Growing Old Gay: Q&A With SAGE’s Michael Adams
"Growing old isn’t for sissies" they say. But sissies grow old, too and for LGBT elders, there are even more problems than for the rest of the world. We tend not to have children. We’re separated from our families by geography or temperament. We sink into invisibility in a youth-obsessed world. Even retirement homes discriminate against us. We’re still having sex--which means contracting (and, in many more cases, living with) HIV.
EDGE sat down with SAGE (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders) Executive Director Michael Adams to talk about the unique issues facing gay men, lesbians and transgendered persons as we grow old. You better read this: If you’re lucky, you’re going to be there someday.
EDGE: If it’s a youth-obsessed culture we live in today, that goes double in the gay world. Images of buff, chiseled men and "L Word," gym-built ladies totally dominate our community. Are we really even more ageist than the rest of the world?
Michael Adams: I’m torn on that question. It’s a triuism among a lot of people that ageism is worse in the gay community. Relatively speaking, the gay community as we know it now has only been around for a few decades. We haven’t really had time to have a history or tradition as other communities. So I think of it more that way. Here at SAGE, we rely on hundreds of volunteers in our programs., many of whom are young. So I’m not sure if it’s any better or worse.
EDGE: What about isolation? We don’t have kids, we live away from our families, we’re often not partnered. Worse in our world?
MA: Isolation is an issue across the board in this country, especially acute for our constituency. LGBT adults of this generation are four times as likely not to have kids. They’re much more likely to be disconnected from the families of their origins. Most older people are partnered, with kids, connected to siblings, nieces and nephews. So many of our folks don’t have any of that.
EDGE: How is SAGE addressing that?
MA: If you look at our programs, our services for older adults, we first try to make sure they have what they need--Social security, benefits, good places to live, health care. Then we try to make sure they’re socially engaged: execrcise, walks throughout the city, classes, etc.
EDGE: Gay retirement communities have been a hot topic in the gay and mainstream media, as has the hitherto-hidden problem of discrimination in nursing and retirement homes.
MA: There’s a critical shortage of quality housing for elderly people in general in this country. Also, there’s the additional problem of a place where we can be out and comfortable simply being who we are. When you put those two together, it’s a real double whammy. We have seen emerged a very small number of LGBT communities. But the reality is that the vast, vast, vast majority will never live in those places. So we have to fundamentally challenge and open up the vast array of existing housing so that they are welcoming.