Gay and Gray: SunServe Opens First-Ever Gay Adult Care

by Steffany Skelley Gilmer

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday October 22, 2012

With the rising rates of LGBT Baby Boomers, groups like South Florida's SunServe have begun to offer LGBT-specific senior gay care, providing social outlets for seniors to get the care they need without having to go back into the closet.

"A large LGBTQ population has chosen the greater Fort Lauderdale area to live in and retire to. We felt our seniors should not go back into the closet as they aged and needed day care services," SunServe Executive Director Mark Ketcham told EDGE. "We created a center that is warm and welcoming to all people. It is aimed toward the LGBTQ population but we have and will continue to accept all people for day care services."

According to the LGBT Aging Project of Massachusetts, 10,000 LGBT American citizens reach retirement age every week. There are an estimated 3,000,000 gays and lesbians over the age of 55 in the US and by 2020, the number of gays and lesbians over age 50 will rise to nearly six million.

Many of these Baby Boomers spend a lot of their time alone, without family or caregivers to accompany or care for them. Others may have caregivers who are unable to give them the around-the-clock care that they need due to their own jobs or personal business. In the LGBT community, many seniors in need of daytime or respite care have no option but to attend day care programs that are not open to or understanding of the special relationships and needs of LGBT seniors.

For this reason, in February 2002 SunServe, the first LGBTQ social service agency in South Florida, set out to build and operate the world's first senior day care center designed to meet the needs of the LGBT community. The Noble A. McArtor Senior Day Care Center is now a home away from home where seniors can enjoy a host of activities throughout the week, allowing their caregivers and families the much-needed respite they long for.

SunServe has also initiated a Senior Services area aimed at those not in their day care center. They developed a phone-a-friend project where the same volunteer calls and checks up on a senior client every day with the goal of giving phone support while still allowing them to stay in their home.

Building on the Work of SAGE

SunServe is not alone in their mission to provide care for aging LGBT citizens. SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) is the country's largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) older adults.

Founded in 1978 and headquartered in New York City, SAGE is a national organization that offers supportive services and consumer resources to LGBT older adults and their caregivers, advocates for public policy changes that address the needs of LGBT older people, and provides training for aging providers and LGBT organizations through its National Resource Center on LGBT Aging.

The Center (The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center) in New York also works hard to provide support to LGBT citizens of all ages.

"From the Center's establishment in 1983, we have worked to build an infrastructure where none existed before that serves those in need: the young, the elderly, those who identify as transgender and gender non-conforming, people living with HIV and AIDS, survivors of anti-gay or anti-lesbian violence, people struggling with substance abuse, and LGBT people and their friends and families overwhelmed by the devastating toll of the AIDS epidemic," Center Communications Manager Mary Steyer told EDGE.

Since The Center opened its doors, the number of LGBT organizations in New York City has multiplied many times. Groups that started at the Center have expanded across the nation, such as the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).

"We remain committed to serving the LGBT community by providing the support and services that it needs," said Steyer.

Aging LGBT Baby Boomers who are not yet in need of day care may still have concerns about isolation, discrimination or feel that they need to hide their sexual orientation. SAGE reports that 67 percent of gay seniors in the US live alone, twice the proportion of their straight peers, and 90 percent have no children.

New Mexico’s Birds of a Feather Welcomes LGBT Retirees

To serve this ever-growing need, a number of LGBT retirement communities are available across the US. One such retirement community is Birds of a Feather, located in New Mexico.

The Birds of a Feather community began as a vision by its founder, Bonnie McGowan, to create a thoughtful community development as a haven for people of like minds. It is made up of people who care about environmentally responsible living, an active and healthy lifestyle and forming strong social connections when we are aging and need them the most.

"Until LGBT people can feel safe walking down the street in their community holding hands with their partner there will be a need for LGBT communities such as Birds of a Feather," said McGowan.
McGowan also has plans for assisted-living housing for those LGBT seniors who just need a hand, rather than 24-hour help.

"We are a multi-generational community," said McGowan. "We feel that our residents will be well prepared to 'age in place' because of the relationships developed in the community and the support and care residents will provide each other as we grow older together."

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