Berkeley senior center organizes ‘Gay Day’ event with ‘Come as You Are’ theme

Joshua Jordan/File

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The North Berkeley Senior Center organized the 17th edition of “Gay Day” to celebrate Pride for all ages.

“Come as You Are” was the theme of this year’s Gay Day Pride Month lunch at the West Berkeley Service Center — the temporary home of the North Berkeley Senior Center. The tradition started 16 years ago and is now held annually. The event was open to the community, and live music and LGBTQ+ vendors from the community were featured for the public to enjoy.

Richard Castrillon, director of the North Berkeley Senior Center, said he believed it was important to show that the event was open to anyone, making this idea clear with the “Come as You Are” theme. The event this year saw the participation of seniors and young people alike who are part of the LGBTQ+ community or who wanted to celebrate Pride with the community.

“All the seniors participate; doors are open to the whole community,” Castrillon said.

Castrillon said the tradition started when seniors from the center who were part of the LGBTQ+ community noticed that not much has been done for older people regarding Pride.

According to Castrillon, the center is a welcoming place to all people, and it was decided that having a celebration for Pride was important. She said that no matter what their lifestyle, people are welcome at the center to “celebrate Pride and life.”

Apart from the annual event, the senior center also partners with other organizations to provide an “Older & Out” free drop-in therapy group for LGBTQ+ community members ages 60 and above every Friday from 3 to 4:45 p.m. The group meets at the West Berkeley Service Center and is sponsored by the Pacific Center for Human Growth — an organization that focuses on “well-being and self respect of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer youth, seniors and adults,” according to its Facebook page.

Executive Director of the Pacific Center Leslie Ewing highlighted the importance of celebrating Pride for members of older generations, specifying that a lot of them have “to go back into the closet” because of fear of social isolation, especially when they are not living in their own homes. Ewing also said the Pacific Center is working with an estimate of 600 people of all ages and that about 15 percent are over the age of 60.

Ewing said people in their 70s in the LGBTQ+ community did not have as many “social support organizations” in the past as young people do today, in a lot of cases having to “stay in the closet for keeping their jobs.”

Ewing reflected on the achievements made by the older generation and how they affected the present and the future of the LGBTQ+ community.

“Pride is about how far we came — in this case, how much fight these older people put in for us to be here,” Ewing said.

Contact Yasmin Cristina Graeml at [email protected].