Gay seniors' home
Gay men and women flock to San
Francisco for its progressive lifestyle, tolerant people
and flourishing gay community.
But when it
comes time to retire, many gay seniors say San Francisco
lets them loose from its warm embrace. The Bay Area is
so expensive that many gay seniors have to move
elsewhere and suddenly find themselves snubbed and even
hated outside the city's unique sphere of tolerance.
Retirement homes can be even more hostile,
according to gay seniors and their advocates. Many
nursing-home residents who grew up when homosexuality
was considered a crime and a mental illness still look
down on gay and lesbian peers. Some staff members reject
and mistreat them, gay seniors say.
would be very uncomfortable at a home with mostly
heterosexuals,'' said Stephen Kellogg, 84, who lives in
a small room in the home of sympathetic gay friends.
``There are stigmas and hostilities and prejudice, and I
would not want to live with that.''
emerging non-profit organization in San Francisco is
proposing to build the city's first community housing
especially geared to welcome gay, lesbian, bisexual and
transgender senior citizens. Though some private
developments for gay people exist already in Florida and
New Mexico, most are expensive and profit-making. The
San Francisco group would be the first non-profit
organization in the nation to build subsidized housing
geared for gay and lesbian seniors of low and moderate
``It's well past time that we do
this,'' said Marcy Adelman, one of the founders of the
non-profit Rainbow Adult Community Housing, which is
working toward opening the gay senior housing complex by
2007. ``Gay people don't feel welcome in traditional
mainstream services. There are some who live in
retirement housing now, but the perception is, if they
come out and identify themselves as gay and lesbian,
they will be threatened in a way that's too risky, so
they have to return to the closet. Even in San
Francisco. This is a terrible price to pay.''
The Rainbow group recently received a
$250,000 grant from the state to plan the project, a
proposed $50 million, 225-unit development. Organizers
hope to build it on a city redevelopment site on Octavia
Street in San Francisco's Hayes Valley, the former
Central Freeway site.
The state grant,
combined with $45,000 from the San Francisco Mayor's
Office, is apparently the first time government agencies
have contributed to a senior housing program geared for
The Rainbow organization also has
received $50,000 from the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr.
Fund and $25,000 from Bay Area Physicians for Human
35,000 gay S.F. seniors
Rainbow organizers estimate there are at
least 35,000 gay men and women in San Francisco who are
over 60. And as baby boomers age, that number is
expected to swell. The new project would serve a tiny
fraction of those, but Adelman said she hopes the
project can serve as a model for other communities
across the nation.
Kellogg said he and his
life partner, Malcolm McCay, might have benefited from
the Rainbow senior housing, if only it had been open
when they retired.
McCay suffered a
paralyzing stroke eight years ago, and the couple had to
separate. Now McCay lives in a ward at Laguna Honda
Hospital, and Kellogg lives in his small room.
McCay can no longer speak. Kellogg still
loves him. On June 3, McCay and Kellogg will celebrate
their 42nd ``wedding'' anniversary from a hospital room
at Laguna Honda, which has been supportive of gay
``All we wanted to do was to
grow old together like other couples,'' Kellogg said.
Many gay seniors have reported to Rainbow
members how they have tried to hide their sexual
identities to get along in mainstream retirement homes.
Some said they hid pictures of their lovers for fear
someone would figure out their secret. Others would not
let their ``flamboyant'' friends visit them there
because others would realize they were gay, said Jeff
Golden, a Rainbow spokesman.
In a grant
proposal to the Haas foundation, many gay seniors
reported their experiences but withheld their names for
fear of retaliation.
``I know if I become
dependent on other people for my care, there is no way I
will be `out' about being gay,'' a 65-year-old gay man
wrote as part of a grant proposal to the Haas
foundation. ``I was arrested when I was 20 for being in
a gay bar where same-sex couples were dancing together.
That was enough to make me afraid if I ever need help.''
A 71-year-old lesbian described in the
grant proposal how she reverted to hiding her sexual
identity after moving into a low-income senior housing
complex. ``I am going deeper and deeper into the closet.
. . . I don't feel safe to be who I am.''
Many retirement homes are run by
faith-based groups whose religious beliefs forbid gay
sex. Many seniors recalled being arrested for being
involved with same-sex partners in the days when
homosexuality was considered ``sodomy'' and therefore a
The Rainbow effort was begun in the late
1970s by an earlier group. But when the AIDS epidemic
hit, the group turned its efforts toward helping to stop
the spread of the disease. Since then, more gay people
have moved to the city, but few programs have begun that
serve gay elders.
Many of them don't have
children who can care for them when they are older.
Also, many retirement homes allow only married couples
to live together, so if a gay person moves into a
nursing home, a partner can't move in too. The Rainbow
complex would allow cohabitation.
want to create an environment that says to gay and
lesbian seniors that you don't need to go back into the
closet,'' said Rainbow Executive Director Jim Mitulski.
``This is a safe place for you to live and love and make
friends. Your lovers and ex-lovers form a network of
friendships that are just as strong and life-giving and
sacred as biological families. And we will be a whole
community for the first time, taking care of our
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