults who determine as L.G.B.T.+ (the “Q” is intentionally lacking as a result of the phrase “queer” was usually used as a pejorative time period in opposition to the individuals profiled), by way of a collection of portraits and video interviews.

Nearly all of them spent a number of years of their lives hiding from prejudiced eyes, even to do essentially the most regular of issues — to stroll with heads held excessive, to dwell with out being thought of loopy, to serve within the army, to marry their lovers, to carry down jobs.

One homosexual couple, Ray Cunningham, 83, and Richard Prescott, 79, discuss in a recorded video about rising up within the Nineteen Fifties and ’60s. At one level, Mr. Cunningham appears into the digicam and explains how, when he was a 19-year-old Navy man, he was in command of giving his homosexual colleagues “undesirable discharges.” He chokes up, his decrease lip quivers. He got here out to his mom when he was 21 years outdated and by no means got here out to his father.

Mr. Prescott remembers how, when he was a high-school senior, he was known as out by considered one of his classmates for at all times wanting down at his sneakers when he walked round campus. That, Mr. Prescott explains, was a protection mechanism. “You simply, you don’t lookup,” he mentioned. “I imply, you don’t need to face different individuals that you simply really feel are going to reject you.” He got here out on the age of 60.

For others, heterosexual marriage provided a traumatic type of cowl. One topic, Paulette Thomas-Martin, 69, determined to marry a person as a result of “that was the norm,” she mentioned in an interview with The Occasions. She stayed for 20 years in that marriage, which produced two kids.

“Think about being in a darkish manhole and that lid is shut over you,” Ms. Thomas-Martin mentioned, describing these years of her life. “You don’t have any voice and you reside a lie. And out of that lie comes anger and hate and you are taking it out on these closest to you, which I did to my kids.”

Again then, she was outwardly homophobic, not eager to be round homosexual individuals and even going so far as making enjoyable of them, all of which, she talked about, was a “security measure,” a type of denial. She got here out on the age of 40, when her kids had grown.

One other topic profiled, the Rev. Magora Kennedy, 82, was pressured into a wedding by her mom when she was 14 years outdated as a method to “remedy” her homosexuality. Her husband was 21 years her senior and abusive.

“People who’re of their 70s, 80s and 90s, for many of their lives they had been delivered messages by the regulation, by the U.S. army, by our authorities, by docs and psychologists that they had been sick, that they had been criminals,” Michael Adams, chief govt of SAGE, a nonprofit and advocacy group that represents older individuals who determine as L.G.B.T.+, mentioned in an interview over Zoom. “In lots of instances, what that has led to is a pure type of self-protection mechanism of hiding.”

That damage carries effectively into later life.

In the USA, there are an estimated three million L.G.B.T.+ individuals over the age of fifty, based on SAGE. They’re twice as prone to be single or dwell alone and are far much less prone to have kids as heterosexual older adults. “What meaning is that, in lots of instances, they’re not going to be surrounded by kids, grandchildren and spouses who may also help assist their care,” Mr. Adams mentioned.

In different phrases, they usually age in isolation.

SAGE is without doubt one of the organizers of the exhibit, in partnership with Watermark Communities, which manages dozens of senior dwelling communities throughout the nation.

The genesis for the exhibit got here in 2017, throughout a coaching session hosted by SAGE to information Watermark workers on one of the best methods to look after L.G.B.T. workers and residents.

One change at Watermark because of the coaching, for instance, was modifying who could possibly be listed because the so-called choice makers for its residents. Initially, that might solely be direct members of the family. However, after studying that L.G.B.T. individuals won’t have direct members of the family they will depend on, Watermark adjusted its coverage to incorporate associates, David Barnes, Watermark’s chief govt, defined.

The pictures exhibit is, partly, to assist extra individuals come to a deeper understanding of the lived experiences of older L.G.B.T. individuals. The general public can view it online or make an appointment to view it in individual. There are plans to host the exhibit at different Watermark facilities throughout the nation.

And, regardless of dwelling by way of intervals of hiding, the individuals profiled within the exhibit weren’t silenced: Nearly all of them — seven of whom are or have been Watermark residents, and 5 of whom are SAGE volunteers — have devoted years of their lives to activism, both by registering voters or by becoming a member of the Black Panthers to combat for racial justice. One topic was arrested in Washington, D.C., whereas protesting in opposition to the Vietnam Battle. One ran for workplace as the primary brazenly homosexual Congressional candidate. Ms. Kennedy was on the entrance strains of the Stonewall rebellion. Ms. Thomas-Martin’s associate, Pat Martin, whom she married in 2018, runs a company that hosts occasions and workshops for the L.G.B.T. group and its allies.

“We’ve come a great distance, however we nonetheless received an extended method to go,” Ms. Kennedy mentioned. “We began it. You younger of us end it.”


In Her Phrases is written by Alisha Haridasani Gupta and edited by Francesca Donner. Our artwork director is Catherine Gilmore-Barnes, and our picture editor is Sandra Stevenson.

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