Long Island is now home to a groundbreaking housing complex completed a mere 50 miles from Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn, where the modern fight for LGBTQ rights in the U.S. unofficially began.
The LGBT Network’s LGBT-Friendly Senior Housing and Community Center has been completed and residents have already moved in to a what aims to be a welcoming place for members of the LGBTQ community entering their golden years. The four-story building features 75 affordable one- and two-bedroom rental apartments marketed to LGBTQ community members aged 55 and older.
It is the first senior housing project for the LGBTQ community built in an American suburb, according to the LGBT Network. All other projects of this nature lie in major American cities, such as New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
“This is an open community with open arms for everyone,” said Suffolk County Legislator Steven Flotteron, who voted in favor of the LGBT Network’s project when he sat on the Islip Town Board in 2017. “I was honored to be part of their project and part of the renaissance of Bay Shore.”
Flotteron attended the LGBT Network’s a press conference at the housing center Friday, which featured other elected officials, the network’s president and CEO David Kilmnick and some of the building’s new occupants.
“I used to live downstairs in a dark apartment…” said Elain Felton, one of the building’s residents.”We got light, we got brightness, it’s spacious, it’s safe, and that is the most important thing for me!
“Because yes, I am a senior. Yes, I am a person of color. Yes, I am a part of the LGBT community. And, I have the special opportunity to be one of 75 people who get to live in this magnificent place.”
why it’s needed
While the fight for LGBTQ equality continues to this day, the community’s elders faced greater discrimination years back than their younger counterparts, which resulted in economic disenfranchisement and a need for affordable housing.
“Just speaking for our older adults, the issues that they face now are really a culmination of issues over the years, which is employment discrimination, housing discrimination,” said Latisha Millard-Bethea, the director of resident services for SAGE, an advocacy group and resource center for LGBT elders. “And now really they’re looking at years of being underpaid, especially for some of our trans people and people of color. They’re looking at where they really aren’t as financially stable as they would have been under other circumstances, if discrimination was not at play.”
Discrimination based on sexual orientation is not the only issue many people in the LGBTQ community face.
“There’s a lot of intersectionality in this. So trans people of color face really a host of issues, one just coming from being a person of color. Before you get to any of the trans issues, you’re dealing with that. And then when you add the trans component to it, there’s issues in their health care, there’s issues with things like housing, issues where they’re going into lower income housing.”
Applying for lower income housing through the US Department of Housing and Urban Development can be a disheartening process for post-transition trans people, Millard-Bethea said, as the applications must be completed with the applicants name and gender they were assigned at birth.
“HUD rules are very old rules, they’re not really subject to change and so a lot of our trans folks that we work with to get into housing, they already have their new identities and their new name. It’s almost a little traumatizing or insulting to have to sit with someone and track all that back, because HUD only acknowledges male or female,” she said.
education and resources
SAGE operates two LGBTQ-friendly housing projects in New York City similar to the LGBT Network’s new Bay Shore project: the Stonewall House in Fort Green and the Crotona Senior Residences.
Millard-Bethea said such projects are typically proposed in urban areas, which “are a little more open to projects like this and the services and needs of the LGBTQ community. In larger cities it’s easier to bring a concept like this to fruition, such as LGBT welcoming housing, LGBT centers, and really engaging providers and understanding how to work with the community and be culturally sensitive.”
The LGBT Network’s 8,000-square-foot LGBT community center in Bay Shore also offers “services and programs related to the arts and culture, fitness, food and nutrition, health and wellness,” according to the tenant application.
Millard-Bethea said centers such as the one in Bay Shore, as well as those SAGE manages in the city, educate outlying communities on the LGBTQ population and provide physical and mental health resources to LGBTQ people in those areas.
“It brings some of the resources… into the community for people who still may not be comfortable with their identities at the moment, to know that there’s an open place there for them,” she said.
“It really brings that knowledge to the [health care] providers in the community as well.”