L.G.B.T. Senior Citizens Find Safe Haven at Jackson Heights Community Center

When Arnim Kiwi’s partner died in 2014, he was left in a position familiar to many senior citizens in New York: lonely and mourning. The walls of his Queens apartment are covered with art his partner collected, a daily reminder for Mr. Kiwi of the man he lost. But what made things even more difficult for Mr. Kiwi, 82, is that as a gay man, he was a member of a population that is particularly susceptible to the struggles of losing a loved one late in life.

But Mr. Kiwi has found an outlet to manage the isolation and loneliness he faces without his partner. He spends about six hours a day at the Queens Center for Gay Seniors in Jackson Heights, where the members have become like family. They participate in daily activities like art and exercises, have lunch and, most importantly, get to socialize with people who are also going through similar struggles. It is the only center of its kind in Queens.
According to data compiled by the Williams Institute, published in August 2016, L.G.B.T. individuals are less likely to be married than cisgender heterosexuals. Roughly 16 percent of L.G.B.T. adults reported being currently married, compared to about 50 percent of adults in the general public. Studies found that a higher proportion of L.G.B.T. older adults are single or tend to live alone compared to heterosexual elders.

Chynna Pitlock, the senior center’s director, said that while New Yorkers are fortunate to have a resource like this in their city, she hoped to see the centers become more widespread. “If you go into another state, or even if you go to upstate New York, you’re not going to find stuff like this,” she said. “That’s not fair for people who live in the Midwest or down South. There are people who are having to go back into the closet, are becoming severely depressed, and that’s not right.”