Advocates and city officials celebrated the unveiling of a mural at the SAGE Center Bronx at Crotona Pride House, a community center for LGBTQ seniors, on September 27.
Karen “KayLove” Pedrosa, a queer Bronx native artist born to Puerto Rican parents, designed the mural based on a survey last fall of over 100 community members.
“They wanted the mural to be very colorful and bold and bright, and to have elements of the Caribbean, South America, and Central America,” Pedrosa told Gay City News. She made the mural using spray paint, and wrote “SAGE” in graffiti letters in honor of the 50th anniversary of hip hop in the Bronx.
The mural features three butterflies, a reference to the Mirabal Sisters, who stood up for women’s rights and equality in the Dominican Republic during the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo.
The butterflies also represent “the LGBT community and what we go through as a metamorphosis,” Pedrosa said. “We all start off in this cocoon stage. … It’s a journey of going and finding ourselves, and then finding that when we’re free and we’re out … we can soar to any heights.”
The mural also features a coqui, a frog native to Puerto Rico, that resonates with many Puerto Rican members of SAGE Center Bronx’s community, Pedrosa said.
Wednesday’s mural unveiling, attended by NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, also served as an opportunity to celebrate the SAGE Center Bronx’s new space, which opened its doors in 2021 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The SAGE Center Bronx first opened in 2015, but was run out of a tiny second-floor, one-room space, said Jose Collazo, the community center’s site director.
SAGE is the world’s largest organization serving and advocating for seniors in the LGBTQ community, and runs six centers across New York City.
“We were growing out of our space at the time,” Collazo told Gay City News. “More people were hearing about us; they were really loving some of our programs.”
The community center runs programs including art classes, computer classes, and a twice-monthly food pantry. It also takes LGBTQ seniors on day trips to places like City Island. Collazo estimates they serve 50 to 60 people every day they’re open.
It’s an important meeting place for LGBTQ people in the Bronx to find community, Collazo said. “Many of our LGBT participants live alone or don’t have children … and so many of our participants come here to find … a sense of family,” he said.
The occasion marked more than “just unveiling this amazing work of art,” said Darcy Connors, executive director of SAGEServes, which provides services out of the center. “Today’s celebration is a firm recognition and commemoration of the progress we have already made in creating more welcoming spaces and community resources for LGBTQ+ elders.”
“I’m proud of the work we have already accomplished and see this as the start of an exciting new chapter for our Bronx community,” Connors said.
Pedrosa said the best part of creating the mural was spending time with LGBTQ seniors at the center, whether it would be listening to their advice or singing karaoke.
“They would pull me out from doing the mural and say ‘come sing with us, sing with us,’” she said. She also taught them how to use spray paint.
“It’s just so welcoming here,” Pedrosa said, speaking on the phone from in front of the mural. “It’s a beautiful thing to have this [space] for our elders.”