In 1969, the Stonewall Riots saw Manhattan’s West Village engulfed in brutality—and many historians mark the events as the beginning of the gay rights movement in the United States. And it was in November of 1978 that Harvey Milk, the San Francisco gay rights advocate, was assassinated along with Mayor George Moscone. The ensuing White Night Riots were also a marker of the changes taking place as members of the gay community made their voices heard. Many of the men and women who marched and fought in these demonstrations are now seeing silver hairs on their heads and wondering where they will be spending their retirement years. And, it seems these seniors are carving out a niche for themselves in retirement the same way they had to in society decades ago—by building communities in which to support and nurture each other.
Here in the Bay Area this new trend in senior housing is being celebrated with last week’s opening of the Barbary Lane Communities at Lake Merritt in Oakland. The independent living community is one of a handful that is geared towards the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. In many ways it is no surprise that the progressive and welcoming Bay Area is one of the handful of locations to house such a community; however, many more are popping up all over America, including some decidedly “red” states.
Gay seniors often face certain issues more commonly than their straight counterparts. Namely, members of the LGBT community are less likely to have adult children to care for them. There is also the issue that some have been ostracized by family members, meaning that overseeing and planning for their care sits squarely on their own shoulders. Also many states, counties or cities do not have domestic partner laws, ensuring gay couples face more red tape in securing benefits for their partners. Even in the gay community, senior-related issues are still relatively unexamined as gay rights efforts have traditionally been youth focused.
Perhaps most importantly, the value of these communities is exactly the same as any type of senior housing—it comes down to making a place where people feel welcome and happy to live. Many in the LGBT community feel that their golden years is no time to be crawling back into the proverbial closet, which many feel is what would happen if they lived in any other type of community. And, living in a place where specific needs and life experiences will be understood is important to all seniors regardless of sexual orientation.
The first LGBT communities were built in the late 1990s and the industry is still nascent. These communities offer independent living and occasionally assisted living, but very few also have skilled nursing care. In the LGBT senior housing market there are a few development companies, such as RainbowVision, but some larger companies known already in the long-term care industry have now joined in. Aegis Senior Living, a well-known West Coast assisted living management company, is currently building a LGBT senior community in Santa Rosa, California. All these companies hope to tap into a market whose potential hasn’t been fully explored. The majority of LGBT senior communities are clustered in states such as Arizona, New Mexico and Florida. Boston, Los Angeles, New York and Palm Springs also are popular sites. (Across the pond, LGBT retirement communities have sprung up in both Amsterdam and Stockholm.) As the long-term care industry grows it should be prove interesting to watch how these communities expand and hopefully flourish.
And that’s just some of what is new,