The LGBT Network led the opening of an LGBTQ-inclusive affordable senior housing complex in Bay Shore, Long Island. (LGBT NETWORK)

Long Island leaders held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday celebrating what they described as “America’s first suburban” LGBTQ-friendly affordable senior housing complex and LGBTQ community center.

The project, spearheaded by the LGBT Network, will feature 75 one and two-bedroom apartments and an 8,000-square-foot LGBTQ community center at 34 Park Avenue in Bay Shore. The in-house LGBTQ center is slated to connect queer seniors with case management, health services, and other offerings. LGBT Network President and CEO David Kilmnick said the building fills a void for many LGBTQ seniors who often feel unsafe in other housing facilities.

“When you think about someone who’s now in [their] 60s or 70s, saying that for the first time in their lives… they have a home where they can just be themselves — we need to do a lot more,” Kilmnick said. “Our elders, while being remarkably resilient, have faced a lifetime of stigma and discrimination.”

Kilmnick noted that LGBTQ seniors experience marginalization in all areas of their life when compared to straight elders, including higher rates of poverty, mental health issues, and an overall lack of support.

Earlier this year, a report from Advocacy and Services for LGBT Elders (SAGE) and AARP revealed that 17 percent of queer New Yorkers over the age of 50 are experiencing mental distress, and at least 13 percent are suffering from depression. The findings also highlighted that nearly half of bisexual older women and transgender older adults live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, while bisexual older men face similar poverty rates. Given these challenges, Kilmnick said LGBTQ-inclusive housing could protect LGBTQ seniors from further stress.

“It’s a step to preserve our history and to celebrate the contributions of our elder generations who were on the front lines fighting the AIDS epidemic, fighting the criminalization of being LGBT, and so many other fights that allow us to have the rights that we have today,” Kilmnick said.

Out lesbian Elaine Felton, a 67-year-old Black woman who lives at the facility, has first-hand experience with housing discrimination as an LGBTQ senior. She said a former landlord once jacked up her rent and banned her from tenant parking after seeing her bring a girlfriend home. A separate landlord spewed anti-LGBTQ comments when she posted a “love is love” sign on her lawn, she said.

At the LGBTQ-inclusive housing facility, however, Felton said she finally has a safe place to call home.

“This is something that God chose for me,” she said. “There are other people that are gay, that are in the building with me, that are going through the same wonderful experience that I am of being able to freely bring whoever I choose into my apartment, whenever I choose to.”

The opening ceremony featured several guests, including Nassau County Executive Laura Curran; New York State Senators Phil Boyle and Jim Gaughran; Matthew McMorrow, the director of LGBTQ Affairs for Governor Kathy Hochul; and out gay Queens Councilmember Daniel Dromm, who chairs the City Council’s LGBT Caucus.

The facility follows similar projects in nearby New York City, such as Stonewall House, a 17-story, 145-unit LGBTQ-friendly affordable housing development for seniors in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. That building, led by SAGE, opened in 2019 with 77 percent of its residents being people of color. Stonewall House also offers in-house services to residents.

This story first appeared on GayCityNews.com

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