As a transgender female, 65 -year-old Eva Skye knows firsthand that living her truth means living in danger too. Three years ago, the only home she had was at a single room occupancy housing facility, or SRO, for those living in poverty. There, she often chose to trek up several flights of stairs to her fifth floor room instead of taking the elevator out of fear she’d be trapped and assaulted by other residents.
When I talk to Skye, her brightness fills the room with colour. She’s rocking a hot pink top, flashy blue fingernails, and a rainbow bracelet wrap around her left wrist. “I’m a 65 -year-old trans-queer punk mom, ” she explains in a gentle voice, brushing back hair dyed the color of rose wine.
It’s amazing what a difference a few years can construct. Skye’s quality of life has improved dramatically since 2014, when she moved out of the SRO and into Town Hall Apartments on Chicago’s north side, one of the country’s few LGBTQ-inclusive affordable housing centers for seniors.
But not every LGBTQ senior is that lucky.
Pushed back into the closet
In contrast to young Americans — a demographic coming out as LGBTQ earlier in life and in larger numbers — data and deterring anecdotal evidence indicate LGBTQ seniors are retreating into the same closets they once escaped years prior to avoid discrimination today — whether it be at the hands of their peers, as in Skye’s case, or at the hands of a senior care industry that carelessly erases them.
An alarming 2010 survey discovered just 22% of LGBTQ seniors felt comfy being “out” to health care workers. Many respondents had been harassed or refused basic services because they were LGBTQ; some, unbelievably, reported being told that the latter are being “prayed over” or that they’d “go to hell” because of who they loved or how they identified. Instead of facing these abuses, many LGBTQ seniors said it was easier to simply blend in — even if it meant becoming invisible.
Elderly LGBTQ people are far more likely to live alone and far less likely to have adult children they can rely on as they age compared with their straight, cisgender peers. There’s a greater chance they’ll end up in nursing homes, where this type of discrimination can take place. Staff members at such care centers often don’t even believe they have LGBTQ residents — not because that’s actually the case but because residents often choose not to come out in such uncertain conditions.
A safe place to grow old
Walking through Town Hall’s cafeteria during lunch, the nurturing, jubilant atmosphere feels worlds apart from the findings of that 2010 study.
Through the Chicago Housing Authority’s Property Rental Assistance Program, Town Hall has been studio and one-bedroom apartments to low-income seniors — most of whom identify as lesbian, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer — for over three years.
“Seniors, as they get older, tend to want to go back into the closet, ” confirms Todd Williams, senior services director at the Center on Addison, which provides many programmes designed to Town Hall residents. “They suffer from isolation, and they feel as though they can’t necessarily be themselves in their own communities.”
Eugene Robbins, another Town Hall resident, understands that fought well. Before are moving forward 3 years ago, he’d been living in a housing project a few miles away where being homosexual and black had its challenges to say the least.
As a proud human of color born in Selma, Alabama — where, he recalls, white supremacists threw bricks through his family’s home windows — he avoids trudging through too much past sorrow. But Robbins acknowledges the stains discrimination has left on their own lives: “As the old saying goes, when your back is against the wall, you’d be surprised at what you can do, ” he reflects on his time in the housing project.
“I’m happy here, ” he says of Town Hall. “I feel good here.”
At Town hall, residents gush about their improved lives as if the apartments were their grandchildren’s straight-A report cards. Skye says living in her top-floor studio apartment, with Lake Michigan only beyond opinion, induces her feel like Alice in Wonderland. Marti Smith, a 72 -year-old “card-carrying lesbian, ” considers herself “extremely lucky” to have landed there and credits Town hall and its programme of with saving her life.
Smith survived throat cancer in the late 1990 s. It wasn’t simply a health setback, it was a fiscal one too. The cancer’s many lingering impacts were considered pre-existing conditions and — long before Obamacare — deemed her uninsurable. Smith racked up credit card debt to pay for the necessary care.
The apartments’ affordable rates, along with a bevy of centre services that help residents manage external costs, are invaluable. Smith has use almost every program offered through the center, she tells — free of charge, of course. Residents with ailments like Parkinson’s disease and adolescent diabetes — even 30 -year AIDS survivors — have benefited greatly from the Center on Addison, Smith notes. “There’s no way that I could ever pay back what I have gotten, ” she says.
The building’s refurbished hallways, where rainbow flags and smiling faces welcome you around most corners, constructs Town hall feel like a faggot oasis, safe from the systemic challenges waiting outside. The Center on Addison, which operates on the building’s first floor, offers innovative programs and experiences to residents, from those more focused on socializing and well-being — like yoga, trips to the theater, and genealogy class — to less fun( but surely just as critical) services — such as assistance managing health care benefits and task readiness workshops. Programs at the center are open to LGBTQ nonresidents who live in the Chicago area too.
Scaling success beyond Chicago
Outside groups have toured Town Hall and the Center on Addison in hopes of replicating its success elsewhere, Williams tells. Locally, the apartments have become astoundingly popular among seniors hoping for a coveted studio or one-bedroom: “We no longer have a waiting list, ” he notes. “The waiting list was so long, we actually couldn’t[ continue it ]. “
That’s the sobering punch that complements touring Town hall: There’s overwhelming demand for more places just like it and nowhere near enough facilities to accommodate. Queer seniors, with their unique needs, are more likely to live in poverty; in Chicago alone, roughly 10, 000 LGBTQ seniors could potentially benefit from affordable, queer-inclusive housing. With its 80 apartment divisions, Town hall simply isn’t enough.
Fortunately, more doors are opening for people like Skye, helping faggot seniors close the closet doorways for good. Along with Town Hall, facilities in cities like Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and San Francisco are blazing roads for the often overlooked demographic within the LGBTQ community; New York City is in the midst of building its first two queer-inclusive centres as well — one in Brooklyn, one in the Bronx.
“Pandora’s box has been opened, ” Skye says of her new take on life after moving into Town Hall. “Look out world, here I am.”
If merely every LGBTQ senior could say the same.
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