Pat and Paulette Martin reside in East Harlem in New York City. Pat is the CEO of HarlemYES Inc., a community-based not-for-profit organization. Paulette is the vice president in charge of program outreach and development for HarlemYES, where she is instrumental in developing, promoting, and implementing the company’s workshops and networking events. As part of HarlemYES, Pat, Paulette, and their team have created and produced several intergenerational programs and events servicing the LGBT+ community and allies.
In this as-told-to story, they tell The Advocate's editor at large John Casey about the life they've built together.
Pat and Paulette
After meeting each other in 2015, we look back on the years we’ve spent together and remind ourselves how blessed we are to have found each other. Especially since many in the LGBTQ+ community face so much social isolation due to numerous factors, challenges, and profound disparities. According to SAGE, LGBTQ+ older adults like ourselves are twice as likely to be single and live alone and have much smaller networks than non-LGBTQ+ people.
And while our love for one another remains as strong as ever, our journeys to finding our authentic selves and coming out are different.
Pat Martin: This Is Me
For me, I knew I was a lesbian at the age of 5 and came out to my family and mother at my high school graduation. I always knew exactly who I was.
But my mother thought my actions were not normal, even going to the extreme and taking me to a psychiatrist. My mother’s homophobia was one of the reasons I waited to come out. Every time my mother would see a gay woman, she would say, “if one of my children becomes like that, I’ll kill them.”
During my high school graduation, I walked across the stage in a dress to get my diploma. Afterward, I went into the bathroom and changed into a suit. When my mother saw me, she said, “What the hell is this?” I responded, “This is me.” I got my girlfriend and left and never looked back.
Now I’ve been out for more than 50 years.
Paulette Martin: The Lost Years
Unlike my wife, Pat, I didn’t come out until I was 40, when my youngest child was 16. Growing up, I thought if I got married and had a baby, I wouldn’t have to tell my mother that I was gay and could be normal.
However, pretending I was something that I was not for all those years to avoid the punishment of social and familial shame did not make me feel normal at all. In reality, I felt suffocated and trapped.
After I got divorced from my husband, I realized I wanted to start living as my authentic self. While the seismic shift caused some friction in my family relationships, the burden of living a lie was gone. But I still faced numerous challenges along the way, including discrimination and racism for simply being myself.
Later in life, I moved from Long Island to East Harlem, and that’s when the love story between Pat and myself began.
Pat Martin: Late-Life Romance
Before I met Paulette, I had been single for years and having fun. I felt like I was ready to wind down when we met in 2015. I was 65 years old.
As part of my work as the president and founder of PM-AM Promotions, I brought together a team and was preparing to host a women’s dance. SAGE Center in Harlem gave our group space to meet and plan.
The night before the dance, we were packing up swag bags. Paulette had volunteered to help fill the swag bags. It was the first time we had met.
Paulette Martin: An Instant Spark
When I first met Pat, I felt an instant connection.
The second time we met was at a church event. I had to put my eyes down when she came into the room because I didn’t want her to see my excitement. I felt very drawn and attracted to Pat in a way I had never felt before.
After we left the church, Pat gave me a business card with her phone number and said, “Call me.” My heart skipped a beat. We went on our first date, and I fell head over heels for Pat. The romantic spark was real and strong.
I cried when Pat got down on one knee and asked me to marry her. We were married on April 10, 2018, at 67. It was the happiest day of my life.
It reminded me that it doesn’t matter what age you find love. As long as you follow your heart, you’ll find true happiness with the person you’re meant to be with.
Living Life Together as Our Authentic Selves
Today, we reside in East Harlem — an area of New York once notorious for being hostile to those in the LGBTQ+ community — and walk hand in hand through the neighborhoods as our authentic selves.
Over the years, we’ve kept our relationship strong through communication, regular date nights, lots of laughter, and many games of Scrabble. We also work together on fighting for things we believe in. We both advocate for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, especially for elders, through work with SAGE and with our nonprofit HarlemYES, which helps strengthen and empower marginalized and LGBTQ+ communities.
Being married provides us with a daily reminder that being one’s true self leads to a happier life, regardless of what society thinks. That’s why we’re out there in the community talking to youth and others in the LGBTQ+ community, so they understand that being yourself can lead to extraordinary things.
Living life as our authentic selves led us to finding each other. We’re fortunate because not everyone gets that opportunity. Many LGBQT+ elders live life by themselves. Many don’t have support systems they can rely on.
So, this Valentine’s Day, reach out to an LGBTQ+ elder. Say hello. And let them know you care.