overview

From October 1995 until at least December 1999, the Queens chapter of SAGE, a social services and support group for LGBT senior citizens, met in the basement of this church in Astoria, Queens.

In recent years, the space became Carmen’s Place and then an Ali Forney Center shelter, both of which provided housing for homeless LGBT youth.

Header Photo

Credit: Amanda Davis/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2018.

On the Map

History

Senior Action in a Gay Environment (SAGE) was founded in New York City in 1978 to provide services and care for older LGBT people. It was later renamed Services & Advocacy for LGBT Elders. Establishing facilities across the nation in the ensuing years, SAGE’s first New York City location outside Manhattan opened in October 1995 at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Astoria, Queens. The SAGE/Queens Clubhouse, as it was known, occupied the basement space of the church; the wrought-iron perimeter gate once held fliers announcing the group’s activities.

The founding director of SAGE/Queens was Jackson Heights resident and LGBT rights activist Ed Sedarbaum, a former caseworker for the city’s Department of Social Services who had also volunteered at the Gay Switchboard and as a rap group leader at Identity House, both in Manhattan. To create a gay senior center for Queens, Sedarbaum worked with then-Queens Borough President Claire Schulman, who provided a start-up grant. This was apparently the first time a gay organization in the city received public funding. It took Sedarbaum four months of being turned down by about 40 centers, including houses of worship, before successfully meeting with Reverend Thomas E. Schirmer at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, who was looking for “creative uses” for the basement space.

Sedarbaum noted that gay couples traditionally moved to Queens, particularly Jackson Heights, to lead quiet, private lives, but that LGBT senior citizens, who grew up in an era when being openly gay was especially dangerous, were still fearful that their neighbors would find out about their sexual orientation. As such, aging LGBT people — already “well-schooled in concealing their identities,” recalled Sedarbaum — were more hesitant to reach out for help and access some social services used by their heterosexual counterparts. The SAGE/Queens Clubhouse, which featured a rectangular meeting room and a small kitchen and office, sought to create community for LGBT people who were often at risk of feeling isolated and unable to talk about their lives uncensored.

“Reminiscence about old times is key. It gives you a sense that you have a life that was filled with meaning. And for gays and lesbians, it’s not like they can just sit down anywhere and talk about the old days in [the gay Fire Island enclave of] Cherry Grove.”
Ed Sedarbaum, 1995

Activities were held on Tuesdays and Fridays, with monthly Saturday parties, and included discussion sessions, entertainment, art classes, and exercise programs. The group drew men and women of different faiths as well as people of color, predominantly from Queens and Long Island.

SAGE/Queens was here until at least 1999. In recent years, the church basement has been used as a homeless center for LGBT youth. Until 2007, when the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island temporarily closed the building, Reverend Louis Braxton, a pastor here, operated a center called Carmen’s Place. In November 2009, the Ali Forney Center (AFC) opened a shelter with 16 beds. AFC and the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island are currently working on a joint proposal to have a new shelter constructed next to the church.

This entry is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

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