It’s no longer news that North America’s population is aging. In the United States, the number of people aged 85 and over will more than triple by 2050, and in Canada, the two fastest-growing age brackets are those 60-64, and then aged 100 and over.
But hidden within those growing numbers is significant diversity. According to some estimates, there are as many as three million Americans over the age of 50 who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered (LGBT). And that number could double in less than 20 years.
And today, even when the even though the retirement living industry is booming with niche communities, including those geared towards golf fans, art aficionados, and even those looking for a university-type experience, there are still major gaps.
For these three million LGBT Baby Boomers and seniors in the United States, there are only a total of five retirement homes specifically marketed to the gay and lesbian market.
Eric Harrison, Executive Director of GLEH (Gay & Lesbian Senior Housing), a developer of affordable communities aimed at LGBT seniors, told RetirementHomes.com in an interview that one of the major reasons for the shortage of housing options for older gays and lesbians is partly maintained by inequality of benefits afforded to them.
“LGBT seniors face the harsh reality that same-sex partners cannot receive Social Security survivor benefits; basic rights and hospital visitation are regularly denied to them, tax laws discriminate against same-sex partners, and Medicaid regulations do not protect the assets and homes of same-sex partners when their partner enters a nursing home or long-term care facility,” Harrison said.
Despite the challenges, Harrison said he believes the landscape is changing, thanks to increased lobbying efforts and efforts to address the problem on the part of the Obama White House.
Serena Worthington with SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders), an organization which promotes the causes of gay and lesbian seniors, said the situation is improving, but that LGBT seniors, like others, aren’t looking for special treatment, and are just looking for a comfortable environment for their retirement years.
“They lived through a lifetime of oppression,” she told RetirementHomes.com. “This generation is not coming in with a big rainbow flag pinned to their lapels.”
One community under construction in Santa Rosa, about 60 miles north of San Francisco, is Fountaingrove Lodge, a self-described ‘LGBT Retirement Community.’
With an open date scheduled for the summer of 2013, Fountaingrove Lodge expects to eventually house close to 150 seniors, split among independent living, assisted living, as well as memory care, according to Molly Gallaher, the VP of operations for Oakmont Senior Living, the developer of Fountaingrove.
Gallaher said while Fountaingrove will host all the regular amenities of a luxury retirement community – including a wine cave, wellness center, and pet park – the LGBT focus will primarily come through staff sensitivity training, as well as LGBT-focused excursions and activities.
And it appears that the local LGBT community has noticed: one year before it’s expected opening, Gallaher said about 97.5% of those who plan to move into Fountaingrove are members of the LGBT community.
Despite the challenges of gay and lesbian seniors have faced, and still continue to face, in gaining acceptance among their peers, Fountaingrove Lodge appears to be the latest sign in a changing landscape. As Serena Worthington said, “gay and lesbian seniors will not be willing to go back into the closet.”