Member-supported news for Southern California
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Support for LAist comes from:

After 'I Do': LGBT seniors struggle for affordable housing

Ways to Subscribe

Until just last year, L.A. had the only affordable living facility for LGBT seniors. Without special communities for them, some head back into the closet.

This segment is part two of Take Two's five-part series "After I Do," on the issues and challenges that LGBT people face beyond the gay marriage movement. Read part one here

Alice Herman, 78, is very lucky. She's one of 103 residents at Triangle Square, an elder care facility in Hollywood mainly for LGBT seniors.

But until just last year, Triangle Square was the only one of its kind in the whole country for Alice.

"I moved in here crying and grieving," she said. She arrived in 2009 after Sylvia, her partner of 45 years, passed away. "I was crying and grieving for a long time. We're talking years."

Being around other LGBT people allowed her to talk openly about her relationship in a way that might not have been possible elsewhere. Only now are more facilities like Triangle Square appearing throughout the country, providing a safe space for these seniors. However, it may be too late for some.

RELATED: What do you think is the biggest issue for the LGBT community beyond gay marriage?

Julie Siri, a social worker in Southern California, told KPCC's Public Insight Network that a one of her gay clients arrived at a traditional elder care facility after the death of his partner.

However, he felt isolated from the other residents because of their negative attitudes towards gay people, and, "he did experience some of the staff referring to him as a faggot and a fruit, so it was very uncomfortable for him," Siri says.

That man went back into the closet and he declined to be interviewed for this story.

Kathleen Sullivan, director of senior services at the LA LGBT Center, says she's also had clients in senior housing who've encountered a hostile atmosphere.

People telling gay jokes, or people not wanting to sit with someone once they find out they're lesbian or gay," she said. "We want to make sure that this [senior LGBT] community isn't isolated," says Sullivan, "and with no connection to their community."

The graying population

Seventy percent of adults under 30 say they’re accepting of homosexuality, and that number continues to grow.

But for today’s seniors, some of whom were on the front lines of protests like the 1969 Stonewall Riots in NYC, that acceptance hasn’t reached their own generation.

Meanwhile, the senior LGBT population is set to double to 4 million by 2030 without a lot of access to gay-friendly services that help them feel safe as they age.

"What you’ll find is really very little," says Sullivan.

She says that’s because most attention for creating support and a community has gone to younger people. Meanwhile, LGBT seniors are aging out of places they once frequented.

"Does an older gay man want to go to a same bar that he went to as a younger man?" says Sullivan. "Probably not, because he also isn’t going to be accepted in that environment."

Her division in L.A. is one of the few that have taken great care to build a network of services for elderly people. However, that’s recent: the senior services department at the LA LGBT Center was established just over five years ago.

Also, the center currently provides support to less than 10 percent of the 38,000 LGBT seniors in L.A. County. Without more resources, there’s a lot of work to be done.

"In the LGBT community, we didn’t have seniors that were out a generation ago," she says.

One reason is that growing acceptance means more adults who aren’t in the closet as they age. Another is a matter of medicine.

"A lot of people in my generation cashed out their life policies because they thought, 'I’m HIV positive, I won’t be around,'" says Chris Ramirez, 62. "'So, why not go ahead and cash out my life insurance policy. I don’t have to plan for the future, there won’t be a future.'"

But then HIV antiretrovirals became available, giving people the life they didn’t think they had. That also left them struggling to get by. LGBT people face poverty rates much higher than their heterosexual counterparts.

The number one need for those seniors in L.A. County: affordable housing.

A home to feel at home

Hollywood's Triangle Square was opened in 2007 by Gay and Lesbian Elder Housing. Residents can relax by the pool, watch "Game of Thrones" together in the media room, or huddle in the front lobby where there are windows looking onto the street.

"We kind of call it the fishbowl because people can sit here and watch the world go by," says resident Alice Herman.

Designed with LGBT seniors in mind, it’s home to many who believe that the gay community is and always will be their shelter from discrimination. Because while society has become more tolerant of LGBT people, decades of being ostracized have left these seniors wary.

"Most would prefer it if everyone in the building is gay because we give them a feeling of protection," says resident Alice Herman. "I don’t think anyone here really hates straight people, but the fact is that they feel safer."

It's the main reason why this residence is important to Herman:  it gives a generation that fought for LGBT rights together a place to be share their stories.

"That’s the gift it gave me," says Herman. "I spent 45 years with this one person. If I can’t talk about the time I spent with her, then what do I have? Who I am is who I was with Sylvia."

Additional housing for LGBT seniors is just being built now. Similar facilities have opened in Minneapolis and Philadelphia in the past nine months. Another is on the way in L.A., and one in Chicago, too.

For LGBT seniors looking to spend the rest of their years still out and proud,specific housing that’s made for them gives people like Alice Herman a chance to remember her life, and that of her partner Sylvia.

"We had a thing where we’d say, I love you forever and one day more," says Herman. "And that’s way it is, forever and one day more."

Stay Connected