Getting Old Sucks Even Worse For LGBT Seniors

The image of a frisky senior citizen chasing buxom candy stripers around the nursing home is so nonthreatening it’s almost charming. But if that same senior was making passes at the male orderlies, America wouldn’t look on it so kindly. As the first generation of gays to live out and proud ages into the adult-care sector, more and more LGBT elders are finding themselves going back into the closet.

In this week’s East Bay Express, Nancy Lopez reports:

Part of the problem is that we know very little about LGBT seniors — their fears, the extent of their health needs, and how to begin to address them.

Currently, no national health data exist to keep tabs on the size of this population or adequately assess their particular health needs. The National Health Interview Survey — the most referenced federal health survey — doesn’t include lesbian and gay people, much less seniors. The lack of evidence-based research has resulted in little to no funding from federal and state governments toward LGBT-specific programs or education. According to Outing Age 2010, a recent report by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, “due to a lack of commitment by federal and state governments to study LGBT people, the specific vulnerabilities of LGBT elders are hidden from view and thus impossible to address.”

Lopez writes heartbreakingly about gay seniors who face isolation, segregation and outright discrimination.

…[A] senior who frequents the Rainbow Community Center’s senior lunches had to move his partner of nearly forty years into a small board and care — typically, this kind of facility is family-run and more affordable. His partner had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. One day as he was hugging and kissing his partner, a staff person walked into the room.

“The staff decided that the healthy partner was molesting the other partner and reported him to the state,” said [Rainbow Community Center director Ben] Barr, noting that management went so far as to try to have the healthy partner’s benefits taken away. Barr said the healthy partner managed to stop the complaint.

“If this had been a heterosexual couple, a wife hugging her husband, they wouldn’t have set off alarm bells,” said Barr.

There are signs of improvement, at least in the greater Bay Area, which has one of the largest gay populations in the country. Salem Lutheran Home in Oakland and the five-star Chaparral House in Berkeley are noted for the attention and respect they give to their gay residents. And the Rainbow Community Center connects volunteers with elderly gays in need of companionship and assistance. But nationwide, LGBT seniors are still a population that’s woefully underserved; invisible in many ways.

Gay Seniors Face Challenges in Nursing Homes from Nancy Lopez on Vimeo.


The tragic irony is that a generation ago, many gay men never thought they’d live to see 40. Having survived the AID crisis, they now find themselves unprepared to face the many little deaths of age and infirmity.


Images via Stephen Lowenstein and pdxqcer


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  • randy

    Jesus, now I’m depressed.

  • Jonas

    Am I the only one who wants to go and visit Bob now?

  • ewe

    I think we should be concentrating on the financial issues because Bob is one of the lucky ones.

  • Jim Hlavac

    You know, there’s more and more gay retirement communities, including assisted living services, that are opening up. Meanwhile, I recall that a gay couple moved into my mother’s retirement community (separate condo style) in Florida back in the mid-1990s – and people were upset — so I had to go calm some nerves and all was well; they lived there for about 10 years before death took them, within months of each other. Meanwhile, I take care of an 89 year old WWII vet, still in his own home. Somehow I think gay seniors are going to be taken care of, by us younger gays, and our own families. This is a new era for gay folks, and I think it’ll turn out OK. Never have I felt more positive about this all.

  • Dan Avery

    Jim–thank you for your uplifting words, and for your service to the senior community. It can get better for LGBT seniors—if more of us follow your example and volunteer our time and work to ensure the stories in this article are the exception not the rule. I’m going to inquire about volunteering with gay seniors this week!

  • Jack E. Jett

    @Jim Hlavac: Jim….thanks for that. It would be great if the lines of communication were more open between gay youth and their elders. We could learn alot from each other.

  • Ganondorf

    Just so long as we all agree that getting old sucks. It sucks and should be avoided at all costs. None of this applies to rich people. So the trick is to get old with lots of money, because barring a duplicitous trusted family member or estate manager, you’ll be able to be a complete prick beholden to and reliant on no one until you’re dead, and your last words can be, “I hate you all, you fucking parasites”. It’s a trick alright.

  • Adam

    The elderly are a margnialized, invisible, and ignored population. So add in the experience of being LGBTQ, and I can only imagine the isolation.

    Thankfully, some programs do exist to bridge the gap between young and elderly LGBTQ persons. The Center on Halsted in Chicago offers free programming specific to elderly LGBTQ people and hosts daily lunches for elderly LGBTQ to meet with gay youth. The lunches not only provide some support and a social outlet to the elderly, but it helps gay youth learn more about our shared history.

    Obviously, we could use a lot more resources and programs like thesse.

  • Alfonzo

    First, I want to thank all of you at for brining attention to this issue. Many elderly are also going back into the closet for fear of eviction by landlords. Our community is so obsessed with youth and appearances that our elderly tend to be completely overlooked. Maybe, if for nothing else, people in our community will become more concerned about our seniors because they will one day be in that same position.

    Here is a list of resources for the elderly for anyone interested in getting involved:

  • Scott

    >> “a generation ago, many gay men never thought they’d live to see 40”

    Am I the only gay man who expected to live a full life? HIV infection is not inevitable and is preventable. I became sexually active just as the AIDS epidemic was starting, before HIV was identified. I was smart about my partners and sexual practices and never got an STD. It wasn’t luck. I detest the “culture of death” that sprang up, that somehow AIDS was inevitable and all gay people would die a horrible, lingering death. Let my success be a lesson to all you youngins. Focus on your relationships first, then money. Sex comes last.

  • peter

    its all generational

    the older generations have major problems with being gay

  • slanty

    @peter: Uh, not that old. The discrimination in this story comes from a staff member.

  • lgbtSr

    Getting old is a beautiful thing for those lucky enough to get there. It only sucks in a culture that constantly tells us getting old sucks! To remedy that, try visiting us at, where age is embraced and life is celebrated for the LGBT over-50s. I don’t mean to be critical, but one of the reasons aging and LGBT-ness can be challenging is precisely because of the marginalization many of us feel we receive from our own culture and media, which are microcosms of the broader culture and media. Age is lovely, honorable, wise, experienced, mischievous; a weathered face with a hundred stories to tell, an oak that has stood for 200 years. It only sucks if we let people tell us it does. But we don’t have to, and it doesn’t have to. It can be magnificent. – Mark

  • Code Pink

    # Ganondorf: No we don’t all agree that getting old sucks. And should be avoided.
    I think many will agree that being: custic/bitter/negitive/ and hostile at any AGE SUCKS.
    And there are many rich people who are miserable and very unhappy.

  • Tina

    Thanks Alfonzo for mentioning SAGE – it’s funny that we’ve been around for almost 30 years and people still don’t know what a valuable resource we are! SAGE stands for Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders and we’re the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT older adults. We’re primarily based in NYC, but have affiliates all over the country and are directly involved in the National Resource Center for LGBT Aging ( I think with more people realizing that aging for LGBT adults is more difficult than their heterosexual counterparts, more effort will be made to improve the quality of life and care. Anyways, we love the stories, history and the efforts of LGBT older adults and publications that gets the issue OUT into the open.

  • Ganondorf

    @Code Pink:

    You may not, but that’s hardly an argument that getting old is a good thing. It is not a good thing, and the vast majority of non delusional people are in complete agreement. And who can argue against the fact that the indignities of age are mitigated by wealth? I suppose you’re making the most of it. Good for you.

  • Ganondorf


    There’s something beautiful about losing your ability to live independently as your mental and physical faculties deteriorate? There’s a difference between “getting old” and aging. Plenty of eighty year olds don’t consider themselves “old”.

    This issue here is how homophobia and oppression worsen an already bad circumstance. That, of course, is often illegal but more importantly ethically wrong, and needs to be addressed. The broader social ills of isolation, financial hardship and exploitation, and increased risk of predation and victimization that older people in the united states (that is, elder abuse) need to be addressed as well. But they won’t be, you see. Not in any meaningful way that corrects the underlying problems as well as stanches the losers of this social arrangement. Too much against it. This is America.

  • xtiaan

    it gets better
    for a while, then it gets worse again….

Comments are closed.