As rapidly as times are changing, the age group with the lowest acceptance for the LGBT community is inevitably seniors—which is especially difficult for those LGBT senior citizens in need of affordable housing. However, as of September 1, LGBT seniors now have an option custom-made for them: the newly opened Spirit on Lake apartments in Minnesota.
Identifying as LGBT is not mandatory to live in Spirit on Lake, but the building’s management said that about three-fourths of the residents do. The building has forty-six units, all of them occupied.
Currently, the population of LGBT people older than fifty in the US is estimated to be over two million, according to a 2011 study by the University of Washington; by 2030, researchers expect that number will double. Unfortunately, seniors are far from exempt from health problems common in the LGBT community, and are often less healthy, less well off, and have smaller support networks than their straight counterparts. According to a 2010 report from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, they are also four times less likely to have children, and of those that do, not every grown child is comfortable with their parent’s gender presentation or sexual orientation.
The group GLBT Generations was founded by Barbara Satin after a transgender woman she knew from church suffered a stroke; the woman chose to return to presenting as male when she needed care afterwards. Satin told Minnesota Public Radio, “They fear that if they are out in a nursing home, that they’re going to be discriminated against. Within the transgender community, there’s a fear that they’re going to be refused service, because in many cases they present a body that in outward appearance may appear feminine or masculine.”
She added that many LGBT seniors have never been “out” in a mainstream setting due to stigma. “They grew up at a time when it was illegal, it was against the law, it was sinful. They have never really felt comfortable or secure being out in the public.”
Spirit on Lake resident Harvey Hertz, at seventy-three, certainly remembers the bad old days. He opened the first gay bookstore in Minnesota, A Brother’s Touch, in 1983; even then, it was frequently vandalized with anti-gay graffiti and windows broken. It took a long time and a lot of courage for him to come out, he said, and after fighting bias for most of his life, he couldn’t stand the thought of being pressured back into hiding who he was—and then he heard about Spirit on Lake.
Another longtime local, Steven Brusewitz, told Minnesota Public Radio, “I know most of the people that have moved in here because I’ve been out since 1976, so it’s just very comforting, very home-feeling.”
Come November, Spirit on Lake will add another way to foster and expand its community; the LGBT-centered Quatrefoil Library, the oldest of its kind in the upper Midwest, will open on the building’s ground floor.