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@example.com 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.
A St. Louis County senior community has denied housing to a married lesbian couple who have been together for nearly four decades because of the couple’s sexual orientation, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court.
Mary Walsh, 72, and Bev Nance, 68, both of Shrewsbury, say the Friendship Village senior living community, which has locations in Sunset Hills and Chesterfield, denied occupancy to the couple to live at the Sunset Hills community in 2016 because their relationship violated its cohabitation policy that defines marriage as “the union of one man and one woman, as marriage is understood in the Bible,” according to the lawsuit.
The policy, the suit says, violates the Fair Housing Act and the Missouri Human Rights Act. It names Friendship Village and its parent company FV Services Inc. as defendants. The couple is represented by the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Washington D.C.-based firm Relman, Dane & Colfax.
When it comes to aging-related concerns, older LGBT adults worry most about having adequate family and other social support to rely on as they age, discrimination in long-term care (LTC) facilities, and access to LGBT-sensitive services for seniors, according to a new AARP survey. Black and Latino LGBT adults report the greatest concern about future family and social supports, and greater worry about potential abuse in LTC facilities because of their race/ethnicity and sexual orientation/gender identity.
The survey, “Maintaining Dignity: Understanding and Responding to the Challenges Facing Older LGBT Americans,” found gay men and lesbians have similar concerns about whether they’ll have enough family and/or social support. However, gay men are more likely than lesbians to be single, live alone, and have smaller support systems, which may put them at higher risk for isolation as they age. Transgender adults also report smaller support systems and are at an increased risk of isolation, while bisexuals are least likely to be “out” within health systems.
“Older LGBT adults often have serious concerns about aging with dignity, compounded primarily by fears of discrimination and lack of social support,” said Nii-Quartelai Quartey, Ed.D., AARP Senior Advisor and LGBT Liaison. “LGBT adults are clearly saying that they want LGBT-sensitive long-term care and other services.”
Over half (52 percent) of LGBT adults said they fear discrimination in health care as they age. A majority are especially concerned about facing neglect, abuse, and verbal or physical harassment in LTC facilities, with Black LGBT adults reporting the highest level of concern.
Most LGBT adults (88 percent) want providers in LTC facilities who are specifically trained to meet LGBT patient needs. They also want some providers or staff who are themselves LGBT.
Nearly one-third of older LGBT adults were at least somewhat worried about having to hide their LGBT identity in order to have access to suitable housing options.
“With well over a million LGBT seniors in the US, a number that will double by 2030, this is an opportunity for the health care and housing industries to step up and meet the needs of this growing demographic that aspires to thrive not hide as they age” said Quartey.
Who will speak for you if you can’t speak for yourself?
Live in accord with your beliefs and values. Fulfill the goals that have meaning for you. Enjoy your favorite comforts: Isn’t that how you should get to live right up to your last breath—even if a medical crisis means that you are unable to make decisions for yourself?
In honor of National Healthcare Decisions Day and Week, April 15-22, My Care, My Plan: Speak Up, Sonoma County will hold several free workshopsin Sonoma, Petaluma and Santa Rosa to encourage residents to speak up now about how they want to be treated if incapacitated in a future medical situation.
“What would your most important priorities be if you were very ill and unable to participate in decision-making? What would matter to you most if your time were very limited? Who would you want to be prepared to speak for yourself in such moments? What would you want to be sure your loved ones and health care team knew you would want to avoid, if at all possible? These are some of the important questions to discuss with your loved ones,” says Gary Johanson, MD, Medical Director, Memorial Hospice and St. Joseph Palliative Care Services.
Two workshops on Who Will Decide? will be Wednesday, April 11, 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Hospice of Petaluma, and Wednesday, April 18, 5:30-7:30 p.m., at Memorial Hospice, Santa Rosa.
Friday, April 13, 12:30–1:30 p.m., Steven Pantilat, M.D., Director, UCSF Palliative Care Program, will address Living Well with Serious Illness, at Vintage House in Sonoma. His talk will be followed by two Complete Your Advance Health Care Directive workshops, one at 2 p.m. and another starting at 6:30 p.m.
On Tuesday, April 17, 2-4 p.m., a Who Will Speak for You If You Can’t Speak for Yourself? workshop in Santa Rosa will be led by Dr. Johanson of Memorial Hospice and St. Joseph Palliative Care Services, and Dorothy Foster, MFT and co-chair of My Care My Plan: Speak Up, Sonoma County.
“Documentation of your wishes, through completion of an advance care directive, is part of the process,” says Foster. “It’s not something you do just once, but multiple times over your lifespan, because your priorities at age 25 are bound to be different at age 55 or 85.”
My Care, My Plan: Speak Up, Sonoma County’s (MyCareMyPlanSonoma.org) vision is for every adult in the county to become educated and empowered to express his/her wishes about end-of-life care, to have the opportunity to do so, and to have their wishes honored in a medical crisis. This is an initiative of the Committee for Healthcare Improvement and Sonoma County Health Action, mobilizing community partnerships and resources to achieve equity and improve health for all in Sonoma County. MCMP is a collaborative of organizations and individuals from the private, public, nonprofit, and volunteer sectors, including local health care and social service organizations and other community partners.
Free Workshops on Advance Care Planning
Who Will Speak for You When You Can’t Speak for Yourself?