Retiring and Gay? Where?

If you were 18 the summer of the Stonewall Riots, Happy 60th!  (Sorry if I missed it.)  As the generation of gay men and lesbians that came of age during the gay rights movement reaches their 60s, we need to get serious about a conversation about sexuality and retirement.  How will these men and women choose to retire?  Are retirement communities for heterosexual individuals and couples heterosexualized in ways that make them unattractive to gay and lesbian couples and individuals?  Are they open to sexual diversity?  Is this how gay men and lesbians want to retire?  And if so, can we expect them to have the same rosy experiences marketed to heterosexual couples?

Some new research suggests that this is a significant issue.  Older gay men and lesbians ought to worry about retiring and growing old in communities where they don’t experience stigma.  The study focuses exclusively on gay men, but did compare single gay men with gay men with domestic partners and legally married gay men.  They found that stress related to aging was compounded by “sexual minority stress” in ways that pose significant mental health risks for gay men.

So, do retirement communities designed with heterosexual individuals’ and couples’ needs in mind negatively affect the population of gay men and lesbians coming of age.  Some of the earlier studies on this did find that older gay men and lesbians have a specific set of needs.  Some are no different from heterosexual couples and individuals: support during this transition in life, assistance if they are physically disabled, etc.  But other issues – like a reduction of social stigmatization – are distinct.

But gay men and lesbians don’t only worry that social stigmatization will come from the heterosexual men and women with whom they’ll be retiring.  They also worry that administration and the care staff are potential sources of discrimination (see here).  This might mean that prejudice and discriminatory practices are part of many retirement and care communities at a structural level.

As a result, many gay men and lesbians are interested in LGBT-friendly and/or LGBT-exclusive retirement communities.  Many of the LBGT retirement communities that exist, however, are struggling financially (see here, here, and here).  Census data do not ask about sexual orientation, making an estimate of the number of gay men and lesbians in the U.S. difficult to establish.  Beyond this, it is difficult to have a conversation about how financially secure they are and whether the Stonewall generation will be economically capable of retiring in spaces that protect their psychological well being.

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