A Place of Their Own: As the Stonewall Generation Ages, 'Out' Baby Boomers Have Started to Build Retirement Communities Where They Can Grow Old Together
Rosenberg, Debra, Newsweek
When Judy Newdom and Val Filipski began planning their retirement, they worried about more than finding the perfect weather or a topnotch golf course. Devoted partners for 25 years, the two women had heard tales of retirement homes where same-sex couples weren't allowed to share an apartment, much less a bed. After finally adjusting to life as an openly gay couple, they feared they might not be welcomed by a traditional retirement community. So when Newdom heard about the Palms of Manasota, a Florida retirement community for gays and lesbians, she could hardly wait to move into one of its airy Mediterranean houses. Even though Newdom, 54, and Filipski, 50, hardly seem like senior citizens, the two packed their bags and moved from suburban Boston. "It just kept calling to us," says Newdom. "I thought, 'If that's where you want to live, why wait?' "
Newdom and Filipski are leading a wave of openly gay and lesbian baby boomers just starting to ponder their golden years. Demographers estimate that there are already 1 million to 3 million gay and lesbian seniors--a number expected to skyrocket in the next 15 years. While the majority of straight seniors are cared for by spouses and children, gay seniors often lack those family ties. "We are particularly vulnerable as we get older," says Terry Kaelber of Senior Action in a Gay Environment (SAGE), an advocacy group for gay seniors.
Because many gays have grappled with discrimination throughout their lives, they worry the problem will be even worse when they retire and grow less independent. Robert Daley, an artist who lived at the Palms until his death in 1999, often spoke of the isolation he felt during a stint in a straight retirement home, recalling how people stopped talking to him once they realized he was gay. "If you are out and proud... you can suffer terribly because you are trapped," says David Buckel of Lambda Legal Defense, who notes that gay nursing-home residents often hide or destroy personal photos that could out them. While gay retirees of the World War II generation have sometimes had to duck back into the closet to cope, the Stonewall generation won't be so willing to compromise. Like baby boomers everywhere, they're intent on inventing a retirement of their own, one that celebrates being part of a like-minded community. Just as niche retirement villages have begun catering to African-Americans and other ethnic groups, a half-dozen gay-friendly retirement projects from Boston to Palm Springs aim to open their doors within the next few years.
Until recently, retirement was a low priority among many gays. For years, the gay community put such a premium on youthful looks and lifestyle, says the Rev. Ken South, a policy fellow at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, that some gays actually became prejudiced against anyone old. For gay men, the AIDS epidemic made old age seem dismally unlikely anyway. "We didn't have the sense that we would have a future," says South. Few gays bothered to plan for their middle age, much less retirement. But with the future now more secure, and aging an undeniable reality, gays are determined to put their own stamp on it. The new communities envision chic city settings and gourmet dining rooms that serve dinner until 10 p.m., well after the early-bird set has usually turned in for the night. …