The latest in a series of New York senior citizen centers built specifically for the city's aging gay and transgender population opened in the Bronx last month, sparking criticism over whether taxpayers should fund facilities for a specific group.
"The very same people talking about diversity are now creating segregated senior citizen centers for a special class of people."
- Michael Long, chairman of New York Conservative Party
The city spent $1.5 million to help a nonprofit open the centers in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) seniors. Advocates estimate there are more than 100,000 LGBT seniors in the city and said they feel discriminated against at mainstream facilities. Services and Advocacy for Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transgender Elders (SAGE), cut the ribbon on a Bronx LGBT center just weeks ago.
"I see it as one of the best investments we can make,” said openly gay City Councilman Ritchie Torres, who represents the Bronx. He said many LGBT elders face discrimination in conventional senior centers.
But New York State Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long said providing special facilities and services for people based on their sexual orientation is a waste of taxpayer funds and actually serves to marginalize LGBT seniors.
"The last time I checked, they’re all human beings and if they’re senior citizens they can go to any senior citizen center,” Long said. “You want to talk about throwing peoples’ tax dollars down the sewer? This is a real, classic example.
"The very same people talking about diversity are now creating segregated senior citizen centers for a special class of people," he added.
SAGE, a national organization based in New York, opened the nation's first LGBT senior center in the Chelsea area of Manhattan in 2012. The facilities provide daytime activities and meals for members, but do not provide housing.
SAGE’s Senior Director of Services and Training, Catherine Thruston, said the centers allow LGBT seniors to come "out" without worrying about discrimination.
“LGBT older people are more likely to be living alone than their heterosexual counterparts, and they are also four times less likely to have adult children in their lives -- adult children are the number one source of unpaid caregiving in the United States,” she added.
The city of New York’s Department for the Aging is supporting SAGE and working with the group to better accommodate LGBT elders.
“When creating programming for our seniors, we must be sensitive to the needs of different populations, including, for instance, the many immigrant populations we serve, as well as older adults from LGBT communities,” said Department for the Aging Commissioner Donna Corrado.
Officials said the centers are open to everybody, but focus on services to LGBT people.
Kyle Rothenberg is a graduate of the Junior Reporter program at Fox News. Follow him on Twitter: @kylerothenberg