It Takes a Retirement Village: Gay Men and Lesbians Are Turning the Idea of Retirement on Its Head with Their Own Homes Away from Homes

By Allen, Dan | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), July 20, 2004 | Go to article overview

It Takes a Retirement Village: Gay Men and Lesbians Are Turning the Idea of Retirement on Its Head with Their Own Homes Away from Homes


Allen, Dan, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


Arriving home from work one night several years ago, lesbian Joy Silver rounded the corner of her West Village street and was stopped cold by what she saw: flashing lights. "It's New York, so of course your first thought is that police are in your apartment," she says. Silver crept up the block but realized there was no reason to be scared--the light show was pulsating front the second floor of a nearby nursing home for infirm and mostly elderly gay men. They were throwing a wild bash, senior-style, complete with disco balls and go-go boys. "It struck me right there--when I'm that age, that's the party I wants," Silver says.

With the help of investors, she plans to open her own retirement village for gay men and lesbians this summer in Santa Fe, N.M. RainbowVision will sit on 13 acres in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and boast 60 condos and 86 rentals surrounding a country club, a pool, outdoor hot tubs, and a state-of-the-art medical facility. Prices are expected to start at $2,600 to rent or $236,000 to own. Planned entertainment includes gay performers and an annual drag ball.

"Gays and lesbians have always set the trends in fashion and music and design," Silver says. "Now I think we're going to set the trend as to what aging means in America. We're reorganizing the way things look and how to have fun. It's just another arena for us to be creative in."

By the year 2030 between 4 million and 6 million Americans will be elderly and gay, up from 1 million to 3 million as the 21st century began, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "Senior housing appears to be a very dynamic and developing area in the LGBT community," says Gerard Koskovich, staff liaison for the Lesbian and Gay Aging Issues Network. "As the baby-boom generation starts to hit its 50s, a lot of openly LGBT people are looking to the future, wondering where they're going to live, and starting to hope for and make plans for safe, respectful housing that will be available for them when they want it as elders."

For couples, the retirement villages may spare one partner from becoming a primary caregiver. For single gay men and lesbians without family, the promise of assistance is crucial. So is a social life. "Our singles are an interesting array," Silver says. "I've got a single who's 70 in Cleveland. He was a gay man living with a wife. Now that she's passed away, he wants to actually be able to live as a gay man for the first time--at 70. And then we've got a woman who's in a town of 500 where she's the only living lesbian, and she doesn't want to be the only dead lesbian too. She wants to have a chance to meet other women."

Very few retirement spots catering particularly to gays and lesbians exist anywhere at the moment. Most have grown up spontaneously, such as the lesbian trailer parks of Apache Junction, Ariz. Only Florida's Palms of Manasota is specifically dedicated to gay and lesbian seniors. Near Tampa, the Palms opened in 1999 with 21 homes, and a second phase has added another 44.

Valerie Filipski, 54, and 28-year partner Judy Newdom, 58, relocated to the Palms from Massachusetts four years ago. "We said, 'In five to 10 years we're going to come down here, after we retire.' Then we suddenly realized, 'OK, why are we waiting?'" Filipski runs an Internet company front home, and Newdom works at the Sarasota sheriff's department and runs a quarterly dance party for local lesbians, LezDance! …

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