Ask 82-year-old Reverend Goddess Magora Kennedy her advice for LGBTQI+ seniors still in the closet, she’ll tell you this: “If you’re a senior, you have lived your life, you have raised your children. Now it’s your time to live your truth.”
The longtime New York civil rights campaigner is living hers.
Resplendent in a crisp purple shirt with a clergy collar, shells in her hair and a dash of red lipstick, Rev. Kennedy came down from her home in the Bronx to Brooklyn this recent Tuesday to see her photograph on display at new luxury retirement community, The Watermark at Brooklyn Heights.
Rev. Kennedy is one of 12 LGBTQ seniors featured in the new national photo exhibit Not Another Second, which opened on Tuesday, January 19.
The exhibit tells the untold stories of these elders and the years they lost not being their fully authentic selves, with large-format portraits taken by photographer Karsten Thormaehlen.
For Rev. Kennedy, this meant, in part, sharing her story about being forced by her mother into marriage with a man when she was only 14 years old.
Rev. Kennedy grew up in Saratoga, New York, in the 1940s and 50s, when being gay was treated as a mental illness. She said people around town were talking about her liking girls, and her mother felt threatened.
“If you were gay, you were either sick or something was wrong with you … and the best way to cure it was to get married,” she said. “But what [my mother] did was illegal. Even though the marriage was consummated, it still was annulled.”
Rev. Kennedy went on to become an ordained minister and lifelong campaigner for LGBTQ rights, which included becoming heavily involved in the Stonewall uprising of 1969.
For others featured in the exhibition, coming out happened later in life:
Once an Oklahoma rancher and oil man, Paul Barby, now 81, didn’t declare his sexual orientation publically until he was 61. In 1996, Barby decided to come out as the first openly gay man to run for U.S. Congress.
“I remember very clearly going into the bathroom and looking at myself in the mirror and I thought, ‘You’ll never be able to live with yourself if you don’t run,’ and I did and I’m glad I did,” he said. “It made life easier for a lot of gay people in Oklahoma.”
Sadly, despite his honesty, Paul has yet to have an intimate same-sex relationship, he told the exhibit’s curators.
Richard Prescott, 78, is featured in the exhibition alongside his husband Ray Cunningham, 82. “In the 80s and 90s, everybody was scared to death to come out. They didn’t know who to trust, he said.
“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.”
Curators of the exhibition initially planned to source all 12 of their seniors through Watermark residents, however it wasn’t as easy as they thought. Many LGBTQ seniors are still not openly able to express who they are.
One married couple featured in the photo series, Paulette Thomas-Martin and Pat Martin, met at SAGE. While Martin came out when she was 16, Thomas-Martin was married with children and even expressed anti-gay sentiments before she came out, she told curators.
“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.”
The photos and stories of the 12 LGBTQ elders are displayed in the art gallery of The Watermark at Brooklyn Heights, perched in the wings above a grand dining room at the landmark building at 21 Clark Street.
The building is a piece of art and history in itself. Built in 1928 as the Leverich Towers Hotel, the elegant building was most recently owned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which built a network of tunnels underneath Brooklyn Heights connecting this property with neighboring properties it owned.
Residents have access to three restaurants in the grand setting, plus a performing arts stage, wellness venues, a heated indoor pool, a salon and spa and rooftop terrace with views of the Manhattan skyline.
Free public and socially distanced viewings of the Not Another Second exhibit at The Watermark at Brooklyn Heights will take place every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, from January 19 through March 2021.
To reserve a timed ticket to Not Another Second, visit notanothersecond.com.
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