LGBT seniors face AIDS, limited housing options, isolation, discrimination and more

This seven part series by Matthew S. Bajko (m.bajko@ebar.com) originally appeared in the Bay Area Reporter/New America Media. Matthew explores a range of issues facing LGBT elders including aging with AIDS, isolation, limited housing options, discrimination on many fronts and a lifetime of struggle.

Trauma of AIDS Epidemic Impacts Aging Survivors

SAN FRANCISCO–The nightmares terrorized San Francisco resident Tez Anderson for years. He would dream he was buried deep underground and wake in the middle of the night feeling panicked.

Photo: Author and AIDS activist Sean Strub, left, with Let’s Kick ASS (AIDS Survivor Syndrome) co-founder Tez Anderson. (Rick Gerharter/Bay Area Reporter)

Photo: Author and AIDS activist Sean Strub, left, with Let’s Kick ASS (AIDS Survivor Syndrome) co-founder Tez Anderson. (Rick Gerharter/Bay Area Reporter)

“It felt like I was in a lot of danger. It was not so much about death, it was more that I was in peril,” recalled Anderson, who is 55.

Three decades ago Anderson learned he was HIV positive and, like many other gay men of his generation, witnessed what felt like a holocaust as he watched countless friends, lovers and associates being felled by AIDS.

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LGBT Latino Seniors Face Housing Crunch, Isolation in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO–Facing pronounced housing issues and isolation in San Francisco, the city’s population of Latino lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) seniors is in particular need of housing assistance and adult day programs, say policy experts on aging.

“Many people come here and become more isolated because they are living on their own,” said Jorge Rodriguez, 69, a gay man who served on the city’s LGBT Aging Policy Task Force. “When you live on your own, especially if you come from another country, I think it is much harder.”

Rodriguez retired last year from the Mission Neighborhood Health Center, where he worked as a case manager for its HIV/AIDS Clinica Esperanza. He now volunteers at the AIDS Legal Referral Panel assisting immigrants seeking political asylum in the U.S.

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LGBT Groups Working to End Seniors’ Isolation

SAN FRANCISCO–A walk through Manhattan’s gay Chelsea district is no longer as enjoyable for Charles Cole as it once was. Many of his longtime neighborhood haunts, from gay bars and hangouts to gay-catering businesses, closed as the area’s lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) population moved to other sections of New York City.

At age 64, the gay, single New Yorker can sense the remaining younger men don’t acknowledge him when he does venture out.

“One of the things I do notice when I am out in the real world — since I am an older gay man I can be invisible to a lot of people. I can walk down the street and other gay men that are younger than I am don’t even see me,” Cole said. “Definitely, I felt isolated.”

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Black LGBT Seniors Struggle with Double Discrimination

SAN FRANCISCO–In San Francisco African American seniors who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) often face double jeopardy in terms of discrimination. Within the black community, they struggle to overcome homophobia. In the LGBT community, they encounter race-based prejudices.

“We’ve gotten burdened at both ends of the candle. By the African American community, which until recently tended to be more conservative relative to the LGBT community within its own ranks,” said Larry Saxxon, 61, a gay black man who served on the city’s LGBT Aging Policy Task Force.

Shunned by Two Communities

“A lot of the African American community still works under the larger social, psychological and political tendencies of the church,” he said.

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LGBT Seniors in California Lack Affordable Housing Options

SAN FRANCISCO–Midlife and older lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) residents of cities across the country are facing a lack of affordable housing options as they age.

Demographers estimate there are at least 3 million LGBT seniors age 65 or older currently in the United States, with the population projected to double by 2030. As their numbers increase, LGBT seniors’ access to housing, whether
it be in retirement communities or assisted living facilities, will become “increasingly critical” noted the Equal Rights Center in a special report it issued in February.

“As the number of older adults increases, as well as the number of LGBT seniors living openly, many with their spouse or partners, the need for more housing options that allow older LGBT people to live in a safe and comfortable environment becomes increasingly important,” stated the report, titled “Opening Doors: An Investigation of Barriers to Senior Housing for Same-Sex Couples.”

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Ethnic Transgender Women Reflect on a Lifetime of Struggle and Change

SAN FRANCISCO — In June longtime transgender activist Felicia Elizondo will celebrate turning 68. Yet she still finds it hard to believe she has reached her senior years.

Elizondo also marvels at the enormous strides she’s seen made by the transgender community since she and other trans people stood up against police harassment late one night in 1966 at the now defunct Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district.

“I didn’t think I would live this long to see the changes that have happened over the last 50 years,” said the trans Latina, who is also known as Felicia Flames.

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As Health Falters, LGBT Seniors Face Stark Housing Choices

SAN FRANCISCO–Having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Bernard Mayes was confronted with a stark choice. Should the fiercely independent gay man move into a senior assisted living facility?

Or was it feasible to hire caregivers so he could remain in his home in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood? Mayes, 84, like many elders of any sexual orientation, preferred to live out his life in his own home.

At the time of his diagnosis, Mayes was living with a younger gay male couple he helped introduce while living on the East Coast. An ordained Anglican priest, Mayes, who had immigrated to the United States from Britain, later presided over their wedding.

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Matthew S. Bajko wrote this series of articles for the Bay Area Reporter through the MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging Fellowships, a program of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America. The opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.