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Not Another Second: LGBT+ seniors share their stories Not Another Second: LGBT+ seniors share their stories

LGBT+ seniors have demonstrated great resilience of humanity over hardship throughout the years, paving the way for a better and more accepting future for generations to come.

Not Another Second – the first in a national series of cultural exhibitions from Watermark Retirement Communities – tells the untold stories of 12 LGBT+ elders and explores the years they lost due to societal constraints.

The project acknowledges the sacrifices and contributions of these seniors, celebrates their beauty and bravery and empowers them to share their words of wisdom with younger generations.

Join the conversation: #notanothersecond

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LGBT+: Where’s the Q?
Viewers may notice that Not Another Second uses LGBT+ as a standard adjective. Some may ask: Where’s the Q? We know that the term “queer” or “genderqueer” has been reclaimed in the modern LGBT+ community, and we applaud that. Because of the history of the word “queer,” the term remains painfully pejorative to many seniors. Not Another Second uses LGBT+ out of respect for the experiences of the seniors featured in this exhibition, and we respectfully use + to signify queer identities and every other possible gender or sexuality identity or expression, with no exclusions intended. Learning and change takes generations. May the stories shared in this exhibit be heartwarming and eye-opening to all viewers, L, G, B, T, Q, heterosexual and +.

Not Another Second
The project offers audiences a candid glimpse into the private and public lives of 12 LGBT+ seniors who represent a wide range of diverse backgrounds, professions and ethnicities. These include a former politician, military veterans, a Stonewall survivor and Black Panther.

These stories are told through a series of compelling portraits that intersect personal experiences of living during a time when being an LGBT+ individual was a crime. The exhibition, shot by noted German photographer Karsten Thormaehlen, also celebrates their personal journeys on deciding to live openly, as well as finding love and companionship. Each moving portrait is accompanied by the number of years lost living in the closet and not as their true, authentic self, outside of their inner circle of trusted friends and family.

Years Lost
Outside their inner circles, most LGBT+ seniors have lived a good portion of their lives in the shadows, afraid to come out as their authentic selves or to openly express their love in greater society due to threats of social stigmatization and much worse. They consider those years to be lost as opposed to wasted, for despite having lived double lives, the participants we interviewed have lived fully with few, if any, regrets.

For this project, Years Lost refers to the number of years LGBT+ seniors were living double lives or otherwise suppressing their authentic selves outside their inner circles.

A Perfect Partnership
A collaboration between the nonprofit SAGE and Watermark Retirement Communities, Not Another Second highlights important statistics and facts to illustrate the challenges which are still faced by approximately 3 million LGBT+ elders in the United States (that number is expected to grow to around 7 million by 2030). Together, these partners recognize LGBT+ elders’ hard-earned contributions and advocacy and are committed to supporting these pioneers as they continue to generate change and hope. This physical and digital exhibition encourages viewers to join their pledge to continue to fight for what is right.

All funds raised by the Not Another Second campaign and book will be donated to Watermark for Kids, a nonprofit organization, in support of LGBT+ young people.

About SAGESAGE is a nonprofit advocacy and services organization that’s been looking out for LGBT+ elders since 1978. SAGE builds welcoming communities and keeps issues in the national conversation to ensure a fulfilling future for all LGBT+ people.

About Watermark Retirement Communities®Watermark continues its 30+ year commitment to creating extraordinary and innovative communities where people thrive. It is the company’s stance that residents, associates and family members, regardless of race, nationality, religion or sexual orientation, should all feel honored, welcome and included at all times in any Watermark community.

Working in partnership with SAGE and its SAGECare cultural competency training program since 2019, Watermark has engaged associates of more than 65 retirement communities in LGBT+ competency training in order to recognize and meet the needs of this segment of the aging population, as well as to provide living and working environments free from discrimination.

About Watermark for KidsWatermark for Kids is a nonprofit organization committed to helping young leaders who are financially under-resourced from all backgrounds pursue their passions, become independent, make a difference in the world and thrive. Through Watermark for Kids awards, young people ages 6 to 22 are empowered to build character, strengthen their leadership skills and express their creativity, compassion and spirit – to express their true selves. All proceeds collected from the sale of the Not Another Second book will be donated to Watermark for Kids in support of LGBT+ young people.

Stories & Statistics on LGBT+ Seniors

LGBT+ seniors are brave pioneers who stood up and pushed back, refusing to be treated as social outcasts, criminals and sinners or seen as mentally ill. Their living legacy includes hard-won federal rights for LGBT+ members to legally marry, adopt, work and seek housing and health care without discrimination.

Despite the gains they’ve helped achieve, today’s LGBT+ seniors still face daunting challenges. Many of the following statistics are reflected in the lives of those interviewed for Not Another Second.

Click on the individual portraits below to watch the untold stories by each of the 12 LGBT+ seniors.

Twenty-one percent of older LGBT+ adults have acted as a caregiver to friends, compared to only 6% of their heterosexual counterparts.

Forty-eight percent of all LGBT+ couples experience adverse treatment when seeking senior housing.

Thirty-four percent of all LGBT+ older adults fear having to re-closet themselves when seeking senior housing.

About 20% of all LGBT+ people avoid medical care out of fear of discrimination.

Fifty percent of transgender individuals have taught their medical providers about transgender care.

Forty-one percent of LGBT+ older adults report having a disability, compared to 35% of heterosexual older adults.

Nearly 60% of LGBT+ older adults report feeling a lack of companionship; more than 50% reported feeling isolated from others.

Half of the LGBT+ population lives in states with no laws prohibiting housing discrimination.

Forty-one percent of transgender people are reported to have attempted suicide.

Nearly one-third of all transgender people do not have a primary care doctor and report poor general health.

Twenty-one percent of all transgender people report that a doctor or other health care provider used harsh or abusive language while treating them.

About two-thirds of LGBT+ older adults have experienced victimization at least three times in their lives.

Source: SAGE and National Resource Center on LGBT Aging

Los Angeles

Following a celebrated run in New York City, Not Another Second will open in the Art Pavilion of Watermark’s newest Élan Collection community, The Watermark at Westwood Village, 947 Tiverton Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, 90024, in January 2023. Free public viewings of the Not Another Second exhibition will take place every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from January 28th through June 29th, 2023. Entry to the Westwood exhibition is by timed ticket reservations only. To reserve a time, please visit our reservation page. Complimentary parking is available on-site.

The portraits are displayed in an emotionally charged exhibition and feature state-of-the-art augmented reality (AR) technology through Kaleida Studio. With AR technology, visitors experience candid, one-on-one interviews with the 12 LGBT+ seniors as they tell their stories of integrity, resilience and humanity while paving a better way for future generations. These stories come from the individuals who were a part of the generation that lead the Stonewall uprising, founded political group ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and helped end the US military policy commonly referred to as “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

About the Photographer:
Karsten Thormaehlen

Trained in commercial graphic design, Karsten Thormaehlen is a self-taught German photographer. For advertising clients, he developed a keen talent for capturing the essence of products on film with a specialty in fashion photography and portraiture. He is best known, especially in Europe, for his portraits of centenarians. Centenarians intrigue him for many reasons, one of them being their wisdom. Two of Thormaehlen’s centenarian subjects were, at the time of taking the photos, the oldest women in the world. Shot from 2006 to 2011 in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, Thormaehlen’s collection of centenarian close-ups became an award-winning exhibition, Jahrhundertmensch, as well as a book, Mit hundert hat man noch Träume or Happy at 100. Through Thormaehlen’s captivating portraiture combined with his subjects’ stories, readers of Happy at 100 can better imagine and empathize with how it feels to belong to a very narrow segment of the population – those who have reached 100 years or more.

For Not Another Second, Thormaehlen’s assignment was to explore yet another narrow segment of the population: LGBT+ seniors in the U.S. More abundant yet far less understood than centenarians, their stories have been hard to come by, until now. Inside the pages of Not Another Second, striking images captured by Thormaehlen introduce readers to a range of emotions commonly shared by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender seniors. Through courage, conviction, sacrifice, love and hard-won pride, they have transcended fear, discrimination, rejection, loneliness and loss. Lost to them along the way have been families, friends, partners, income, health and, collectively, far too many years in hiding and uncertainty.

While their lost years cannot be regained, it is our hope that Thormaehlen’s portraits and the stories they illustrate will help seal a different fate for future generations, one in which not another second is lost.

Karsten Smiling

This is a very important project and it’s a very important job. I’m very honored to be asked. I think in our world nowadays, there’s a lack of humanity. I think people don’t care enough for each other. They don’t care for each other’s lives, you know, they don’t care for each other’s histories and the personal stories, and this is what we try to bring out, not only with the photograph but also with the interviews. Some of the people I photographed were hiding half of their lives or even longer … I think it’s important that people learn. Older people are good to listen to and to learn from. And this is what young people have to understand, because young people don’t have the life experience that a 70-, 80-year-old person has. That’s something you just cannot find clicking the internet. You need to see, and be, and share with these people, their stories.

— Karsten

Key Moments in LGBT+ History

Much has changed in 100 years. Those interviewed for Not Another Second lived through most of the decades highlighted below. How any one person can survive and thrive across such sweeping societal change is a complete wonder and a testament to the fortitude and adaptability of LGBT+ seniors.


Police begin raiding gay bars in major cities, starting decades of police harassment and intimidation of the LGBT+ community.

U.S. sex laws consider homosexuality a sex crime, along with others like rape and child molestation.

Bisexual singer Bessie Smith signs with Columbia Records and becomes one of the highest paid black entertainers in America.


New York Assembly bans discussion of homosexuality on the public stage.

Between 10,000 and 15,000 LGBT+ people are killed in Nazi concentration camps.


Alfred Kinsey publishes Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, which reports that around 10% of men are primarily homosexual.

Gays and lesbians are banned from serving in the U.S. military.


The American Psychiatric Association includes homosexuality on its list of mental disorders.

Immigrants are banned from entering the U.S. if they have a “psychopathic personality,” which includes homosexuality.

James Baldwin publishes Giovanni’s Room, and begins a literary career that explores homosexual, bisexual and interracial relationships.


Christine Jorgensen gains international attention for undergoing sex reassignment surgery.

National Organization for Women (NOW) becomes increasingly hostile to lesbian members.

Stonewall Uprising in New York City mark the unofficial beginning of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights movement. In present day, LGBT+ Pride celebrations are often held in summer months to commemorate the start of the LGBT+ rights movement.


American Psychiatric Association declares homosexuality is not a mental disorder.

Transgender individuals continue to be diagnosed with “gender dysphoria.”

Combahee River Collective, a black lesbian feminist organization, brings attention to race and racism within the women’s and gay liberation movements.

Activist Harvey Milk is the first openly gay man elected to office in California. In 1978, he is shot and killed in the San Francisco City Hall.

The first National March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights takes place in October 1979.


First reported cases of HIV/AIDS. In 1987, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) starts public demonstrations to push for AIDS research and education.

Gloria Anzaldúa publishes Borderlands/La Frontera, bringing Chicana lesbian issues to the attention of the feminist and women’s liberation movements.


Brandon Teena, a transgender man, is raped and killed. Brandon’s life is depicted in the film Boys Don’t Cry.

Congress passes Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)), defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages.

U.S. passes the “don’t ask don’t tell” law, barring homosexuals from serving in the military if they acknowledge their sexual orientation.


Lawrence v. Texas strikes down Texas’ sodomy laws, invalidating anti-sodomy legislation across the U.S.

Starting in 2003 with Massachusetts, states begin allowing same-sex marriage. At the same time, many states pass bans on same-sex marriage.


National Resource Center on LGBT Aging launches in 2010.

The “don’t ask don’t tell” law is repealed in December 2010.

In June 2013, United States v. Windsor strikes down section three of DOMA, allowing married gay and lesbian couples to receive federal benefits and protections.

Love wins. On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court officially declares same-sex marriage a constitutional right nationwide.

In July 2015, the military allows transgender Americans to serve openly. President Donald Trump rescinds this right in April 2019.

In June 2016, New York’s Stonewall Inn becomes the first-ever national monument dedicated to gay rights.

More than 150 LGBT+ candidates are elected into office during 2018 midterm elections.

Source: SAGE and National Resource Center on LGBT Aging

Not Another Second:
LGBT+ seniors share their stories


148-page Hardcover Coffee Table Book: more than 100 photographs, including all portraits featured in the exhibition + the complete, untold individual stories of each participant – read their full, expanded stories, told through their own words.

All proceeds collected from the sale of this book will be donated to Watermark for Kids, a nonprofit organization, in support of LGBT+ young people.

In The News


New York Times – November 27, 2021:
Growing Old in High Style




The New Yorker – March 1, 2021:
Tallying the Lost Years for L.G.B.T. Seniors


Time Out New York – February 25, 2021:
The Best Museum Exhibitions in NYC Right Now


New York Times – January 19, 2021:
The Stories of Those Who Lost Decades in the Closet

Time Out New York – January 7, 2021:
The best museum exhibitions in NYC right now

Time Out New York – January 4, 2021:
Best NYC Events in February 2021


The Advocate – December 17, 2020:
“12 LGBTQ+ Seniors Share the Joy of Being Out”


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