A Lakota two-spirit person was found dead of gunshot wounds outside Rapid City, South Dakota in August. Acey Morrison, 30, was among at least 30 trans or gender-nonconforming people to die in violent circumstances in the U.S. in 2022.
Morrison’s murder was reported early Sunday morning, August 21, by the owner of the mobile home she occupied in the Country Village Estates RV park.
Morrison came from a large family in South Dakota and Nebraska and worked at the local Walmart and Sam’s Club.
In a tribute published in Native Sun News Today, her family wrote: “Acey was what we call our two-spirit relative. To those she held in her heart and to those who held her in their hearts, seeing her in her wholeness.
“She always had her natural ways in being there for those she loved. She used laughter as medicine and chose self-love to heal wounds. She was the one to open her home up to you, give you her lasts, then inspire you to keep going, ‘this too shall pass.’”
“We will remember her as who she was to each of us: authentic, and unapologetic.”
The Human Rights Campaign reported 50 violent fatalities among trans and gender non-conforming people in 2021, including those who identified as two-spirit. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey indicates American Indian and Alaskan Native experienced a physical attack at more than twice the rate of all U.S. respondents, 19% to 9%.
A 2021 report by the Sovereign Bodies Institute and the California Rural Indian Health Board revealed among a small population of Native LGBTQ2S+ people, 90% reported experiencing two or more forms of violence.
Morrison’s family tribute ended: “She navigated this life through her big dreamer eyes and was always headed for the brighter days. So with that, we will remember her as who she was on her brightest days. We wish her healing and that our love be with her on her journey to the other side.”
This is National Suicide Prevention Week, which technically means that during this week we are to raise awareness for suicide prevention. Next week is, among other things, National Child Passenger Safety Awareness Week, and the last week in September is International Deaf Awareness Week.
Since I’m partially deaf, that week means something to me, but by the time we get to the week of October 9 and National Fire Prevention Week, will anyone remember the awareness raised a month before for suicide prevention?
We’ve filled so many weeks up in the calendar that we skip from one issue to another to another and to yet another, and we forget about what we were supposed to remember from the previous month. It mimics our short attention spans. We go from one shiny object to the next without much thought for the previous one.
I guess what’s discomfiting in a way about these weeks-of is that we just pass right by something as deadly serious as suicide, which is a perfect metaphor for suicide. It’s brushed off by those who hear about one with a flippant comment like “Oh, how horrible.” Or buried deep by those who contemplate it: “I don’t have anyone to talk to about the way I feel.”
Many people don’t like to talk about suicide, because in most of our minds it’s so selfish and gruesome. When I wrote a column last December about my experiences with suicide, I heard from many readers, some who said, “I can’t believe you were so open about it. That takes bravery.”
The truth is that talking about it is less bravery and more catharsis. I spent an inordinate amount of time on that column, trying very hard to make sure that people understood that suicide is not about being selfish or gruesome. It’s more about just disappearing because staying alive is just too gruesome. Is it selfish? Perhaps, but someone who tries to die by suicide isn’t thinking about “me, me, me.” They are thinking about getting rid of “me,” because “me” just doesn’t fit in, and continuing to be “me” isn’t an option.
We too often talk about the tragedy of youths and suicide, most notably those that are LGBTQ+. And rightly so, because lost youth, particularly for young peple who can’t be themselves, is an enormous loss for the future. Youth is about hope for the future, and when one of those lights goes out, our future looks a little dimmer.
And we don’t spend enough time talking about suicide among older adults, more pointedly, LGBTQ+ elder suicide. When I wrote my column, I mostly heard from older adults, and each of them talked about being lonely, depressed, and isolated. I also heard about not fitting into a community that values youth and appearance.
While we all agree that that isn’t right, there’s no way to dismiss our obsessions with being young and pretty. Instead of marveling at those who have weathered the tropical storm of life, we avoid looking at their hunched gaits, gray hairs, and wrinkles because, well, we don’t want those attributes. The bottom line, we don’t want to get old. If it’s not in front of us, then we don’t have to think about it. So we don’t think enough about our elders — at their peril.
I reached out to Sherrill Wayland (who uses she/they pronouns), who is director of special initiatives for SAGE, America’s oldest and largest nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender older adults. We discussed efforts to help prevent LGBTQ+ elders’ suicides by helping to combat social isolation, depression, anxiety — and substance abuse that so often helps trigger suicidal thoughts.
I asked Wayland how prevalent the problem of suicide is among older LGBTQ+ adults. “It’s estimated that 39 percent have had suicidal thoughts, and among older transgender adults over 65, they have an even greater risk of suicidal ideation and depression compared to their cisgender peers. Our research shows that two out of every five have tried, which is alarming,” she said.
Overall, Wayland said that LGBTQ+ elders over 65 have higher levels of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse and suicide compared to their cisgender peers, but that until recently, we’ve only begun to seriously address the issues. “For me personally, I live in St. Louis, and 15 years ago, all we heard about was the problem of suicide among LGBTQ youth, and it was barely mentioned for older adults, and it raised my concern level,” Wayland remembered.
“It’s easy to reflect on our own youth and the difficulty of coming out or inability to come out and all the struggles we went through when we were younger,” they added. “However, for so many of us it’s harder to relate to being older because we haven’t experienced being older, so we have no idea what it’s like. We’ve been raising awareness so that the concerns of the youth are the same as the concerns for the older population.”
For older adults, the number one contributing factor is social isolation, and according to Wayland, 59 percent of LGBTQ+ elders over 65 said they lacked companionship, and 53 percent said they felt isolated from others. Further, they are twice as likely to be single and live alone. “They often feel as if there’s no one to turn to for support,” Wayland said.
“And we often forget that some older adults still hide their sexuality because they are afraid they might lose their benefits like affordable housing or risk employment discrimination, so hiding their identities is another major problem, particularly if it’s a person of color, which only increases the level of stigma they feel, and their fear of not getting the help and services they need.”
In 2019, SAGE partnered with United Way Worldwide on a hotline that provides 24/7 support in 180 languages.
“The program provides an LGBTQ+ elder looking for help with a friendly responder who is able to listen to the feelings and concerns that the individuals express,” Wayland explained. “Prior to COVID, we were receiving approximately 30-40 calls a month, and now we get over 300 calls monthly. In some ways the increase is heartbreaking and in other ways heartening since perhaps more people are realizing that they have a place to call and are receiving the resources they need during a very challenging time.”
While the hotline is a great resource, I wondered what any of us could do to help? Wayland said that the main thing we can do is to simply be there for others. “If you recognize someone in your circle of friends who might be struggling, pick up the phone and call them. Invite them to lunch, check in with them, and don’t be afraid to let them know there are programs and people to help them. We really need to be there for each other, especially as we begin to age. And if you’re younger, take the opportunity to reach out to LGBTQ+ seniors.”
Along those lines, SAGE started a program called SAGE Connect which is a phone buddy program, with volunteers who do weekly phone calls with elders. “The program is intergenerational and is a great way to make a friend and stay connected,” Wayland said. “At its heart SAGE is a community of caring activists, who come together as a community to provide hope to one another. And hope is so critical to living life.”
As I wrote in December, “Some of us live in communities or circumstances or environments that don’t allow us to be who we really are and don’t give us the opportunity to live the way we were meant to live. And what’s really sad is that so many contemplate suicide as an escape rather than a real escape that would let hope shine through.”
John Casey is editor at large at The Advocate.
If you are having thoughts of suicide or are concerned that someone you know may be, resources are available to help. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 is for people of all ages and identities. Trans Lifeline, designed for transgender or gender-nonconforming people, can be reached at (877) 565-8860. The lifeline also provides resources to help with other crises, such as domestic violence situations. The Trevor Project Lifeline, for LGBTQ+ youth (ages 24 and younger), can be reached at (866) 488-7386. Users can also access chat services at TheTrevorProject.org/Help or text START to 678678.
Lisa Wetzel, an out lesbian, shared her life with her partner of 30 years, Judith Kahn, at the couple’s home in Illinois until Kahn died in 2013 of colon cancer.
As is the case with some same-sex couples who never married, Kahn’s family took legal possession of the couple’s home several years later, forcing Wetzel, who suffered from severe arthritis, to move into the Glen St. Andrew Living Community, a retirement and assisted living facility in Niles, Ill.
According to a lawsuit filed on her behalf in 2016 by the LGBTQ litigation group Lambda Legal, when word got out that Wetzel was a lesbian after she disclosed her sexual orientation to a fellow resident, she was called homophobic slurs, spat on, and assaulted on several occasions by other residents of the facility. The lawsuit, which later resulted in a court ruling in Wenzel’s favor, charged that officials at the Glen St. Andrew facility illegally failed to take action to prevent Wenzel from being subjected to abuse and threats by fellow residents and retaliated against her when she complained.
Lambda Legal announced one year ago, on Nov. 20, 2020, that Wenzel passed away at the age of 73 of natural causes after a landmark 2018 appeals court ruling in her favor affirmed that residential facilities such as the one in which she lived are legally responsible for the safety of tenant residents.
“Marsha spent the rest of her days in a senior living community where she was out and affirmed,” said Lambda Legal attorney Karen Loewy, who represented Wetzel in the lawsuit.
Advocates for LGBTQ seniors were hopeful that the 2018 U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruling in the Wetzel case would speed up the gradual but steady advances in the rights of LGBTQ elders in long-term care facilities and in society in general.
A short time later, the New York City-based national LGBTQ elder advocacy group SAGE expanded its programs providing cultural competency training for the nation’s long-term care residential facilities. And in some cities, including New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, LGBTQ specific retirement and long-term care facilities began to open to provide LGBTQ elders with a wide range of “wrap around” services in addition to a safe place to live.
But LGBTQ elder advocates were taken aback in October of this year when news surfaced that transgender U.S. Army veteran Lisa Oakley, 68, was denied placement in more than two-dozen long-term care facilities in Colorado in 2020 and earlier this year.
“When they found out I was transgender, a lot of the facilities didn’t want me,” Oakley told USA Today. “A lot of transgender people, I’m sure, face the same thing,” she said. “We’re humans, just like everybody else.”
Oakley told other media outlets her ordeal in trying to gain admission to a residential care facility began in October 2020, when she became unable to care for herself due to complications from diabetes. Her first choice was a facility in her hometown in rural Craig, Colo., where she had lived for the previous 25 years. She believes that facility turned her down because of her gender identity.
A social worker who assisted in Oakley’s applications for long-term care facilities said the facility in Craig said Oakley would have to be placed in a private room, which was at the time unavailable, “because she still has her ‘boy parts’ and cannot be placed with a woman” in a shared room.
Many other Colorado facilities to which Oakley applied for admission, according to social worker Cori Martin-Crawford, cited the COVID pandemic as the reason for not accepting new residents. But as COVID related restrictions began to subside, other facilities continued to deny Oakley admission.
With Martin-Crawford’s help, Oakley finally found a facility that is LGBTQ supportive in Grand Junction, Colo., which is nearly three hours away from her hometown of Craig, where she had hoped to remain.
LGBTQ activists expressed concern that the discrimination that Oakley faced took place in the state of Colorado, which has a state law that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Experts familiar with long-term care facilities for older adults have said many private elder care facilities can get around state LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws by claiming other reasons for turning down an LGBTQ person.
Michael Adams, the CEO of SAGE, told the Blade that the wide range of programs and initiatives put in place by SAGE and other groups advocating for LGBTQ elders in recent years have resulted in significant changes in support of LGBTQ seniors.
“It is the case now that in almost all states there are one or more elder care facilities that have been trained through our SAGECare program,” Adams said. “But it’s nowhere near what it needs to be,” he said. “It needs to be that there are welcoming elder care facilities in every single community in this country” for LGBTQ elders.
Adams was referring to the SAGE program started recently called SAGECare that arranges for employees and other officials at elder care facilities throughout the country to receive LGBTQ competency training. The facilities that participate in the program are designated “SAGECare credentialed,” and are included in SAGE database lists available to LGBTQ elders looking for a safe facility in which to reside.
SAGE spokesperson Christina Da Costa provided the Blade with data showing there have been 136,975 professionals trained at a total of 617 SAGECare credentialed organizations nationwide. Out of 617 organizations, 172 are residential communities. Also, out of the total of 617 are 167 Area Agencies on Aging, Aging and Disability Resource Centers, Senior Centers, and senior Ombudsman offices.
Da Costa said 278 of the credentialed entities that have received the SAGECare training throughout the country are “other aging focused nonprofit and for-profit businesses.”
According to SAGE, there are 12 SAGECare credentialed elder care facilities or service providers operating in the D.C. metropolitan area, with two located in D.C. One of the D.C. facilities is Ingleside at Rock Creek, located in Northwest D.C., which is a residential facility. The other is Options for Senior America, a company that provides in-home care services for seniors, including seniors living in D.C.
A SAGE list of the D.C.-area SAGECare credentialed facilities shows that three are in Rockville, Md.; two are in Gaithersburg, Md.; and one each are in Bethesda, Md.; Arlington, Va.; and Alexandria, Va. The list shows that one of them that provides services to elders in the D.C. area is based in North Carolina.
SAGE has a separate list of the 15 elder care residential facilities in the U.S. created specifically to serve LGBTQ residents.
None are in D.C., Maryland, or Virginia. However, SAGE says it has been working in cooperation with Mary’s House for Older Adults, a D.C.-based LGBTQ organization that advocates for LGBTQ seniors and is in the process of opening LGBTQ elder residential facilities in D.C. and others in the surrounding suburbs.
Mary’s House founder and CEO Dr. Imani Woody couldn’t immediately be reached to determine when the organization expects to open its first residential facility.
While a residential LGBTQ elder facility has yet to open in the D.C. area, activists note that in addition to Mary’s House, services and amenities for LGBTQ elders in the area are currently being provided by the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community and Whitman-Walker Health, the LGBTQ supportive health center, which also has a legal services branch.
Adams of SAGE said the Los Angeles LGBTQ Center opened the nation’s first LGBTQ elder residential facility over eight years ago called Triangle Square. He said the L.A. Center opened a second LGBTQ elder residential facility a short time later. And this week, the L.A. Center announced it has opened a third LGBTQ elder residential facility in Hollywood that is part of a larger “intergenerational campus” that will bring together LGBTQ seniors and LGBTQ youth.
SAGE, meanwhile, operates two LGBTQ elder long-term care residential facilities in New York City, one in Brooklyn called the Stonewall House and one in the Bronx called Pride House.
The other U.S. cities with LGBTQ elder residential facilities include: Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco (which has two such facilities), San Diego, Houston, Fort Lauderdale, and Islip, N.Y.
Adams said the LGBTQ elder residential facilities range in size, with the largest – New York’s Stonewall House – having 143 apartments that can accommodate 200 residents. He said others vary from 40 or 50 residential units to 120.
Advocates for LGBTQ elders point to what they consider another important breakthrough for LGBTQ elders this year in the release of a joint SAGE-Human Rights Campaign Long-Term Care Equality Index report for 2021. Adams said the report is the first of what could become an annual report and rating and scorecard for long-term care elder residential facilities and other elder facilities.
The 2021 report includes a self-reporting assessment of elder care facilities that the facilities themselves completed through a questionnaire in which many disclosed they have LGBTQ nondiscrimination policies for elders around admission to the facility and for practices by staff for those residing in their facilities.
The report includes a chart showing that 158 elder care facilities in 31 states responded positively to the outreach to them by organizers of the Long-Term Care Equality Index.
“We are thrilled to be working with SAGE and to be working with the Human Rights Campaign who are developing the Long-Term Care Equality Index,” said Nii-Quartelai Quartey, who serves as senior adviser and LGBTQ liaison for the American Association of Retired Persons or AARP.
“There is a great deal of work that we’re doing in the area of LGBTQ older adults nationwide,” Quartey told the Blade. “And AARP has been engaged with the LGBTQ community nationwide for many years now,” he said.
“In recent years, we’ve turned up the volume in working more closely with organizations like SAGE and Lambda Legal and the Victory Fund Institute, the Center for Black Equity, the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, and the Hispanic Federation.”
According to Quartey, a recent AARP study of LGBTQ elders called Maintaining Dignity shows that longstanding concerns of discrimination remain despite the many advances in support for LGBTQ seniors in recent years.
He said a survey that was part of the study found that 67 percent of the LGBTQ elders who responded, “were concerned about neglect in a long-term care setting.” Over 60 percent feared verbal or physical harassment in a long-term care setting and over half “felt forced to hide or deny their identity” as an LGBTQ person, Quartey said.
Another recent survey of LGBTQ elders conducted by SAGE asking them how they feel about the use of the word “queer” in descriptions of LGBTQ people yielded findings that came as a surprise to some, according to Adams. A large majority of those surveyed from across the country said they are “comfortable at this point using that word and reclaiming that word, which is different from what we had heard historically,” Adams said.
He said in response to those findings SAGE will now as an organization gradually shift to using the term LGBTQ instead of its past practice of using LGBT.
Although Congress has yet to pass the Equality Act, last year under the Trump Administration, Congress acted in a rare bipartisan way to approve the required five-year reauthorization of the U.S. Older Americans Act with new language supportive of LGBTQ older adults. President Trump signed the legislation.
The language includes a mandate for outreach to and reporting about services provided to LGBTQ older adults in federally funded programs. It also opens the way for LGBTQ older adults to be designated in a category of “greatest social need.” Under that category, older adults receive a higher priority in the allocation of resources by the federal government.
“We’ve come a long way, but we still have a way to go to get over the finish line,” said the AARP’s Quartey. “And aside from passing legislation federally and on the state and local level, we absolutely need to continue the hard work of changing hearts and minds,” he said.
Longtime gay activist and writer Brian McNaught, whose latest book, “On Being Gay and Gray – Our Stories, Gifts, and the Meaning of Our Lives,” was just released, says his own very informal survey of LGBTQ elders found there is a need for intimacy that may be too controversial for the establishment LGBTQ elder groups.
“I’m a SAGE volunteer and the 81-year-old man with whom I was working after his husband of 47 years died, said after his grieving process, ‘I want to be hugged and kissed. Does that make me a bad person?’”
McNaught told the Blade he assured the man those feelings do not make him a bad person. McNaught said the man’s comment prompted him to conduct further research, in which he found that some gay male elders in the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., area who often need assisted living support would like to patronize gay bathhouses or seek the services of an escort agency. He said he determined that any LGBTQ elder group providing such services would trigger “a huge uproar of protests” and most likely a loss of funding.
“We don’t want to talk about sexuality and aging,” McNaught said.
A married lesbian couple have won a lengthy legal battle against a retirement community that refused them housing due to the owners’ religious beliefs.
Mary Walsh, 72, and Beverly Nance, 68, have been together for 40 years and married for 10. In 2016 they applied to move to the Friendship Village senior living facility in St. Louis, where they hoped to spend their last years surrounded by friends with help on hand if they needed.
But once Friendship Village staff learned they were married they refused them, saying the home did not condone homosexuality. The letter they received said that the only married couples they accepted were those in unions between “one man and one woman”.
This blindsided the couple, who had already paid the $2,000 deposit under the assumption that their relationship was not an issue. They’d chosen Friendship Village for financial reasons, as the community offered care options they would need that weren’t available elsewhere without substantially extra costs.
Walsh and Beverly sued Friendship Village alleging housing discrimination, only to have their case dismissed last year when a judge found that the centre had indeed discriminated against them, but that it wasn’t illegal.
But the couple refused to back down, and their case was reinstated in July following the recent Bostock v. Clayton County ruling that determined sexual orientation was protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Walsh and Nance finally got their hard-won victory on Tuesday (8 December), after reaching a confidential settlement with the home.
“This has been a harrowing experience and one that I hope no other same-sex couple has to face,” Walsh said after the ruling was announced. “Bev and I are relieved that this case is now behind us and that we have closure after our lives were thrown into chaos.”
Their focus now is only “on their health and each other,” and trying to stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a documentary that premiered Wednesday in Rome, Pope Francis called for the passage of civil union laws for same-sex couples, departing from the position of the Vatican’s doctrinal office and the pope’s predecessors on the issue.
“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it,” Pope Francis said in the film, of his approach to pastoral care.
After those remarks, and in comments likely to spark controversy among Catholics, Pope Francis weighed in directly on the issue of civil unions for same-sex couples. “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered,” the pope said. “I stood up for that.”
I am very excited to announce these two online groups starting this week! Please read the descriptions below. Come and feel the connection, and take this time to nurture yourself. I will be a participating helper for John with the Men’s group. These are for seniors 55 and older. No charge, but donations to support our senior center are welcome.
Email me Scotty King at [email protected] for more information, or to sign up. Starts this week. Class accepts 12 people max, sign up now to save your space.
Gay Men/Bi/Trans Senior Support Group
Weekly group, Thursdays, 4:00-5:00 p.m.
Facilitator: John Olesen
No charge; donations encouraged.
Brothers! This time of international pandemic and isolation provides us with new opportunities to enjoy each other online.
You are welcome in this safe and supportive Zoom Group to explore sheltering at home, the “new” intimacy, sexuality, and men’s issues among others. Join John and Scotty to connect. Questions
about the group or Zoom?
John Olesen, MA, TEP, has been running experimental groups focused on helping people find connections for health and personal growth for over 30 years. He is the former Clinical Supervisor at the
Shanti Project in San Francisco serving people with a life-threatening illness and a co-founder of the Bay Area Morena Institute. Questions about the group or Zoom? Call John Olesen at 415-350-9007
Women Who Love Women: LBTQI Senior Support Group
Weekly on Tuesdays, 3:00-4:15 p.m.; Facilitator: Sharon Hawthorne
During this time of major social upheaval and change is the perfect time to pause and reflect on our own lives and to shape our intentions in order to move forward with mindfulness. Online via Zoom, this weekly discussion group will be a time of coming together to speak from the heart and to listen with compassion.
Still thinking about what you want to do/be when you grow up? Wondering if you’ll ever have a sexual relationship again? How can you contribute knowledge gained in your many years on this planet for the betterment of your own life and others? Whatever is on your mind- let’s encourage each other to speak bravely.
Sharon Hawthorne, facilitator, first worked with women seeking personal empowerment while student teaching The Personal Is Political at Sonoma State University in 1974. More recently, after completing
Senior Peer Counseling training, she led group sessions for both straight and gay women at the Sebastopol Area Senior Center. She is delighted to serve as facilitator for this special LBTI group.
Today we are all adapting to the complications of COVID-19 and its impact on our daily life. As we abide by current “stay-at-home” orders, we are learning how this reality may affect others in our communities. Researchers have found that social isolation and the subsequent feelings of loneliness can be lethal. The AARP Foundation put some perspective on this when it announced that social isolation can cause similar health effects to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
While we are all experiencing some level of isolation, the difficulty truly is compounded for some at-risk communities. Perhaps these feelings are no greater than for our LGBTQ older adults, who already have a higher percentage of health issues (Williams Institute) that could lead to more serious risks from COVID-19. Their need for accessible connected technology may exceed those of other communities; a high-speed broadband connection to shop for groceries at home, communicate with healthcare providers without leaving home, and stay informed with news and information from the immediate community as well as broader public health updates.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed existing inequalities, and exacerbated struggles already present for vulnerable populations. Reports estimate that there are around 3 million LGBT adults over age 50, and by the end of this decade the number will grow to around 7 million. LGBT older individuals’ loneliness and isolation are compounded by several factors: they are twice as likely to live alone; four times less likely to have children; often confront discrimination and social stigma; and are more likely to face poverty and homelessness and be in poor health. The Williams Institute has revealed that older LGBT adults face social and health disparities in a number of critical areas, resulting in worse physical and mental health compared to heterosexual older adults.
The current economic conditions add another layer of stress to an already burdened community. While many have experienced financial hardship during this pandemic, LGBT people collectively have a poverty rate of 21.6%, which is much higher than the rate for the cisgender straight people of 15.7%.
All of these factors contribute to the health and wellbeing of the LGBTQ older adults during this COVID-19 pandemic. For all LGBTQ individuals, going online has always been a “must-do” activity. Research conducted by The LGBT Technology Partnership has revealed that 80% of LGBTQ respondents participate in a social networking site (such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter) compared to 58% of the general public. Searching the internet for health information is particularly important for lesbians whose unique health needs are often overlooked.
The LGBTQ older community are a critical at-risk segment within the larger digital divide plaguing our aging population. With only a little over half of those age 65 who now have broadband at home (Pew Research), the opportunity for older “at risk” communities existing in isolation without a tech “lifeline” raises great concern.
We suggest that a multi-pronged approach is essential to serve this underserved community. First, the policy world needs to increase efforts to expand telehealth services, especially for older patients, to help combat the realities of the coronavirus.
Additionally, as the country moves to contact tracing it is vital to remember that any tech-heavy solution may have a disparate impact on seniors who may be less tech savvy than other populations.
Finally, support must be maintained and even increased to community and social organizations that target older LGBTQ individuals. Community centers, places of worship and social organizations that cater to this community need to receive special training, education and resources that can help protect this vulnerable population.
The COVID-19 virus will continue to affect each of us, but the increased vulnerability of our senior and LGBTQ communities requires unique strategies to ensure everyone stays as safe and healthy.
Carlos Gutierrez is Deputy Director & General Counsel for the LGBT Technology Partnership & Institute, which works to improve access, increase inclusion, ensure safety and empower entrepreneurship for LGBT communities around technology. Debra Berlyn is executive director of the Project to Get Older Adults onLine (Project GOAL) and president of Consumer Policy Solutions.
Pat and Paulette Martin, both 68, live in Harlem, New York City. They have been together four and a half years and were married in April 2018. “All is well,” said Pat in a recent Zoom call, smiling of the lesbian couple’s time in coronavirus lockdown. “Well, we haven’t murdered each other yet anyway!”
Paulette said the couple was “blessed” to have a courtyard to relax and get some air in and do some gardening. Pat said: “Isolation is the problem. Quite a few of our friends have lost partners, so they are not as blessed as we are. We can still go out. But hearing the constant sirens of ambulances wears on your nerves, it really does. You watch the Doomsday news and it becomes a bit much. That’s the main thing of feeling isolated. You feel so alone.”
The couple—who tell their lockdown stories, along with other LGBTQ seniors below—are among 5,000 New York City seniors who are members of SAGE, the country’s oldest and largest LGBTQ elder advocacy organization, founded in 1978. SAGE is “very actively engaged” with calling 3,000 of its constituents and organizing meal deliveries to those who need them.
“The two major issues facing LGBTQ elders right now are isolation and food,” said Michael Adams, SAGE’s chief executive officer. “Older LGBTQ people have been told they are a high-risk group and to shelter in place. Many can’t go shopping or get food to eat. It’s a complete vicious circle, which for many people feels inescapable at this point. We used to provide a hot meal every day at our center. Now that isn’t available, and people are understandably afraid to go out and do shopping.”
The situation is worse for those on lower incomes, he said, whose local neighborhoods perhaps don’t have a supermarket.
The organization has launched SAGE Connect, a volunteer-run telephone support system to ensure LGBTQ seniors feel connected to the outside world.
“Over and over again, what we’re hearing from them that the person calling them is the only human voice they’re hearing all week, other than what they’re hearing on TV or online,” Adams said. “This is the only human contact that many of them are having. That is a powerful and deeply troubling reality.”
“LGBTQ elders are absolutely suffering and in many ways are at the epicenter of this pandemic, and not just because of their age,” said Adams. “Those with underlying health conditions are at greater risk for COVID-19. HIV leads to compromised immune systems; smoking rates are higher with LGBTQ older adults, which can lead to compromised lungs. Twenty-five percent of the LGBTQ elders SAGE works with don’t have any emergency contact other than SAGE.
“The other major issue is a lot of LGBTQ seniors are already socially isolated,” said Adams. “They don’t have anyone to rely on. Twenty-five percent of the LGBTQ elders SAGE works with don’t have any emergency contact other than SAGE. Being an older LGBTQ person, having underlying health conditions, and being isolated is a huge triple whammy.”
Eleven SAGE members have died since March 16, a SAGE spokesperson said. “Only a handful have been confirmed as COVID-19 related. The others were not able to obtain the test because of the limitations of testing.”
The organization believes that currently “10 or so” members have been told by their health-care provider that they are possibly positive and that they should self-quarantine. The organization has lost contact with some of its constituents who are not answering their phones or responding to emails. SAGE does not know if this is related to COVID-19.
“For many of those getting sick, they’re not getting tested because tests are hard to access and people are afraid to leave their homes to get tested,” said Adams. “It’s hard to know if they have COVID-19 or something else.”
Isolation is particularly acute for LGBTQ seniors, Adams said. “They are four times less likely to be parents than older Americans in general. Whereas most older Americans have adult children, they do not. They are twice as likely to grow old living alone without partners or spouses than older Americans in general. Because of discrimination and bias, LGBTQ elders are more likely to be disassociated from their families of origin than older Americans in general.”
“The traditional family structure is missing for many of our folks,” Adams said. “When folks are younger in the LGBTQ community, they deal with that by forming ‘families of choice.’ But there’s a limitation to that when you’re 75, 80, 90, and it’s harder to form such support networks.”
LGBTQ seniors may not feel safe where they reside in private or public housing, or within the residential care system. Adams said some “go back into the closet” in fear of homophobia and mistreatment by neighbors or nursing staff. “You can understand why,” said Adams. “There is a lot of discrimination still going on.”
I’m used to doing my own thing. This makes me feel isolated in the sense of a lack of activity.
Even in progressive urban centers like New York City, Adams said, LGBTQ seniors may go to a senior center to build new relationships but experience homophobia from other seniors. “At SAGE, they are embraced for who they are,” he added.
Ellen Ensig-Brodsky, who is 87 and lives in New York City, told The Daily Beast: “If you sit alone in a one-room apartment, it’s isolated. I’m still very active. I live in the center of New York City, down the block from MoMA, Carnegie Hall, and Broadway. I’m used to doing my own thing. This makes me feel isolated in the sense of a lack of activity.”
Ensig-Brodsky has a daughter, son, and grandchildren, whom she keeps in touch with by phone, and she is also in regular touch with members of the women’s group she belongs to at SAGE.
“I am fortunate to be speaking to people and feel closer to people perhaps than those who do not have that kind of interaction in this horrible period,” she told The Daily Beast. “If someone is not part of a family group, or a group like the one I’m in at SAGE, I would think it would be extremely lonesome.” (More of Ensig-Brodsky’s story is below.)
At Stonewall House in Brooklyn, New York City’s first LGBTQ senior living residential housing, which opened last year, 100 out of the 145 apartments are occupied, after the full moving-in process was put on hold following the outbreak of the coronavirus. That freeze will remain in place until the city gives the green light. Residents are being cared for by SAGE staff and having their meals delivered.
Being locked down has been tough for the residents, Adams said, especially those who moved to a new neighborhood to be there and are now “basically trapped indoors,” without access to their previous support networks.
SAGE has moved many of the meetings previously held in its New York HQ online. In the first couple of weeks, SAGE hosted a grab-and-go meal distribution at its Seventh Avenue base. But it was deemed too risky, health-wise, to continue, for both staff and clients. Adams has been “heartened” to see the elders supporting each other.
New York City has initiated a home delivery program for older adults, acknowledged Adams, though “several hundred SAGE constituents” were among those who had “fallen through its cracks.” Since then the organization has moved to introduce “a hodgepodge of strategies” to ensure its members are fed. The organization has an affiliates’ network in 30 other American cities doing some version of what it does in New York.
Adams said those people wanting to support LGBTQ seniors could volunteer to help with SAGE’s programs and virtual classes, or simply donate to SAGE. The organization, he said, isn’t in danger of closing but—like so many other advocacy organizations—is facing “very serious financial challenges.”
At a virtual hearing held last week on the coronavirus’ disproportionate impact on communities of color, Adams, speaking about LGBTQ seniors of color and LGBTQ seniors generally, presented eight recommendations to New York City lawmakers.
Among the recommendations was: ensuring virtual support programs received proper funding; that the city and state’s severe budget shortfalls did not affect the care and support of LGBTQ elders; that there should be ongoing financial support of all those services deemed “essential” to LGBTQ elders; that there should be funding of volunteering programs to shop and run errands for older adults; and ensuring the provision of proper internet access for older people.
An executive budget meeting is scheduled for May 21, and then the New York City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio will likely agree on a budget in late June.The thing at the back of your mind is ‘How many years do I have left?’
Adams told The Daily Beast one story of an older lesbian who had fractured her clavicle in the middle of the night and had no one to turn to, and was too frightened of going to the hospital. She went online and figured out how to make a sling. “It shows the isolation but also the resilience many older LGBTQ people have.”
The virus has raised other urgent questions for LGBTQ seniors: the quality, as well as quantity, of the life they have left. Kevin Burns, 71, from Albany, told The Daily Beast: “The thing at the back of your mind is ‘How many years do I have left?’ It’s complicated. In your seventies, you are hoping to do things, because in your eighties you may have to slow down. For the last couple of months, we have lost this time, and we are thinking, ‘How much more time are we going to lose?’”
LGBTQ seniors speak out on life under lockdown
Ellen Ensig-Brodsky: “There is an openness and truthfulness. We know about each other”
For Ellen Ensig-Brodsky, despite the isolation that LGBTQ seniors endure, “in some ways, LGBTQ people share connections that most straight people do not, which is extremely important, especially in periods like this. There is an openness and truthfulness. We know about each other.”
This forging of connections is rooted in history, she said. “Go back 40 years, and it was very different then than it is now. Back then you didn’t say you were gay or lesbian. You hid it, and you met in places that were hidden. My family knows now, and it’s no big deal. But years it ago it would have been. And look at geography. You might feel OK being out in New York City, but not the Midwest.”
Ensig-Brodsky does not have a partner presently, “but my family is made up of ex-partners and we are in touch.” That group of friends includes the surviving wife of a now-deceased ex-husband, whom her children encouraged her to go stay with so both women could have company. Ensig-Brodsky did so for three and a half weeks, then returned to the city.If you reach out, it will give you a sense of connection, and you may be helping someone else.
“I prefer being in back in my own apartment,” she said. “I can dance, listen to music, watch TV. I’m happier here even though I am alone.” It helped, she said, that she was brought up as an only child, reliant on her own company. She goes for walks, does errands, and then—just as she did the day before we spoke—“didn’t get out of my pajamas and stayed in bed all day, nibbling away at all kinds of goodies.”
Ensig-Brodsky laughed. “I was a medical nutritionist, and I have not been following what I preached. I would lose my job if I saw what I was eating!”
She is looking forward to normality returning. “I need a haircut, and a lot of women feel that way. But when will those theater and concert venues be able to open?”
Other older LGBTQ people, Ensig-Brodsky said, should reach out to others by calling or email. “If you reach out, it will give you a sense of connection, and you may be helping someone else. It creates a pathway to the future and shows who’s there for you.”
Pat and Paulette Martin: “We felt it was time for us to take responsibility for ourselves”
Pat and Paulette Martin, who first met at SAGE Harlem, said LGBTQ seniors faced special issues living under lockdown.
“We were told from the beginning that coronavirus especially affected their age group,” said Paulette. “Our immune systems are weaker, the virus attacks organs and blood. So because you’re older you have this worry it’s just going to come and get you. So you isolate.
“Where the older LGBTQ community is not being understood is that we are from a generation where we were attacked for who we were, we didn’t get services or medical care because of our sexuality. You have that experience embedded long before this came along. A lot of people I know feel this.” Right now, speaking to friends face to face via Zoom is important, she said, and better than just phone calls.
Just as SAGE’s Michael Adams said, food is a huge issue, said Paulette, not just because of the difficulty of accessing it and the fear of going to a grocery store. “We give food bank details to as many people as we can. Older people have dietary restrictions, and so even if we are getting fresh food or food parcels or other items, sodium affects blood pressure, or if you have cancer you shouldn’t be eating processed food.
“Older people get very anxious about their medications too,” said Paulette. “Right now, they can’t go out and pick them up, and are relying on others to deliver them. This whole situation is taking away a lot of our independence in a lot of areas, and we are frustrated by that. Going for walks was a form of exercise before this, and now some people feel they can’t do that.”
There are, said Pat, “layers of frustration,” made more acute by being an LGBTQ senior of color, “the triple-edged sword of ‘you’re a person of color, you’re gay or lesbian, and you’re a senior.’ There’s a fear of going out. Will you be accosted? Police are accosting African Americans with masks on because they think we are up to something. Going out is a realistic fear for us.”
“We are coming together as a social justice group,” said Pat. “We feel for a long time we have been pushed to the side. Back in the day, clubs and bars in the 1970s and ’80s were primarily for white lesbians, and if we went we were refused entry or if we were given entry to a free club, all of a sudden there was an admission cost. If you look now, most of the LGBTQ organizations of substance who have money and get all the publicity are headed by white folks. So we came together because we felt it was time for us to take responsibility for ourselves.”
The group, comprising women of all ages, has members from New York, New Jersey, Washington, Chicago, North Carolina, South Carolina, and California.
Pat hopes the older women in the group can be role models for younger women, who may only have male relations—a father, brother, or uncle—to emulate. “A lot of them don’t know how to go to a doctor and say, ‘I’m a lesbian, sleeping with women. This is what I need.’ We need to be role models and teach these younger lesbians about self-care, how to run their own businesses, and share experiences. The buck stops here. We can no longer rely on anyone else to do it. We have to do it for ourselves.” Start every day with a prayer, whatever your spiritual belief is. Then take a shower. Don’t put on pajamas. Put on clothes. Do a skincare routine. Exercise.
Paulette said this was a good time to look at how, as a couple, you can “enrich” your relationship and work on things that are not right in it, in areas like communication and finances. “It’s hard to do,” she admitted, “so set some ground rules. But it’s better to try changing something than staying stuck with old stuff.” The key, said Pat, “was looking at how you can move forward in unity, while remaining individuals.”
To get through this time, Paulette recommended other LGBTQ seniors initiate a routine. “Start every day with a prayer, whatever your spiritual belief is. Then take a shower. Don’t put on pajamas. Put on clothes. Do a skincare routine. Exercise. It’s so important. Have breakfast, coffee, or whatever your morning beverage is. Journal. Read. Turn off the TV news. Reach out to people. Take your eyes off yourself and cast them to someone else.”
Pat added that if you have ever dreamed of doing anything, like running your own business, now is the time to get those plans down on paper. “Create a bucket list. Think about life, not death.”
Kevin Burns: “The virus is cheating us of our remaining time”
Kevin Burns, 71, from Albany, New York, considers himself lucky. He has his own home, and while he lives alone, he feels very connected to a wide circle of friends and family. He has enjoyed Zoom cocktail hours, and his regular trivia quiz group has been meeting the same way. Being at home “hasn’t been a terrible strain.” It’s been good to see familiar faces, albeit virtually.
He is one of the “Vintage Pride” group of those LGBTQ people aged 55 and older belonging to Albany’s Pride Center of the Capital Region. The LGBTQ center is closed now, and Burns knows many people for whom their pot-luck lunches were their only social outlet.
He goes to the grocery store roughly once a week, shopping at special senior hours. He misses the gym and hanging out with friends. “Not having those benchmarks in a typical week to look forward to takes quite a mental adjustment. Just as everybody is finding, every Tuesday evening is now like every Friday evening. There’s no difference.”
Having spoken to friends, Burns said the psychological impact of the coronavirus on LGBTQ elders has been pronounced.
“As many years as we hope we have, they are running down, and now we are deprived of what we enjoy doing even if it’s once a week, or whatever the time frame is and whatever the activity is. The virus is cheating us of our remaining time. For me, personally, spring was a time to travel. Not being able to do that is a minor glitch compared to other people’s suffering. But as seniors, we all have things we look forward to. This current situation means we can’t do anything. How long will this go on? How long will older people be told they cannot go out, or do things?”
Burns and his friends presume this spring and summer are now a diary-date tundra. No dinners, no holidays, no Broadway trips, no Tanglewood, no Williamstown Theatre Festival, no trips to the Cape or Maine before the main holiday season begins. “I know this may sound frivolous. I know people are suffering. But these are just the things I did and am missing. I know I am lucky, and am thankful for that.”People talk about the danger of underlying issues. We all have the same underlying issue: It’s age!
“You can watch a DVD and get takeout, sure,” he said. “But when you’re a senior, you’re isolated anyway. Now you’re more so.”
Every senior Burns knows is being scrupulous about wearing a mask and washing hands. He laughed. “People talk about the danger of underlying issues. We all have the same underlying issue: It’s age! It’s kind of infuriating to do what we’re told and then see younger people hanging out together not wearing masks when I go out walking. I’m not making judgments, but are they going into stores, or seeing grandparents afterwards? Please think about those people. I’ve heard them complaining about wearing the masks and saying they can’t breathe in them. Well, wait till you’re 70-something!”
On the other hand, Burns said, it has been heartening to have younger people in his life reaching out to him and doing things to make sure he knew he is included in Zoom chats they are setting up.
Whatever opens up, whenever it opens up, Burns said he and his friends won’t be going anywhere until they feel assured about a vaccine or proper and accessible medical treatment. “If it takes another six months, that’s really tough, but if it means whatever is left of our lives is spent in relative good health, minus COVID, then it’s worth waiting.”
“Reach out and find other people,” Burns advised his fellow LGBTQ seniors. “I had never hosted a Zoom meeting. I didn’t know how to do it. It took a few steps, trial and error, but it paid off for me and my friends because now we can get together. It was a lot easier than I thought. Motivate yourselves to reach out.”
Before coming out as transgender, Nicole Garcia prayed daily that God would “fix” her. When her prayers weren’t answered and the feeling in her gut didn’t go away, she gave up on religion.
Now, nearly four decades later, Garcia stands behind the pulpit at Westview Lutheran Church in Boulder, Colorado, and delivers weekly sermons to a congregation of more than 100 faithful as their ordained pastor.
“Nobody can question my faith, my devotion to Christ, my devotion to the church. That’s why I’m the pastor here,” Garcia,who turned 60 Thursday, told NBC News. “Being trans is secondary.”
Garcia, who delivered her first sermon at Westview earlier this month, is the first known transgender Latina to serve as a pastor within the 4 million-strong Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — an unanticipated position for someone who grew up in the Roman Catholic Church and left religion entirely for nearly 20 years.
‘I had never felt comfortable in my own skin’
One of Garcia’s earliest memories is of her grandmother kneeling on the cold kitchen floor of her Colorado farm, praying the rosary in Spanish while the voice of Francisco “Paco” Sanchez buzzed through the radio. She still has the worn black rosary that her grandmother gave her when Garcia was just five years old.
Growing up in the ‘60s, Garcia said she had a traditionally paramount role as the “oldest son” in a devoutly Roman Catholic Latino family. She went to church two to three times each weekend and played guitar in the choir. But she said something about her life was off-kilter.
As she got older, an uncomfortable feeling loomed over her, though she struggled to put a finger on exactly what it was. As a teenager, Garcia recalled, she loved to dress up in women’s clothing. She’d even stash outfits in hidden spots around her house to make sure that side of her stayed secret.
“I had never felt comfortable in my own skin. I had always been chastised for doing the wrong thing,” Garcia said. “Everything just felt wrong. I did everything my male cousins would do, but it was just awkward and it didn’t come naturally.”
She said she prayed every day that God could take those uncomfortable feelings away, but her prayers continued to go unanswered. In 1982, in her early 20s, Garcia left the church.
For the next few years, Garcia descended into a spiral of alcohol abuse and partying, which she said became her excuse for “dressing up” and dating men. But after years of heavy drinking and hopping between low-paying retail jobs, she found herself living in a cousin’s trailer in Boulder and going through alcohol withdrawals.
“I realized something had gone terribly wrong,” she said. “I decided it was time to change my life.”
‘I had my come-to-Jesus moment’
Garcia moved out of the trailer and into an apartment in nearby Longmont, where she met a woman at karaoke night. The two dated for a year before they married at a Catholic church in 1994. They eventually bought a house in downtown Denver, and Garcia found a new career as a corrections officer.
From the outside, it looked like Garcia had turned her life around. However, she still felt like she didn’t belong in her body. Every morning before work, Garcia said, she wanted to put on women’s clothes, and when it came time to put on her corrections uniform, it felt like a costume.
“As soon as I got home and I took off the uniform, I was exhausted. All my energy was used just to perform that day,” she said. “I’d drink a pint of Jack Daniels and three or four beers just to be able to calm down and relax.”
Garcia’s marriage crumbled after 8 years, and her wife asked for a divorce in 2002. After they separated, Garcia was sitting at her kitchen table, wondering why she had thrown away what seemed like an ideal life.
“I had my come-to-Jesus moment. It wasn’t one of those, “Oh please, oh please, help me,’” she explained. “It was more, “Alright you son of a b—h, if I’m going to come back, you better step it up this time.’”
‘I’ve always been Nicole’
In a fortuitous turn of events, just two days after her “come-to-Jesus moment,” Garcia received a message offering free therapy sessions for corrections officers. After only a few appointments, Garcia unearthed the uneasy feeling she had struggled with her whole life.
“Within a month or so, I told her my deepest, darkest secret: That for my entire life, as long as I can remember, I have always loved wearing women’s clothing,” she said. “I realized in that moment that I’ve always been Nicole; I’ve always been a woman.”
“I knew at that point I had to transition,” Garcia added. “I could finally put a name on what I was going through.”
Garcia’s therapist recommended she visit the Gender Identity Center of Colorado. It was there that she met another transitioning law enforcement officer who encouraged her to attend a service at the Saint Paul Lutheran Church in Denver.
“I was sure I would walk in and they’d say, “Look at that man in a dress,” but they didn’t,” Garcia recalled. “They were lovely; they embraced me. I just felt at home.”
In 2003, shortly after she started her transition, she became a Lutheran, and soon after began working with an organization called Reconciling in Christ, which works toward full acceptance of the LGBTQ community within the Lutheran denomination. Five years later, Garcia was elected to the group’s national board of directors as their transgender representative, and in that position she continued to campaign for the advancement of LGBTQ people into pastoral positions.
While Garcia immediately felt accepted by the Lutheran congregation early in her transition process, she said her mother had a harder time accepting that the “oldest son” in their Roman Catholic family wanted to transition to a woman. For the first few months, she said her mother stopped speaking to her entirely. When they finally reconciled, it was under the pretense that Garcia had to present as male in their home, combing her long hair back into a ponytail and wearing her corrections officer uniform.
During her yearslong transitioning process, Garcia helped take care of her stepfather, Joe Mayes, who had terminal bone cancer. Garcia said Mayes, who died of cancer in 2005, immediately accepted her as Nicole.
“I would ask him, ‘Papa, why were you so accepting and loving?’” she recalled. “He said, ‘Because I finally saw you happy. For so many years you were morose, you were drunk, you were angry, and now you look happy.’”
Though it took nearly a year for Garcia’s mother to accept her as Nicole, her mother was happy to see her child had returned to the church.In 2013, a decade after she started her transition and found her way back to Christianity, Garcia left her position as a corrections officer to attend seminary school.
During her years at seminary, Garcia became the director of congregational care at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Boulder, and her presence in the community became even more formidable. At her ordination in November of this year, over 200 people came to celebrate her trailblazing service as an advocate and leader among Lutherans.
Garcia was then asked to step in at the newly formed Westview Lutheran Church in Boulder as their pastor. The church’s first service was Dec. 1, and Garcia stood before the congregation, a vibrant red stole draped over her shoulders.
Garcia said she hopes her presence behind the pulpit encourages other LGBTQ people and people of color to step forward through faith.
“As a transgender Latina, I bring a breath of fresh air into all the places I walk into,” she said.
More than 39 million people in the U.S. are age 65 years or older including 2.4 million people who identify as LGBTQ+, according to the American Psychology Association.
As the baby boomer generation ages, the senior population will increase from 12.8 percent to an estimated 19 percent in 2030. Psychological service providers and care givers for older adults need to be sensitive to the histories and concerns of LGBTQ folks and to be open-minded, affirming and supportive towards LGBT older adults to ensure accessible, competent, quality care. As GBTQ people age, they find themselves facing unique challenges, including access to information and resources, as well as isolation and loneliness. That’s where Living Out Palm Springs comes in.
“Knowing that too many LGBTQ seniors live in unsafe or even openly hostile environments, we wanted to address this issue that is near and dear to us by creating a safe and beautiful community for those 55 and over. The Living Out development will be the first of its kind in the Southern California area,” said Living Out co-founder and creator Loren S. Ostrow. “Living Out Palm Springs was designed by, invested in and created by members of our community who recognize the unique needs we face as we begin the next chapters of our lives.”
Los Angeles-based real estate development company KOAR International LLC, announced recently that Living Out Palm Springs – an active retirement community designed to meet the unique needs of LGBTQ adults – will break ground this fall.
Living Out Palm Springs will provide a safe, supportive and enriched environment in which LGBTQ seniors can live openly and thrive, according to a press release. LGBTQ seniors currently face very limited options for welcoming and inclusive senior living environments. Living Out communities will celebrate the LGBTQ aging experience in a way that has yet to be realized. Living Out Palm Springs will be ideal for seniors who live in, travel to or would like to have a second home with resort-like amenities in the celebrated desert community of Palm Springs.
The Pride LA spoke with Ostrow on what residents can expect. Check it out:
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Loren Ostrow. I am a real estate attorney and developer. I have served on the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles LGBTQ Center for more than 20 years, the National LGBTQ Task Force for nine years and the Board of Trustees of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood. My business partner of 40 years, Paul Alanis, has been an extraordinary ally over our four decades of association.
Luann Boylan recently joined us Marketing Director for the Living Out project. LuAnn has served with Loren on the LGBTQ Center’s Board for over 27 years.
In one sentence what is Living Out?
Living Out is a luxury condominium community for active LGBTQ 55+ persons in Palm Springs; a community designed to provide LGBTQ seniors a safe, welcoming, inclusive experience where they can live comfortably out as an LGBTQ person.
Can you elaborate more?
Living Out is a nine-acre oasis designed to provide its residents with a five-star, resort-style living experience in historic Palm Springs. Architecturally, Living Out is authentic to its surroundings, referencing the iconic Mid-Century Modern style for which Palm Springs is famous. Our homes feature open floor plans, large lanais, elegant appointments and an exceptional attention to detail, all wrapped in magnificently landscaped grounds and stunning desert mountain views.
At the heart of the Living Out concept is the element of community and we have incorporated opportunities throughout the property for people to come together and enjoy “being home.” Some of the amenities we are providing that encourage the building of community include:
Resort-style lagoon pool
Lap pool and spa
4 pickleball courts
2 bocce ball courts
Community BBQ and fire pit areas
Lushly landscaped dog park
Casual dining restaurant
Private screening room
Community gathering room
Grab-and-go coffee shop and community workspace
In short, Living Out has been designed to be the home you have always wanted and the community every LGBTQ person deserves.
Why is there a need for such housing in Palm Springs?
While straight individuals have many opportunities available to them for retirement communities, LGBTQ 55+ people have virtually no opportunities to live openly and comfortably. Unfortunately, one hears stories of LGBTQ individuals and couples being ostracized or discriminated against in the broader retirement world, often being forced back into the closet.
While Palm Springs is one of the most supportive environments for LGTBQ people in the country, as one ages the sense of loneliness can be palpable and I hope to provide a community within a community where people can live comfortably and safely.
What is the story behind the creation of Living Out?
I have been thinking about this issue for over 30 years knowing that the LGBTQ community would age as does the general community. Having served on the Board of the LA Center since 1993, I have seen the glaring disparities in the opportunities for LGBTQ people to live in safe, inclusive environments as they age.
Of course, there are non-profit agencies, like the Center, that provide services for LGBTQ seniors who are less financially able to provide for themselves. However, it occurred to me, there are very few options available to members of our community who are financially independent and would like to live in an LGBTQ-focused community that is supportive of and, in fact, celebrates living authentically. Living Out has been designed to be that option.
In what ways does Living Out create an inclusive and safe environment for LGBTQ+ seniors?
Celebrating living authentically is the core concept of Living Out, not a byproduct or an afterthought. To create an environment where that concept can be realized requires infusing all of our efforts with a consciousness about what it means to be inclusive and what it takes to feel safe. That has been made possible, in part, by having Living Out envisioned by, designed by, and invested in by members of the LGBTQ community who recognize the unique needs our community faces as we begin the next chapter of our lives. This consciousness translates into creating living and community spaces that are open, inviting and purposefully designed to support the concept of community, while offering the safety of knowing you are in an environment that is not “in spite of you” but is “because of you.”
What’s in store for Living Out’s future?
Living Out Palm Springs will break ground in December of this year and will take approximately 18 months to complete, making our move-in date as early as June, 2021 but no later than September, 2021. And, as Palm Springs is being completed, Living Out is exploring and developing other venues for active LGBTQ seniors across the country.