One of the essentials many of us take for granted is a place of our own—a home. As children many of us grew up in the comfort of a home. It might have been an apartment or a house but it was a safe and dependable space. Our caregivers or parents took care of our need for shelter and we learned the importance of a place of our own. Even if we grew up with fragile housing on with parents or caregivers who provided a safe space for us, as we navigated our childhood we developed our own identity, sometimes in secret, about what a home of our own would become. “At home” is even part of our language, an expression that implies comfort for the body and the spirit, an expression of peace.
When it’s time to leave home as blossoming adults were faced with the exciting and frightening prospect of finally finding a home. We begin the adventure of crafting our way of life. A home isn’t just a place that keeps you out of the rain. It’s where we build traditions over time—good times and bad times—over they years our home becomes a reflection of our personality, our identity and life experience.
Our first home as young adults might have been a shared bedroom with 5 other friends, but it was ours and we felt safe to be ourselves when we were at home. As we advance in our career and form a household and family we are generally able to afford the rent and create a safe space that expresses our character and our identity. Your home is were you often end up living with someone you love. When we’re in our working years and we’ve got lots of energy—if not money—to create the home of our dreams. We also have the energy to confront obstacles that might threaten our home—discrimination, racism, unfair housing practices.
We decorate our house and home with expressions of our life—public, private, political. We proudly display photos of family, friends and our partner and spouse. We often live in communities and neighborhoods that reflect our cultural identify, our gender identity, or even our sexual orientation. We dress as we like when we’re in our home and our neighborhood because often the idea of home extends out of our windows and into the backyards, side yards, front steps, and streets and businesses on our block. We build friendships with neighbors and find a place of relaxation on a bench in a nearby by park. We don’t give our freedom a second thought because we’re active, strong and able—we’re in control of our home.
However, as we age and our needs, abilities, and earning ability change often introducing a note of fragility into our home life for the very first time. Small problems are bigger when we’re experiencing a loss of control due to aging, compromised health. Our independence may have limits. As we become senior citizens our needs for a home become more complex. When retire we may need assisted living resources at home or become eligible for senior housing.
For most people this isn’t a problem. You apply for senior housing, retirement home or apartment and you begin to engage with a new way of life. This process of shifting from a private home that you can care for and decorate as you wish becomes more fragile for LGBT seniors. When confronted with a dramatic change in living arrangements—moving from private housing to a senior apartment complex or retirement home—many LGBT seniors are impacted by homophobia. Many LGBT seniors go back into the closet because they are afraid of discrimination or being ostracized by a hostile community or caretakers. Imagine not being able to freely display photographs of you and your partner or spouse because you don’t feel safe at home? This is your future but you’re living as if you’ve traveled back into a more repressive time.
For more information about housing for LGBT seniors, visit the Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE).