Ageing Disgracefully

Ageing Disgracefully

I can’t speak for female readers, but for most gay men under 40 there is probably nothing further from their minds than what their lives might be like in their 60s and beyond.

For the first generation of out gay men and lesbians who’ve reached retirement age, the issue of appropriate aged accommodation looms large and they find themselves considering their options – only to discover there aren’t many.

Having spent their lives in independence and sought out tolerant communities in which to live, they now face the prospect of identifying mainstream aged accommodation that will understand their needs or, alternatively, seek a place at one of the multitude of retirement villages run by religious groups whose staff and residents may be less than understanding about their new charges’ so-called “lifestyle choices”.

In some cases, new residents may feel pressure to go back into the closet for the sake of fitting in, or face ostracism and harassment from other residents.

The paucity of aged accommodation in the inner city may also necessitate a move away from community hubs and the GLBTIQ services located there, and distance retirees from established networks of relatives and friends.

In America’s retirement heartland of Florida, the world’s first gay and lesbian retirement community, the Palms of Manasota, has been up and running for almost a decade – and at least 10 more developments across the country are in the planning stage or already under way.

In Australia, things have been moving much more slowly, with little action from the private sector or government on this issue.

In 2005 the GLBT Retirement Association Incorporated (GRAI) was created in WA with the aim of “fostering the creation of accessible and sustainable retirement living” for GLBTIQ people. While establishing its own residential facilities is a goal, GRAI may not explore this option until after 2010. In the meantime its priority is to familiarise existing providers with GLBTIQ issues and needs.

Sydney businessman Craig Wright is planning to make the dream a reality and has set about establishing Australia’s first GLBT retirement community in NSW. Kudos to him for seizing on the issue.

But gay-specific developments may not be within everybody’s economic reach.

Also, it is vital to ensure that accommodation providers, both secular and religious, are made aware of their legal responsibilities to these residents and are assisted in catering to their needs. This is where groups like ACON must play a role.

Negative and stressful living arrangements can be damaging to anyone’s health, but the effects can be particularly marked on the aged – and a second closet is too much to ask for our retirees.

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