I have always been weary of business ventures selling themselves as human interest stories to get free media promotion (see, for example, the hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles about LGBT travel, including all the ink spilled on Caribbean and Latin American LGBT sea cruises). It's the main reason, other than I haven't been blogging as much as of late, that I haven't written about what is being sold as the first-ever LGBT retirement recreational center in all of Latin America.
But then came the actual opening of the center last week in Buenos Aires and video posted online by La Nación ("First center for retired gays opens", Oct. 1, 2009). It moved me enough to write about it today.
The center was the idea of a lesbian couple who happen to be psychologists, Graciela Palestra and Silvina Tealdi. They founded the LGBT-rights organization Puerta Abierta ten years ago and have now decided to open el Centro Puerta Abierta a la Diversidad (The Open Door to Diversity Center).
The Center, described as having bright white walls, several large social rooms, smaller therapy and one-on-one counseling rooms, a kitchen, a balcony and a grilling area, was designed to make it a fun space, according to the founders. They also say they have received over fifty inquiries from people interested in becoming members.
On the video posted online, La Nación interviews Dr. Palestra and also talk to two members: Norma Castillo and her partner of 30 years Ramona Arévalo. Other members were encouraged to talk to media, they say, but none were willing to speak openly about their sexuality to a reporter or in front of a camera. Ms. Castillo, who is the president of the Center, says "it's not easy to get riled up to talk about their sexuality; society judges".
Here is a translated transcript of the interview:
NORMA CASTILLO: I was 35 years old... REPORTER: And did you have a boyfriend before...? NC: I was married... I was married. And so was she... I was homophobic! And later, when I went to a psychologist and began to look back, and see myself and to see things, that's when I realized that I was burying it all up. That my... Honestly, I thought I was heterosexual... RAMONA ARÉVALO: I was married, I have a son, male, but I didn't know this, that I'd be attracted to a woman as the years passed by, no? REPORTER: When did you discover that you liked women? RA: [Laughs] When I saw her... [the couple laugh] REPORTER: Did you know she was the love of your life? [NC laughs] RA: Possibly, I didn't know at the moment, but we both began to build it, no? [...] RA: When they are much older, it's harder for them to say that they are gay. NC: So they go to a regular retirement home and, when a woman who is single arrives, they look for a boyfriend [laughs] and so, she cannot say 'No, I don't want to have a boyfriend" [laughs]. GRACIELA BALESTRA: "Puerta Abierta a La Diversidad" [Open Door to Diversity] is the first center for pensioned and retired lesbians and gays in the Republic of Argentina, and - we also believe - in Latin America. The mission is to have a place, indeed, for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender seniors, so they can have their own place, get together as couples, get out of a solitary life. There is a lot of loneliness among older people. [...] REPORTER to RA: How was telling your son... RA: No. There was no problem. I told him, "I have a relationship with her". He told me: "Well, mommy, it was you; Perhaps it could have been my dad; So I won't make it an problem", he said. He didn't have any problems. GB: We offer psychotherapy specializing on homosexuality and we are welcoming to family members: Sons, fathers, mothers, also, of gays and lesbians. Couples... NC: I told you, it is very difficukt for older people, because one drags behind many taboos, a lot of fear about what people will say. Plus, you also have to have a bit of courage because, to go against the current, in whatever it is, is always difficult. GB: One tries to help in constructing this path to coming out of the closet, and to be increasingly authentic everywhere they go. It's not easy. Really, there is a lot of help needed.