A new group in Berkshire County is looking to create a social network for LGBTQ seniors in the area.
For the past 12 years, Ed Sedarbaum has lived in the Berkshires without much of a community. The Supreme Court decision in June that found that the Constitution guarantees the right of same-sex marriage was the final push he needed to do something about that lack of social interaction.
“I saw it on TV and I suddenly felt really lonely because I realized I should be with my peeps celebrating this,” Sedarbaum said. “I did not have a community. So that pushed me a little bit on a personal level to start this project.”
Rainbow Seniors of Berkshire County held its first meeting in September and has drawn interest from roughly 30 people. Sedarbaum says the group can provide social outlets for a generation of LGBT individuals who grew up in the 1950s and 60s keeping quiet about their personal lives.
“It was a smart move because back in the day you could be institutionalized, disowned, thrown out of your house, lose your job with no recourse and you could be beaten or murdered,” he said. “The person who murdered you might very well get off on what they called ‘gay panic defense’ which was basically ‘But your honor, he flirted with me.’”
Back in 1995, Sedarbaum started a similar community group in Queens and later realized it was a vital service. Sedarbaum says the practice of keeping to oneself has continued even during a time of increased social acceptance, causing today’s seniors to stay away from support systems most people their age engage with.
“They might need help getting a form filled out,” Sedarbaum explained. “Most seniors will just walk in to see a social worker or at their senior center and say ‘Can you help me with this?’ But for LGBT people they are very often afraid that these authority figures will figure who they really are and then the jig is up. So often they will not go in to ask for help.”
Using a national data, it’s estimated there were between 725 and 1,200 LGBT people age 60 and over in Berkshire County in 2010. Those numbers are expected to increase to 850 and 1,550 by 2020. Eighteen people were at the first meeting. Sedarbaum plans to hold them monthly. He is leaving it up to the members to decide what types of things the group will do — whether it’s educational sessions, outings or other activities common to senior organizations.
“Reminiscence is a really valuable tool for older people who sit around, share stories with one another and then go home at the end of the day feeling ‘Yeah, my life was worth living. Think of all those wonderful stories I have, all the great times I had and this is what I accomplished.’ Well imagine yourself sitting around listening to straight people share their reminiscences knowing or fearing that you would be shunned if you started bringing up your own reminiscences…‘Oh I remember that time I went to Provincetown with my first boyfriend.’”
Alan Cousin and his partner had been looking for a group like Rainbow Seniors in the region and got talking with Sedarbaum.
“We hope to meet people who we can enjoy activities with, whatever that might be,” Cousin said. “Both of us are pretty active sport-wise so we’re looking for folks who are in that same ilk more or less. We’re both downhill skiers and we enjoy the winter sports around here.”
Sedarbaum has been reaching out to local councils on aging to spread the word about Rainbow Seniors. The next meeting is Tuesday from noon to 2 at the First Congregational Church in Williamstown, but other gatherings are planned for Pittsfield in the center of the county.