LGBTQ seniors celebrated in photo exhibition opening in New York

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Not Another Second: An artist’s rendering of how the show will appear

The lives and experiences of LGBTQ seniors are honored and celebrated in a new, interactive exhibition launching this month in Brooklyn, New York City.

“Not Another Second” has been put together as a collaborative project between the LGBTQ elders nonprofit SAGE and Watermark Retirement Communities. It will launch on January 19 at the art gallery at the new, senior community ‘The Watermark at Brooklyn Heights’ (21 Clark Street, Brooklyn), and will then tour other similar communities around the U.S.

The show features portraits of 12 LGBTQ seniors, shot by acclaimed German photographer Karsten Thormaehlen, along with recorded interviews which can be listened to via headphones.

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The title of the show comes from a recurring theme from some of the interviews: how it’s important not to waste another second of life living inauthentically. Many of those interviewed spoke of the years they “lost” through staying in the closet.

“In the 80s and 90s, everybody was scared to death to come out. They didn’t know who to trust,” said Richard Prescott who is featured in the exhibition alongside his husband, Ray Cunningham.

“I think I lost a lot of years not being myself. That’s why this campaign is so important. Not only do we get to share our stories but give courage to younger generations who are still scared of being their authentic self.”

To experience the show in person, you’ll have to reserve a time slot, to ensure social distancing guidelines are followed. After it opens, a virtual experience will go live at notanothersecond.com. The website will also feature a short documentary, as well as invite young people to submit questions and receive advice from LGBT+ elders through an “Ask A Senior” program.

A hardback book featuring 100 photographs will also accompany the show, with proceeds going to helping LGBTQ youth.

After it finishes in Brooklyn in March, the exhibition will travel on to Élan Collection art galleries in Los Angeles; Napa, California; and Tucson, Arizona (dates to be confirmed).

For a taste of the show, check out some of the portraits below.

Ronald “Ronnie” Gilliard Ellis Jr.

Not Another Second - exhibition of LGBTQ seniors
Ronald “Ronnie” Gilliard Ellis Jr. (Photo: Karsten Thormaehlen)

Age: 79
City: Raleigh and Tarboro, North Carolina
Years “Lost”: 54 years

Ronnie was with the love of his life, Earl, for 44 years, but kept their relationship a secret for the first 30 years.

“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.”

Reverend Goddess Magora Kennedy

Reverend Goddess Magora Kennedy
Reverend Goddess Magora Kennedy (Photo: Karsten Thormaehlen)

Age: 81
City: The Bronx, New York
Years “Lost”: 31 years

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 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.”

Ray Cunningham & Richard Prescott

Ray Cunningham & Richard Prescott (Photo: Karsten Thormaehlen)

Age: 82 & 78
City: Palm Desert, California
Years “Lost”: 115 years collectively

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.

“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

Pearl Bennett

Pearl Bennett (Photo: Karsten Thormaehlen)

Age: 69
City: Manhattan, New York
Years “Lost”: 50 years

Pearl previously identified as a gay man, and when younger, fully enjoyed New York’s disco era and led something of a jet-set life. Previously working as a weekend drag queen on Fire Island and the South Shore of Long Island, she became Pearl fully at the age of 50, embracing her trans identity.

“I just feel so grateful. I’m so happy to live every moment as Pearl and for the rest of my life.”

Dominic “Nick” Procaccino

Dominic “Nick” Procaccino (Photo: Karsten Thormaehlen)

Age: 87
City: Palm Desert, California
Years “Lost”: 37 years

Born in New Jersey, Nick worked in education and the theater. He began to realize his sexuality at college but didn’t come out for another three decades. He then met his partner, Michael. The men had 23 years together before Michael passed from 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.”

Mark Gustafson

Mark Gustafson (Photo: Karsten Thormaehlen)

Age: 74
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 the age of 40. At the time, he was on his second marriage and had a daughter. He had a one-night stand with a man he met at a gay bar and found his traditional lifestyle turned upside down when he confessed all to his wife the next day.

“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.”

Paulette Thomas-Martin & Pat Martin

Paulette Thomas-Martin & Pat Martin (Photo: Karsten Thormaehlen)

Age: 68 & 68
City: East Harlem, New York
Years “Lost”: 56 years collectively

Paulette and Pat both experienced problems with their families around their sexuality and different journeys toward coming out. They met via SAGE and later married.

“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

Ellen “Ellie” Starer

Ellen “Ellie” Starer (Photo: Karsten Thormaehlen)

Age: 78
City: Tucson, Arizona
Years “Lost”: 41 years

Ellie grew up in Philadelphia and had loving relationships with men and women when younger. However, by middle age, after establishing her career and having children, she shed her concern for public judgment and embraced life as a lesbian.

“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.”

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