For LGBT senior citizens, this moment in American history must be particularly powerful. They've lived long enough to witness a nation that most never dared to imagine. For them, there are vivid memories of homes and hometowns where being gay could mean suffering physical and verbal abuse, and being blatantly discriminated against.
With every headline that another state has given the green light to same-sex marriage, or story of a soldier coming home from Afghanistan to the warm and public embrace of his husband or her wife, there's fresh relief that the world has changed dramatically.
But many LGBT seniors face cruel reminders of worse times, in their younger years, when they begin visiting retirement communities or assisted living facilities in search of a comfortable, welcoming place to spend their golden years.
Faced with the familiar hostilities of yesteryear, LGBT seniors often cope with the difficult reality that many in their age group have yet to catch up with the progress toward respect and equal rights for LGBT people.
That's why a new LGBT-friendly apartment building for lower-income seniors that opened in Philadelphia is being hailed as a welcome respite; it's one of the first of its kind, and it reveals a broader need for such accommodations. The unusual home offers a positive, supportive atmosphere and easy access to support services.
The 56-unit John C. Anderson Apartments, named in honor of a city councilman who fought for gay rights, is in a gay-friendly neighborhood. With monthly rents of $192 to $786, the building is mostly full. Given that transportation can be a challenge for senior citizens, the building was strategically located in a spot where residents can access community services.
To support the LGBT seniors, the nearby William Way LGBT Community Center will be providing programs at the building, said Chris Bartlett, the center's executive director.
Fortunately, Bartlett says, “it’s a case that I think people get in a bipartisan way.”
This generation of LGBT seniors "created the context for the civil rights battle" that has changed the lives of LGBT people of all ages, Bartlett says. It's important to "make sure in their senior years that they have the best services available."
While the needs of LGBT teens and young adults have begun to get a measure of much needed attention in recent years (the It Gets Better campaign being one visible example), Bartlett says community centers around the country are also making LGBT senior citizens a priority.
Politicians are listening.
Although Pennsylvania’s Republican governor hasn’t always been supportive of the LGBT community, Bartlett says, he saw the need for this building. “And the city’s mayor really got behind the project.”
Two complexes are in the works in Chicago and San Francisco, and there are plans for building units in New York.
"So much research shows that without reliable housing, chaos ensues," Bartlett says.