People often ask me, “Why do we need a place for LGBT older people to live? Don’t we have enough nursing homes and retirement homes for them to use?”
So I often share the story of John, a well-to-do gay elder who was found deceased — in his welcoming, upscale retirement complex. He had stopped going to church. He had stopped playing cards and going to the clubs. He had stopped interacting with his friends.
Or I sometimes share the sorrow of my older friend, Helen, who after the death of her partner, was asked by her partner’s siblings to leave the home they shared. And how she now lives with her brother, who “harasses me for my gay lifestyle.”
Aging as a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or same-gender loving (LGBTQ/SGL) person can bring different challenges than aging as a mainstream elder. Often, we don’t have the same support network of children and spouses — or the caregiving and financial support that they provide; we may be estranged from our families of origin; we have lost many of our peers and our friends through the HIV/AIDS epidemic; and we, as a group, are more likely to live alone. In addition, research is verifying what many of us have known for a while: that the stigma and discrimination associated with being old and being LGBTQ/SGL can be just too hard. It can be so hard, in fact, that many of us go back into the closet. As we begin to access the senior/wellness centers, retirement complexes and nursing homes, this fear of discrimination makes us unable to be our whole selves, increasing the potential of drug and alcohol addiction, neglect of our health issues, depression, and suicide. Increased social isolation among LGBTQ/SGL elders is at an all-time high.
Mary’s House for Older Adults, Inc. was organized to create welcoming environments for LGBTQ/SGL elders in their golden years. Our first major initiative is building a physical residence in Washington, DC for fifteen elders. However, we acknowledge that we cannot build enough LGBTQ/SGL welcoming spaces for all of the people who will need them. So, our mission also includes training and education for the staff and residents of existing spaces: senior wellness centers, retirement complexes and nursing homes that serve and house us. We also are involved in public policy advocacy that impacts LGBTQ/SGL older adults and elders locally and nationally. We invite you to join our small, mighty band of supporters and volunteers and help us CHANGE our city and the country, one residence, one elder at a time! Feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how to get involved. I look forward to hearing from you!
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.