Not all elderly gays are as lucky as Alzheimer’s patient Jim Anthony, whose lover Bruce Steiner watches over him. Thousands of gays have no other choice but to move into retirement homes, where they face old discrimination in a new context:
…Moving gay residents to placate others is common, said Dr. Melinda Lantz, chief of geriatric psychiatry at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, who spent 13 years in a similar post at the Jewish Home and Hospital Lifecare System. “When you’re stuck and have to move someone because they’re being ganged up on, you put them with people who are very confused,” Dr. Lantz said. “That’s a terrible nuts-and-bolts reality.”
The most common reaction, in a generation accustomed to being in the closet, is a retreat back to the invisibility that was necessary for most of their lives, when homosexuality was considered both a crime and a mental illness. A partner is identified as a brother. No pictures or gay-themed books are left around.
Elderly heterosexuals also suffer the indignities of old age, but not to the same extent, Dr. Lantz said. “There is something special about having to hide this part of your identity at a time when your entire identity is threatened,” she said. “That’s a faster pathway to depression, failure to thrive and even premature death.”
While there are certainly queer-centric retirement homes, thousands of gays continue to languish in the shadows. As if growing older ain’t scary enough…