The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force estimates 3 million LGBT elders live in the United States. As Baby Boomers age, that number will grow. In some places, aging members of the LGBT community are driving a nascent movement. Forward thinking people are creating LGBT friendly retirement communities, building in acceptance and a supportive environment.
Can we do this otherwise, without special, prejudice- free facilities where aging LGBT folks are welcome?
For LGBT older adults, a lifetime of employment discrimination and other factors contribute to disproportionately high poverty rates, according to the National Consumer Law Center. Discrimination in care facilities likely mirrors society-wide discrimination, adding to the difficulties any aging person must face in deciding where to live and how to receive care in a dignified way. For low income LGBT senors, many of whom do not have children, there may be little or no family to take on the task of caregiving.
The Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) is the only federal law that prohibits discrimination in most private and public housing on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, disability and familial status. There are no explicit protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression for LGBT individuals under the FHA.
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Theoretically, housing itself may be available to LGBT individuals but those who are growing older need more than just a place to live. They may need assistance and care.
World News reported recently that Spain is getting its first LGBT retirement center in Madrid. The article quotes Federico Armenteros, founder of an NGO for Spain’s LGBT community. He cites the reason for building the center is that “elderly LGBT don’t exist” in the eyes of most people. That, he says, “pushes people back into the closet,” often those who have fought for equality during their younger years.
For those who have been out of the closet for some time, it would seem to be very depressing to have to go back to it and hide one’s orientation in order to get needed assistance in a care facility, senior’s apartment complex or assisted living community.
In my own area, a new LGBT friendly community has recently opened at Fountaingrove Lodge in Sonoma County, Ca. It was the concept of a family with a personal interest in the issues. Members of the LGBT community approached the Gallagher family and got their commitment to do the project. They wanted aging people to be welcomed, and not judged in a beautiful retirement setting. Part of this population has been marginalized. Many have lived most of their lives in the closet.
The project has 70 homes of varying sizes and offers a continuum of care including independent living, assisted living, memory care and hospice care. It has been opened just 4 1/2 months and the memory care portion is almost filled already. This is an upscale place, according to its marketing staff, for those who can afford the hefty entry fees and monthly rent. A low income LGBT friendly retirement home is in the works in San Francisco, with financial qualification criteria.
Staff training at Fountaingrove Lodge includes advice about what language to use that is considered politically correct in this population. The staff are taught to respect everyone, what challenges their residents are likely to face and how to deal with sexuality. Employees are carefully chosen to screen for an open attitude and willingness to accept everyone without judgment. There are other LGBT friendly projects across the U.S. but according to Fountaingrove Lodge staff, none of the others offer a continuum of care, with memory care and hospice also available.
Here at AgingParents.com, we have witnessed many of the ongoing challenges of aging which are difficult enough for elders without adding discrimination to the mix. No matter what a person’s sexual orientation, the problems of aging are there, and LGBT folks have to cope with financial capacity, loneliness, caregiving, family conflicts, elder abuse and dementia just like anyone else.
We support the concept of creating LGBT friendly places for all seniors to live. Every person deserves to age with dignity. In a community such as Fountaingrove Lodge, those with sufficient means to enjoy a great quality of life can do so without fear. For those with less means to pay for care, we hope to see more Federally approved retirement communities where anyone can live and age in freedom.
Until next time,