Not Another Second is a new cultural awareness campaign that shares the stories of 12 LGBTQ+ seniors – which includes a politician, veteran, Stonewall Survivor, and Black Panther – who collectively lost 485 years living in the closet.
Seniors – who are now in their 70s and 80s – lived during a time when being an LGBTQ+ individual was a crime, and lost years – even decades – not loving who they love. A new national awareness campaign – titled Not Another Second – is acknowledging this significant time lost, while sharing wisdom with younger generations who may be scared of coming out.
Using AR technology, the campaign – created by SAGE and Watermark Retirement Communities – gives a candid glimpse into the struggles of 12 LGBTQ+ senior men and women, whose stories are told through a series of interactive portraits.
Take Reverend Kennedy, who was forced to marry a man at 14 because her mother thought a marriage would “cure” her. Or Nick, who spent three decades living in the closet. Or Ray and Richard, who both served in the Navy and didn’t come out until they were 60 years old – they met, fell in love, and were one of the first gay couples to be legally married in California.
The interactive portraits make their national debut at The Watermark at Brooklyn Heights January 2021 through March, and then tour the country thereafter. Those who can’t attend the exhibit can preview it at notanothersecond.com.
City: Tucson, Arizona
Years “Lost”: 41 years
Hailing from Philadelphia, the “City of Brotherly Love,” Ellie has always inherently felt that love is love. She has loved men. She has loved women.
But after graduating college, launching a professional career, marrying and having children, Ellie finally shed her concern for public judgment and entered midlife openly as a lesbian. Maturity and changing societal norms had given her the confidence she needed to finally be herself.
As a psychotherapist over many decades, Ellie has worked with LGBT+ people, some teens. Standing with them, she has consistently told them that they were OK; it was society that was not OK.
“Sexual orientation is a term that always seemed silly for me, because I felt I was attracted to both men and women, and wasn't that great? Why could that be a problem? But the times I grew up in, it was a problem. I was much more comfortable in relationships with women when I was older, in my late thirties, so how people judged me was no longer a concern. Living in a free and honest way and becoming a progressive, accepting person was perfect for me.”
City: Manhattan, New York
Years “Lost”: 50 years
Before Pearl became Pearl at age 50, she was a self-proclaimed feminine boy named Ken growing up in the ‘60s in West Palm Beach, Florida. It was a dangerous time to prefer home economics to sports, and Ken never wanted to disappoint his older brothers whom he idolized. After “playing the boy-girl game” in high school, Ken left his girlfriend to live as an openly gay man in New York City. He immersed himself in the disco era and jet-setting for 20 thrilling years.
After breaking up with his long-term gay lover, Ken found himself comfortable performing in drag on weekends at Fire Island on the South Shore of Long Island, adopting the part-time persona of Pearl. Eventually, Pearl made her full-time debut, bucking the tide of transgender discrimination. Now, a popular person about town, everybody knows and likes Pearl, but most of all she likes herself and who she has become today.
“I just feel so grateful. I'm so happy to live every moment as Pearl and for the rest of my life.”
Age: 68 & 68
City: East Harlem, New York
Years “Lost”: 56 years collectively
Paulette and her wife, Pat, had two very different experiences coming out as lesbian. Both knew their sexuality at a young age, but Paulette struggled to find acceptance among the cultural norms of being openly gay in Hawaii. Paulette was married with children and even expressed anti-gay sentiments before she came out. Pat came out at 16.
Neither of their families accepted their truth. In addition to enduring family hostilities, both women overcame racism and homophobic discrimination before devoting themselves to fight for freedom and equality.
They met at SAGE and their marriage is a reminder that being one’s true self, regardless of what society thinks, leads to a happier life.
“It was very difficult. I thought if I got married and had a baby, I would be OK. Then I wouldn't have to tell my mother that I like girls. I wouldn't have to tell anyone that I like girls. I would be the norm.” – Paulette Thomas-Martin
“Well now we have a lot more freedom in what we're doing … we've earned it. We've actually earned the right to be our authentic selves.” – Pat Martin
City: Manhattan, New York
Years “Lost”: 0 years
Lujira lived as an openly gay African American woman in the heart of New York City during the infamous raids of Stonewall. At the time, she worked at the 34th Street YMCA, a haven for gays and a safe zone for her. As a result, her main struggles did not come from her sexuality, but instead transpired due to the color of her skin.
In addition to racial discrimination, Lujira overcame poverty and homelessness to create a better life for her true self. Although she did not take part in the riots of Stonewall, she later became an LGBT+ activist, volunteering with SAGE and fighting for LGBT+ equality in Washington, D.C.
“I think it’s a continued fight. I think young people need to realize that we could ... go backward. They’d be fired from jobs, discriminated against in housing and health care, all the things that we fought to eliminate, could come back.”
City: St. Petersburg, Florida
Years “Lost”: 40 years
A former bed-and-breakfast owner from Jacksonville, Florida, Mark masked his true self until he came face-to-face with his sexuality at age 40. Married (for a second time) with a daughter at the time, he had a one-night stand with a man he met at a gay bar. His confession to his wife the next day turned his once traditional lifestyle upside down.
Although he has never had an intimate gay relationship since, he has never lost hope. Mark’s outgoing personality has kept him moving forward, and he remains dedicated to living his senior years as his genuine, unapologetic self. Mark now devotes time to advocating for the LGBT+ community and helping those who are experiencing hardships similar to those he went through.
“I was trying so hard to be straight. As I say, that's why I'd been married twice … I don't have any regrets, other than the fact that I did hurt my wife and daughter so terribly much.”
City: Palm Desert, California
Years “Lost”: 37 years
Born in New Jersey during the Great Depression, Nick had a dual career in education and theater. He never had much prompting to consider his sexuality while growing up. It was not until college that he began to come to terms with the idea of being gay, but due to the discrimination and hate faced by homosexuals during this era, it took him more than three decades to discover and fully accept his authentic self.
Once he did, he found love with his long-term partner, Michael. Michael, though 15 years younger than Nick, was far less open than Nick was. After 23 good years, their love was cut short when Michael succumbed to AIDS.
“In those days, you know, we're talking about a whole different era, when there was no acceptance of gay people. With my partner, we couldn't get married. You couldn't do much of anything. We did own property together, but we couldn't do other things.”
City: The Bronx, New York
Years “Lost”: 31 years
Reverend Kennedy knows that the path to freedom and acceptance is not easy. Once a tomboy who chased girls in upstate New York, Reverend Kennedy was forced to marry a man at age 14. Her mother thought such a marriage would “cure” her. Her mother was wrong.
Being black, lesbian, and a woman of the church made Reverend Kennedy’s journey an uphill battle all the way, but she has never stopped fighting for her rights. From rejecting rules enforced by her mother to participating in the Stonewall Uprising, Reverend Kennedy only became more resolute. She has been out and proud as a lesbian for more than 50 years now. Her extensive work in civil rights continues to inspire younger generations.
“Being a lesbian, and being involved in things like the civil rights movement and now the struggle with gay rights, and being a senior, it has been quite a learning experience and I am so happy to see how far we've come, but we still have a long way to go.”
City: Raleigh and Tarboro, North Carolina
Years “Lost”: 54 years
Coming of age in the South in the ‘50s, as Ronnie did, was like being handed a life sentence to live in the closet. Ronnie was in his thirties when he met Earl, the love of his life. Although they hid their relationship for the first three decades, they spent 44 happy years together traveling and living life to the fullest before Earl passed away.
Ronnie’s mother knew her son’s sexual orientation but he never shared that he was gay with his father, or his colleagues, and neither did Earl. They both feared it would derail their careers and alienate their success and acceptance in Raleigh, North Carolina. It wasn’t until they were well over 50 that they finally came out to their inner circle. In greater society, there was still a stigma that it was wrong.
“I just hope that the people that are coming out gay now will know that we, at our age, were the ones that introduced that. They should not be forgotten. It really sort of hurts when you see these young couples coming down the street and males holding hands and I never had that opportunity. We never could do a lot of the things that people do now.”
Age: 82 & 78
City: Palm Desert, California
Years “Lost”: 115 years collectively
Ray and Richard weren’t acquainted when they each served in the Navy. Unfortunately, as young gay men, the cultural climate at the time did not serve either of them.
At just 19 years of age, Ray’s naval duty was to give undesirable discharges to sailors known to be gay. He still shudders at the thought. Ray and Richard met at work and fell in love late in life. Close to 60 before they came out, they were among the first gay couples to be legally married in California in 2008.
Today, they are living happily together in Palm Desert. Having spent decades in the closet, fearful of discrimination, danger and rejection, the pair remains forgiving of ignorance and hopeful about America’s growing acceptance of homosexuality.
“I constantly remind myself to be forgiving of these other seniors that have never had any exposure to a gay lifestyle, or know any [gay] friends or family, and can't grasp it. Many times when you can't understand something, you begin to get a negative attitude toward it.” – Richard Prescott
“I grew up not trusting anybody with these sort of secrets that I kept hidden because I was afraid of … total rejection. That's a very painful thought. But there comes a time as you get older where you have your life to live and shed all this fear and anxiety over these things.” – Ray Cunningham