Are retirement communities open to LGBT seniors?

By Tara Bahrampour | The Washington Post

In 2016, as Kenneth MacLean was about to turn 90 and was looking to move to a retirement community, he had a question for Asbury Methodist Village in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

“I asked, ‘Would there be many gays here? Would gays be welcomed?’ ” MacLean, a retired Unitarian minister, wanted to be sure his partner of 22 years, a man who lives in England and spends several months a year visiting him, would be welcomed by staff and other residents.

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The staff member he talked to was generally positive about the community being welcoming, MacLean said, but “not quite ready” to answer his questions about gay residents. MacLean subsequently moved in and felt comfortable introducing his partner. But even after almost two years there, he has little sense of how many of his 1,400 fellow residents on the sprawling, leafy campus are also lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

That could soon change. Last month, Asbury became the first facility in the Washington, D.C., region to receive LGBT-friendly certification from SAGECare, a program run by SAGE, a national advocacy organization for older LGBT people.

The certification program began two years ago to address the needs of the aging Stonewall generation — LGBT people who were at the forefront of the national battles for equality and acceptance in the 20th century. An estimated 2.7 million Americans 50 or older identify as LGBT, and that number is projected to exceed 5 million by 2060, according to a study by the University of Washington.

As they age, it is not always easy to find facilities where they are comfortable being out. While a few cater primarily to an LGBT clientele, the vast majority of older LGBT people will live in facilities that serve the general population, according to SAGE. Many worry that their peers, raised in an era when homosexuality was seen as criminal or deviant behavior, will not be welcoming or that they will face hostility from staff.

A 2015 report from the advocacy group Justice in Aging found that over three quarters of older LGBT people thought they or their peers could not be open with the staff of a nursing home or assisted living facility about their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The SAGECare certification aims to address this, and so far, close to 300 providers in 45 states have received it.

Facilities in historically progressive places like California, Washington state and New York have been more proactive about indicating they are LGBT-friendly, said Rob Liebreich, Asbury’s executive director, who previously worked in Seattle.

But the Washington, D.C., metro area has been slower to adapt, and local LGBT people have worried they would have to go back into the closet or risk being mistreated. Looking into facilities, they are not always comfortable inquiring about policies regarding LGBT residents, relying instead on word of mouth or discreet conversations with current members.

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Source:: The Mercury News – Lifestyle


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