Every Wednesday around noon, 35 elder gay men meet at to talk about world events, exchange personal news and sometimes even celebrate a birthday. Last week, a chocolate cake was given to Bob Green, who turned 77.
Incorporated in 1980 as the Society for Senior Gay and Lesbian Citizens, Project Rainbow was created to provide a place of acceptance and understanding for gay and lesbian people who found themselves alone and without adequate support in their senior years.
“About half of our participants are from West Hollywood and the other half from surrounding neighborhoods," said Project Rainbow President Pete Englander. "Here, there are no expectations and there is no judgment. We are here for each other in friendship and support. Our motto ["taking care of our own"] says it all.”
The men who come here every week grew up in an era when being gay was considered a terrible thing and gay men and women were often ostracized—not only by society, but by their families, said former President Dick Johnson.
“Older gay folks frequently have no family and have lost many friends to AIDS. The result can be an isolated and lonely life," he said. "Project Rainbow provides a place to socialize on a regular basis.”
Divorced from his wife of 17 years, Johnson, 74, now lives with a partner. A former administrator of academic affairs in the University of Nebraska system, he has two grown children.
“I have a terrific relationship with my children, who know about my life and are fine with it,” said Johnson, his face glowing as he talks about his twin grandsons.
Although open to everyone, the organization draws predominantly gay men over the age of 50. Because of the anti-gay climate in which they grew up, several of the men have been married and either divorced or widowed.
Bill Storm had been married for more than 42 years when his wife died. Still vital and active, he has enjoyed 101 trips with Elderhostel, an organization that offers travel and study programs for older adults.
When asked about his move from San Luis Obispo after the loss of his wife, he replied, “I live in the gay world now and enjoy spending time with the educated and interesting men in Project Rainbow.”
Harry Ben Cohn, 83, has been attending meetings for two years. “It’s an interesting group of people,” he said, “filled with intelligent people who are eager to share different points of view and learn from each other.”
A nonprofit organization, Project Rainbow received a large endowment during its early years. The accruing interest is used for operating expenses, a biannual luncheon and for donations to nonprofits. There is no cost to belong.
“Because so many of our participants have lost friends to AIDS, we tend to donate money to organizations that are in some way related,” said Englander. Project Angel Food is an example, as is PAWS, which enables seniors and people with AIDS to keep their pets.
If you would like more information about Project Rainbow, visit www.projectrainbowla.org, or call 213-694-1832.