When Richard Rhodes’ partner passed away in 2003, the then-66-year-old gay Atlanta resident thought he was done with relationships.
“I originally thought, well hell, I’m past the age where anybody will be interested in anything,” he tells Georgia Voice.
So he wasn’t looking to date anyone, but he did want to get out there and meet people, so he started taking part in activities provided by LGBT senior groups SAGE Atlanta and Atlanta Prime Timers.
“This man came to a SAGE meeting one day and I was very taken with him and we just started talking and I told him I thought he would like Prime Timers better,” Rhodes says. “So he showed up at Prime Timers with another man. We were friends for a year and they broke up and I moved in for the kill.”
Rhodes, now 78, and William Castro, 60, have been dating for two years. And it’s thanks to programs like SAGE and Atlanta Prime Timers, which continue to provide a number of services for LGBT seniors throughout the metro Atlanta area.
National organizations have Atlanta chapters
SAGE is a national organization with 24 chapters in 16 states across the country. The group is open to women and men and has events like social hours and potluck dinners as well as therapeutic services like chair yoga classes, and also advocates for policies and legislation that will create a better quality of life for LGBT seniors. The Atlanta chapter is a program of The Health Initiative.
Atlanta Prime Timers, on the other hand, is a men’s group whose national chapter was founded in Boston in 1987. The organization serves primarily as a social group, although it does work in the community as well. The Atlanta chapter has over 200 men involved.
“We have a multitude of functions where people get to meet each other and converse, whether it be a potluck, we have luncheons inside and outside the Perimeter, some people go to the symphony and have dinner before, there are theater groups,” says Atlanta Prime Timers board chair John Christensen. “This month we’re going to the Ponce City Market for a tour and a distillery in Atlanta. All of this is for the ability for people to meet each other.”
Christensen says it’s a good alternative for those looking for friendship or romantic companionship and don’t want to mess with the bar scene or dating apps.
“We get requests from people that are retired or new to the area and they’re not into the bar scene and they’re not into some of the so-called ‘typical’ meeting places for gay or bisexual men so they come to Prime Timers and through that they meet different people,” he says.
And love does occasionally bloom, as in the case of Rhodes and Castro and another couple Christensen says met at one of the functions and just bought a house together.
Apps and happiness
Even if he had been looking for a love interest, Rhodes says he would have been wary about using dating or hookup apps.
“I’ve always been one of these kinds of people that when you get to a certain age, I just assumed that if you were on Grindr or something and somebody showed an interest in you, that they probably thought that you had money that you could throw away on them,” he says. “I was just happy being around people my own age in the organizations.”
But just because hookup apps might not be in the picture doesn’t mean sex among LGBT seniors isn’t either.
“With the people that I know in Prime Timers, it’s pretty much a going thing,” Rhodes says. “Of course I’m older than most of the ones in Prime Timers, they start in their 50s primarily, but they’re still having active sex lives.”
Rhodes is just happy being with the man he’s with.
“The thing that I think is great about the relationship that I’m in is that we have so many things that we enjoy doing, but I’m not jealous of him playing tennis four times a week and he’s not jealous that I go to SLCA [Spiritual Living Center of Atlanta] and I’m quite involved in their GLBT organization. Some relationships, and this is true at any age, people get together and they start losing all of their other friends and it gets down to just being two people. And I think sometimes when that gets to be bad is if one of them passes away or a relationship breaks up, all of a sudden you’ve kind of shut out everybody else in your life and it makes it very difficult to start going out again.
“It’s been a good relationship. We go to movies together and play cards together and we eat together a lot. It’s real companionship.”