Hard Times for Aging Gays

Michael Norfleet has been appointed as the new Program Director at SunServe’s Adult Day Care Center, The Noble A. McArtor Senior Day Care Center.

The center serves seniors over 60 who need some assistance with their day-to-day activities. Broward County has become home to America’s largest gay and lesbian community.

Within this community there are a growing number of seniors who are in need of assistance with daily activities. Some of these seniors spend much of their time alone, without family or caregivers to accompany them.

The Noble A. McArtor Center was founded by a team of individuals whose vision created a safe, open and home-like atmosphere for all seniors and their caregivers to enjoy, regardless, and supportive of any sexual orientation or identification, race, age, gender, religion or economic level.

The Center is housed on the campus of the Sunshine Cathedral, just South of Davie Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale. The center will serve up to 32 clients per day, and is well equipped and staffed with nurses, aides and social workers, along with activities coordinators. Federal and local grants, volunteers and a caring community help support the center under the auspices of SunServe. Thank you for doing so.

As today’s front-page feature shows, around the country, not everyone is so lucky. Many LGBT seniors face fear and isolation, aging without the support of children or family members.

Did you know that the first gay and lesbian retirement community in America was started right here in Florida? The Palms of Manasota is between Sarasota and St. Petersburg, and was started in 1994. Residents moved in in 1998. It was the home of beautiful villas, organized dinners, and informal gatherings enhancing the social fabric of a growing elderly LGBT community. Unfortunately the Palms of Manasota filed for bankruptcy protection in October of 2011.

They are not alone. As reported in a frightening article in the New York Times this past fall, gay retirement communities around the country have fallen on hard times, victims of a weakened housing market, deflated economy, or bad business decisions. Ironically, the same NY Times had done a feature six years before, in 2005, headlined “Gay Retirement Communities are Growing in Popularity.” What once was, no longer is.

It was not supposed to be this way. ‘Out’ senior citizens were to find a place they could call home. The vision was noble, and in cities as diverse as Austin and Portland, Boston and Phoenix, such communities opened, some under the umbrella of a company called RainbowVision. They too have filed for bankruptcy, their hopes of opening 15 such communities dashed. They were hoping to serve a population whose over-50 members are estimated to number more than 3 million.

Couples like Barbara Cohn and Janice Gaynor of Santa Fe, interviewed in the recent NY Times piece, said it best, but it spoke the worst: “This community was our safety valve.” They do not know what is coming next. The comfort zone they sought has been taken away.

The MetLife Mature Market Institute’s 2006 “Out and Aging” report on gay and lesbian boomers found that 27 percent reported “great concern about discrimination as they age.” Less than half expressed strong confidence that health care professionals will treat them “with dignity and respect.” Fears of insensitivity and discriminatory treatment by health care professionals were particularly strong among lesbians: 12 percdent said they have “absolutely no confidence that they will be treated respectfully.”

The Palms of Manasota was built on a road that was named ‘Carefree Boulevard.’ That moniker is ironic now, as the reality is anything but carefree. The dreams of comfort and calm in our golden years belong to all of us. For now, they are denied many LGBT residents in multiple LGBT retirement communities, which have failed, or are failing.

South Florida is lucky to have an active SAGE group and the McArtor Center. As you begin the new year with resolutions and promises, let’s make one to each other. Let’s all do our best to support those who support us. Caring is not just for those who are ill, teenage runaways, or decent people who abuse bad drugs. Caring includes returning veterans, the middle-aged jobless, and aging LGBT friends and neighbors. There is always some good you can do, and usually you don’t have to look too far to do it.

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