Honoring the Contribution of Seniors

SAGE’s Ninth Annual Awards Program raises $325,000

Dressed resplendently in evening wear, more than 300 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) seniors gathered at the Starlight Roof of the Waldorf Astoria on November 14 for the Ninth Annual SAGE Awards.

The event, which honored Elizabeth Ireland McCann, Tom Kirdahy, Terrence McNally and Chita Rivera, raised $325,000 to benefit programs and services for Seniors Active in a Gay Environment.

As Terry Kaelber, executive director of SAGE for the past eight years, took the stage to present his opening remarks, he noted that this year’s honorees had between them 47 Tony nominations, and 20 wins.

“We have more Tony awards represented here tonight than Broadway does… I’m starstruck,” said Scott Hamilton, director of communications and special projects at SAGE.

“We’re so excited; it brought in $325,000 and counting, and that exceeded our goal for this evening,” added Paula Pressley,

director of development for SAGE.

“That is so important because this is somewhat of an anomaly for us; we truly have an aging crisis that most of our community isn’t aware of,” said Kaelber. “Aging is generally not supported as much as it needs to be… so it’s wonderful that we’ve exceeded our goal. Hopefully, that means that our community as a whole is really starting to understand we need to be there for today’s seniors.”

Even the award presenters were noteworthy, beginning with actress Marian Seldes, who won a Tony award in 1947 for Edward Albee’s “A Delicate Balance.” Looking glorious in a beaded dinner jacket, Seldes, on hand to present a Lifetime Achievement Award to producer Elizabeth Ireland McCann, read an excerpt from a letter Albee had written her in October 15. Albee asked, “Have I gotten so old that all my friends are getting SAGE awards now?”

McCann spoke briefly on morality and the gay community before leaving the stage with her award, a miniature gold pyramid with a red base.

Congressman Tim Bishop, a Long Island Democrat, then rose to present the Ken Dawson Advocacy Award to Tom Kirdahy, who has done HIV/AIDS direct legal services since the early ‘90s. Kirdahy thanked him for standing up to the anti-gay smear campaign the Republican National Convention mounted during Bishop’s bid for re-election, and echoing McCann’s earlier statements, added, “Don’t let the word morality be stolen for the people in this room.”

Kirdahy, who was wed last December in Vermont to McNally, choked up as he took the opportunity to “publicly tell him that marrying him is the achievement of a lifetime.”

Friends of McNally then welcomed him, including Richard Thomas, of “The Waltons” fame, who collaborated with McNally on “The Stendahl Syndrome” last year. The audience laughed when Thomas relayed a conversation between himself and George H.W. Bush, in which the former president told him, “We have to recapture the values of the Waltons,” to which Thomas replied, “I had to remind him that the Waltons were New Deal Democrats.”

Then, actor Boyd Gaines, currently starring in the stage production of “Twelve Angry Men,” read from one of McNally’s plays, which had an enthralled Seldes on the edge of her seat.

Finally, composer John Kander of the legendary team Kander and Ebb—Fred Ebb died several months ago—talked about his collaboration with McNally and Rivera on “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” calling McNally “an inspiration, because of his compassion.”

McNally, who recently turned 65, spoke to SAGE’s mission. “I know one of the things gay people have to hear is they are going to be so alone when they get older… People don’t get that we have each other to take care of us. I am very happy for the future generation that we have come so far that we can have an organization like SAGE.”

In response to his partner Kirdahy, McNally simply said, “Tom, what can I say to you. You have good taste.”

After a touching introduction by Brian Stokes Mitchell of “Kiss Me Kate” and “Man of La Mancha” fame, the projectionist presented a montage of clips from Rivera’s performances. Stokes Mitchell then serenaded her with “The Impossible Dream.”

“There is no greater star than Chita Rivera. Equals perhaps, but greater than, no, never,” said Stokes Mitchell. “She is a triple threat, a true triple threat. She is a singer, she is an actor, and she dances a little.”

Rivera took to the dais in a stylish black dress with rows of ruffles, saying, “This has been an extraordinary evening for me to be here, first of all to be honored… and then to be in a room with such tremendously valuable people to the world.”

“There are very few closets left in New York City,” added Rivera to laughter. “How wonderful it is to look out and see freedom, freedom at last. This is an award that I shall treasure, truly treasure. I am so blessed to have the best people in the world as my friends… They have made me who I am.”

Rivera ended the night by singing “Love and Only Love” from the Broadway show, “The Visit.”

The event raised both awareness for LGBT senior issues, and funds for the new SAGE center, scheduled to open in Soho in January 2006.

Hamilton was happy that the event could educate the community on SAGE’s diverse programs.

“For me it’s personally exciting because it’s a chance for us to really talk about SAGE to a broader audience,” he said. “I think a lot of people look at SAGE and say, ‘Oh, you guys are great, you do work with old people,’ and that’s all they know. What they don’t know is the depth of the work we do… and really the intergenerational approach to aging.”

An example of such a program, said Hamilton, is SAGE’s support group for caregivers.

Kaelber told Gay City News that he began working as a volunteer for SAGE in his early 40s, “concerned about where I would end up when I got older.”

“I was astounded by what I was missing by having no contact with older people, and in essence no contact with my future,” said Kaelber, recalling a community he saw at the time as decimated by the AIDS crisis. “I got a sense of what my life span as a gay man is likely to be by coming to SAGE, and it actually brought a great deal of peace to me as a gay man that we really do have a long life and it can be wonderful.”

We also publish:

More from Around NYC