Did you know that LGBT individuals in America represent approximately 4 percent of the population as of 2016? Senior citizens who identify with this group face unique challenges on every level. Unfortunately, being such a small percentage means that their complications, issues or problems are all too often ignored or unacknowledged. According to a 2017 study by Dr. Karen I. Fredriksen-Goldsen, a professor at the University of Washington, these challenges will almost certainly increase. Today, over 1.1 million Americans who are 65 or older currently identify as a member of the LGBT community, and there is no indication that the number will decrease. In fact, experts expect it to double within the next few decades.
Back in 1978, a small group of LGBT activists in New York City recognized that older members of their community had needs that were not being addressed. They founded Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders, or SAGE. Since then, SAGE has expanded nationwide, and it now offers a wide range of support, including support for older adults living with HIV or AIDS.
The SAGENet affiliates have expanded far beyond New York City to 20 states and the District of Columbia. The organization is active in advocacy work on the local level. To contact this groundbreaking organization, email sage@GLBThotline.org or call 888-234-SAGE.
One challenge older LGBT individuals frequently confront is discrimination within nursing homes or other care facilities. All too often, residents and/or workers have been known to be unkind to LGBT individuals because of their sexual preference. Treatment reminiscent of high school bullying, cliques, ostracizing and taunting openly exist in some senior living facilities. As a result, older LGBT individuals who are forced to live in a primarily heterosexual environment frequently choose to hide their sexuality.
The good news is that affordable housing for LGBT seniors is on the rise. In Fort Myers, Florida, Carefree Boulevard has become a welcoming community for older lesbians. In Philadelphia, the John C. Anderson Apartments occupy a six-story building and are so sought after that the wait list was capped at 100 right when they opened. In late 2016, the Openhouse Community of 50 residents opened in San Francisco after a 20-year planning process. In Chicago, the 79-unit Town Hall Apartments opened in 2014, and about 400 people applied. Located on 10 acres with 70 apartments and bungalows in California wine country, Fountaingrove Lodge in Santa Rosa, has been an upscale — and successful — LGBT retirement option. Some developments like Rainbow Vision in New Mexico have not fared as well.
Two new SAGE buildings — Ingersoll Senior Residences in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, and Crotona Senior Residences in the Bronx — are in the planning stages and scheduled to open in the summer of 2019.
Though many LGBT seniors have experienced some sort of discrimination for most of their lives, at last, property developers and social activists are working together to retire those types of unsavory experiences.
Marilyn Murray Willison has had a varied career as a six-time nonfiction author, columnist, motivational speaker and journalist in both the U.K. and the U.S. She is the author of The Self-Empowered Woman blog and the award-winning memoir “One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes.” She can be reached at www.marilynwillison.com. To find out more about Marilyn and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.