Friday, December 30, 2011

Older Gay People in the UK: Likely to be Alone

Campaigners warn of looming care problem as Stonewall survey predicts health and housing crisis

Jamie Doward
The Observer
, Saturday 10 September 2011

ben summerskill
Ben Summerskill: 'Thousands of gay people are growing older without the same family and support structures that many straight people enjoy.' Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian
Gay men and women in Britain are far more likely to end up living alone and have less contact with family in later life than heterosexual people, according to a groundbreaking report that raises significant questions for how society responds to their needs.

The report, the first of its kind, has implications for GPs, health and social services at a time when Britain's population is ageing. It is estimated that there are a million lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Britain over the age of 55.

A YouGov survey, commissioned by the campaign group Stonewall, found that older gay and bisexual men are three times more likely to be single than heterosexual men.
Just over a quarter of gay and bisexual men and half of lesbian and bisexual women have children compared with almost nine in every 10 heterosexual men and women. They were also less likely to see biological family members regularly. Less than a quarter of LGB people see their biological family members at least once a week, compared with more than half of heterosexual people according to the survey of 1,050 heterosexual and 1,036 LGB people over the age of 55.

"This pioneering research confirms what we already knew intuitively, that there are hundreds of thousands of lesbian and gay people growing older without the same family and support structures that many straight people enjoy," said Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall. "Quite often, that's because their own families have disowned them just because of the way they were born."

The prospect of impending loneliness is a recurring theme among those interviewed for the report. "As a single gay man, I feel sad about my prospects of finding emotional comfort and support," Michael, 60, told interviewers.

Paul, 59, said: "My gayness makes me less connected to my biological family who would otherwise look out for me."

The prospects of a solitary old age may be one explanation for why the survey suggests LGB people are consistently more anxious about growing older than heterosexual people.

With diminished support networks compared to their heterosexual peers, they are more likely to rely on formal support services as they get older. Stonewall's report found they were nearly twice as likely to rely on external services such as GPs and social services as heterosexual people. But many worried that the services would not meet their needs. Three in five are not confident that support services will meet their needs.

Some 72% of LGB people said they were worried about the prospect of needing care later in life, compared with 62% of heterosexual people. Half said they were worried about housing compared with 39% of heterosexual people while 69% were worried about their health compared with 59% of heterosexual people.

Frank, 64, said: "I worry about my partner becoming ill or dying, and about leaving him alone if I die first." James, 55, said: "Being gay and getting older is like not being gay and getting older but difficulties are magnified."

Their fears are compounded by their lifestyles. Gay people are far more likely to drink alcohol regularly, take drugs and have a history of mental health problems than heterosexual people.
But despite these concerns many would feel uncomfortable about revealing their sexuality to those who work in the public health and support sector. Nearly half said they would be uncomfortable about coming out to care home staff and a third would be uncomfortable coming out to a housing provider or a paid carer.

"For the first time this generation of ageing gay people fully expects to be treated with respect by both public and commercial service providers," Summerskill said. "They want to be able to share a room in an old people's home or to be supported through their partner's terminal illness just like anyone else."
Summerskill expressed concern that Britain's care system failed to recognise that not all couples were the same. "We're facing a care time bomb of institutional ignorance about what a community that makes a £40bn a year contribution to public services will soon – quite properly – be demanding."


■ 40% of gay and bisexual men over 55 are single, compared with 15% of heterosexual men.
41% of lesbian, gay and bisexual people over 55 live alone compared with 28% of heterosexual people.
■ 8% of lesbian, gay and bisexual people over 55 see members of their family a few times a week compared with 21% of heterosexual people.
15% of lesbian, gay and bisexual people over 70 work compared with 6% of heterosexual people.
■ 9% of lesbian, gay and bisexual people over 55 have taken drugs within the last year, compared with 2% of heterosexual people.
© 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 19, 2011

"More than Ever." The Devotion Project

Take a look at this exquisite and intimate rendition of love.

From THE DEVOTION PROJECT: The Devotion Project is a series of short documentary films celebrating LGBT couples of all stripes. The first film, MORE THAN EVER, chronicles a New York couple who've lived an incredible 54-year love story. This film premiered at Newfest: The New York Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in July 2011 and won the Audience Award for Best Short.

More films will appear on this site over the coming months.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Media is Catching Up: Aging with HIV

The latest piece comes from the Huffington Post: Aging & HIV: The New Face of HIV. 

The article is written by Daniel Tietz,  Executive Director of the AIDS Community Research Initiative of American (ACRIA). It highlights the research and advocacy ACRIA has been doing in the last few years on people aging with HIV.

What caught my eye is his reflection: "What we've learned may surprise you. Providers often underestimate the desire for and level of sexual activity in older adults, and maybe especially among gay, bisexual and transgender older adults who are at high risk for HIV, thereby neglecting their STI risk." While this may be correct, I wish we could see beyond sex. I don't want us to begin to see older LGBT through the eyes of sex, as we have done with younger gay men.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Queer Quest for Retirement

A few years ago we thought that retirement communities for LGBT folks were possible. The financial crisis, specially the drop of real estate values, might have changed that. Now many of the planned communities are yet to be developed or have been canceled. The few that were built are in bankruptcy, as the story in the New York Times shows.

This gives us time to pause and think: are these retirement communities the future for LGBT folks? Is the existing model of retirement communities created by a white, heterosexual middle class fitting to LGBT retirees? Perhaps no.
The communities planned for older LGBT retirees targeted the middle class and the rich, not the vast majority of LGBT people. Many of these communities also targeted (implicitly) couples, as the traditional model has done so. This is not the majority of LGBT elders, not even a half of them. It might be that the idea of a retiring community in a small town or resort city is based on a heterosexual archetype and not on the idea of a community that is primarily urban and that relies mostly on peers and social networks. Even more, the variation of legislation supporting (or condemning ) same sex unions across states limits the choices for LGBT to buy property and migrate.
So the failure of LGBT retirement communities we are seeing is not a surprise (except for the aspect related to the collapse of the real estate market).
A couple of alternatives come to mind. One is the housing program currently run by SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders), in which older LGBT folks are matched with younger LGBT in need of inexpensive housing. The former provides low cost housing and the latter, social support.
The other option is based on the initiative of small group of citizens who come together as a co-op to buy and manage their own residences – e.g., a mid-size condominium building fitted to their social and health needs. Yet, this model assumes folks can afford, at least, a studio-size property.
We have a lot of thinking and experimenting to do before we figure out what, where and how, works for our LGBT elders.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Q&A with Jesus Ramirez-Valles, Ph.D., MPH

Q&A with Jesus Ramirez-Valles, Ph.D., MPH

Dr. Jesus Ramirez-Valles, a professor of public health at the University of Illinois-Chicago, discusses the health challenges of older gay men of color living with HIV/AIDS.

What are some of the health challenges faced by older gay men as opposed to their heterosexual peers?

There are several challenges that older gay men face. First, older gay men, unlike heterosexual men, encounter the stigma of homosexuality, which causes stress that accumulates throughout their lives. Older heterosexual men have had no need over the course of their lives to explain themselves to their families, workplaces, or health care facilities; they can assume that their needs will be understood.

Older gay men have lower social support, and the support they do have tends to be fragile. For older gay men, friends and peers are the most important source of support, whereas spouses and children are the main support for older heterosexual men. There’s a difference in these relationships—spouses and children are legally recognized, whereas friends and peers are not usually recognized under law. Institutional support from health care agencies, government or aging services is also lacking.

Also, our society stigmatizes older men as unproductive or useless. Because gay culture can be so centered on physical attraction, older gay men experience ageism within their own community. Our gay culture is so youth-oriented and alcohol-oriented, and we don’t have a path for older gay men to age into. Heterosexual men have a path to aging—they can become fathers, grandfathers and patriarchs. They have a role in society as they age, but gay men don’t have that kind of role.

Substance abuse is another important health issue in the gay community. Alcohol and drug use are problems that don’t go away when we turn 50.

Older gay men living with HIV/AIDS also experience the stigma that comes along with the disease. But even more stressful than HIV stigma is having experienced the loss of their friends and the sense that they’ve lost a part of their lives. In my interviews with older gay men, I often hear questions or statements such as: "HIV stole a part of my life," "Why is this happening to us?"or "Why do we have to deal with losing our friends?"

How do factors such as race/ethnicity compound these health challenges?

One of the greatest challenges we face right now with the aging gay population is that we don’t have a clue about what is happening with older African American men, older Latino men, older Asian American men. We have not documented through research what’s happening with them as they age. We think that they experience "layered stigma"—that is, they experience discrimination based on being LGBT, then they experience racism in society as a whole and within the LGBT community. And, as they grow older, they experience ageism. So, they have more challenges than older white gay men.

We also don’t know what is happening with their social supports. I’m making some generalizations right now, but white mainstream culture is individual-oriented, more "pull yourself up by the bootstraps." But African American and Latino cultures are more family- and collective-oriented. Older gay African American and Latino men may go back to their families as they age, both to support their families and receive support. I don’t know that they go back in the closet as they age, as many older LGBT people do as they need care, but their gay identity may fade because it is not as important as taking care of their families.

Tell us a bit about your research on older gay men.

Our purpose is to investigate how the stress from stigma affects the health of older gay men and what resources they have to cope with that stress. We are looking at layered stigma—the compound effects of ethnicity, race, age, HIV status, and sexual orientation. The study is also looking at two factors that we think might help older gay men—community involvement and social support (primarily from peers). The study will compare three major groups of older gay men—white men, African American men and Latinos—as well as those living with HIV/AIDS.

Why did you decide to take on this particular research study?

I’m Latino, from Mexico and have been doing research with gay communities for all of my professional career. What I find unacceptable is the lack of knowledge about older gay African American and Latino men. The LGBT population as a whole is aging at a tremendous pace, and social services and health care organizations are not prepared to deal with this. And they are really not prepared to deal with older African American or Latino men man living with HIV/AIDS. We can’t leave these groups to struggle alone. As a society we need to know how they are aging, and how to serve them. They have done their part—they are the ones who opened up society to allow people like me to have careers and to live the way we choose. Now it’s our turn to support their health and well-being.

What do you hope to accomplish through this study?

I’ll start with the larger picture. I want to continue fighting homophobia. There are still terrible stereotypes about older gay men—they’re unproductive or unattractive. I also want to make the field of gerontology "queer," and to end the heteronormativity of the field. I want to open up affirming spaces for LGBT people as they age.

The practical goal is to create intervention and prevention strategies for these populations that are based on research and on the reality of older African American and Latino men’s lives. We need solutions based on science, not on "this is what we always have done."

I believe that our communities should not sit comfortably doing nothing. We need to challenge ourselves, and one of our biggest challenges is integrating older gay men of color into our communities and giving them the support they need.

Jesus Ramirez-Valles is a scholar, filmmaker, and an advocate of Latino and GLBT health. He is author of the book entitled Compañeros: Latino Activists in the Face of AIDS (2011, University of Illinois Press) and creator of a documentary Tal Como Somos/Just As We Are on the lives of Latino gay men, transgender persons, and people living with HIV/AIDS. He is also the author of the blog Gayby Boomers: The Gayest Generation. Dr. Ramirez-Valles has received awards from the National Institutes of Health and the Rockefeller Foundation. For more than 20 years he has worked in public health in both the United States and Latin America on a variety of projects ranging from reproductive health, substance abuse to HIV prevention and economic development with women, youth, and gay male populations. Also, he serves as a council member in the National Institute for Minority Health and Health Disparities and is a Trustee for the Society for Public Health Education. He was born in Mexico, obtained his doctoral degree from the University of Michigan and is a professor of public health at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

© 2011 Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint these articles, or post them online, please e-mail us.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Older Gay Men & the New Same-Sex Marriage Laws

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times. MANHATTAN, AUG. 2 Jacques Beaumont, left, admiring the grooms on the cake, with Richard Townsend, also in white.

I have not commented on the recent civil union law in Illinois and the same-sex marriage law in New York because I have mixed feelings about the institution of marriage. While same sex marriage might bring us closer to equality, it is not the only route. Paradoxically, marriage could take us, queer folk, back to where oppression started.
But I found the story of Jacques Beaumont, 86, and Richard Townsend, 77, poignant. They are pre-Baby Boomer generation. They met in 1972 in Manhattan and since then have been together as a couple. Now they are in poor health. As it happens with many older adults, regardless of their sexual orientation, their health deteriorated and they became secluded. They ended up in the hospital. They got married there. Both in their wheelchairs.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Beginners & the Phoenix Suns

So your father comes out at the age of 75. He declares he is gay. What do you do? Mr. Mills, a filmmaker, decided to go public with a portrait of his father.

Beginners, the title of the movie, and his director, Mike Mills, are making the rounds in the Advocate and NPR this month, June PRIDE month. Beginners joins another recent coming out story – that of the Phoenix Suns’ president, Rick Welts, who is 58. Mr. Welts’ story was featured in the New York Times and in NPR in May 2011. These two stories tell us about the ritual of coming out in old age. Of course, age and old age are all relative, but we are used to see this ritual earlier in our lives, sometime between our teens and early 30’s. Now, as the Gayby Boomers reach older age, we are witnessing older folks re-inventing and re-constructing their sexuality. Yet, the stories of Paul (Mr. Mills' father) and Rick Welts are different. Mr. Mills’ father was married until his wife passed away. And, by Mr. Mills’ account, he was a pretty good father and husband. Mr. Mills, in the interview with NPR, notes that the marriage of his parents had some loneliness in it. The story, in the form of a film, is more about the son’s view of his father and their relationship than about Paul and his own sexuality.

Mr. Welts’ story is that of a gay man who kept his sexuality out of the public eye. There were always rumors within his industry that he was gay. His long time partner died of complications from HIV. He suffered this loss in silence. This story was captured by the media because it happened in professional sports, not because of Mr. Welts' age or tale of the closet. Professional sports are still pretty homophobic. Gay men and lesbian women are forced to live in the closet.

These are two worthy stories, even if a little too sugary and trivial, because they point at the changes in the way we live both old age and our sexuality.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What Keeps us Coming Back?

What happens every Friday afternoon at the senior LGBT drop in group? On the surface, very little; on the inside, critical matters take place.

Around 12 noon, one by one, we start gathering inside the room a social service organization provides to the group. We greet one another as we walk in. None of us is ever on time, but most of us are seated around the table, with our cups of water, soda, tea, or coffee before 12:30. The staff facilitator (an employee of the organization) arranges food and coffee on a side table, assisted by a volunteer from the group. The food and drinks are also supplied by the organization, but every once in a while, members bring desserts or drinks.

Conversation flies randomly and in all directions. Two members chat among themselves on one corner, three others loudly converse across the table, and another one reads the latest edition of the local gay newspaper. There are, usually, between seven and twelve of us: half of the group are males, black and white. Then the facilitator interjects and asks us to check in. The structure of the meetings is loose. We are asked either to briefly summarize what’s going on in our lives or to highlight a good and meaningful event we experienced the previous week. This takes us through house chores; medical appointments, new maladies, and recoveries from illness; family birthdays, anniversaries, and drama; transactions with social service agencies; travels; new read books; and movies. In between, we ask questions and diverge. More people arrive. Others get up to get their lunch. And the facilitator takes us back to the check in round.

Then, we talk, share, cry, and laugh. For the rest 90 minutes, the group conversation freely flows. Oprah Winfrey’s show: Why and how she gives expensive gifts to the audience? Cancer radiation’s effects and how to fight them. George W’s wars and his ties to fascists in Germany. Facebook: should I join? Who is in? I don’t want people to know about my life. The perils of being gay or lesbian in the workplace in the 1960s and 1970s. The senior LGBT events happening in the next few weeks. Is the governor gay? Memories of deceased parents. Looking for peace and finding one’s self (yes, still at the age of sixty-five). The weather. How rheumatoid arthritis changes with through the seasons. The bar in the Gold Coast in the mid-1970s. Home long term care vis-à-vis assisted living housing. And Seinfield.

Is the sharing, chatting, laughing and (once in awhile) crying that brings this group together? This group of older LGBT folks has been meeting every Friday for over a year and half (I joined about a year ago). Through the Friday conversations and a few sporadic especial events, we have come to know each other and see where each of us has been through in his/her live. We feel ok talking about old lovers, sexual adventures, and financial difficulties. We joke and make fun of ourselves. As in a religious service or meditation practice, we close off the outside world when are together.

For many of these seniors, the Friday gathering is the only opportunity to meet peers and feel connected with LGBT folks. For others, the meeting gives them a chance to express themselves, find support and be supportive of others.

The Friday’s drop in group may not be a community in and by it itself, but it is an element of community. It builds a sense of belonging and individual and collective identity.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Contradictions of Larry Kramer Today

Although I disagree with many of Kramer’s ideas, including those in this interview by Salon, I think the problem is not modern gay men, but the actual interview and Kramer’s contradictions.

Thomas Rogers, the interviewer, aimed at writing a provocative piece (and he failed). Rogers wants Kramer to be angry, and he is. But Kramer’s anger is not the same as it was twenty years ago. He is angry at young gay men because they are not living their gayness as he did. He is angry at the State denying same sex marriage. Yet, he is angry at other gay men (perhaps including his own partner) who ignore him as a sexual body. He wants to be married. He wants to fuck around having “meaningless sex.” He does not care anymore about those gay men seroconverting. He is full of contradictions.

Rogers sets up an artificial separation between the young (post ACT UP) and the old (AIDS era) gay men. From his very first question, Rogers places AIDS and ACT UP as an “exotic” past, Kramer as an old (angry white) gay male, and himself as the young gay man wishing to have lived such past. Well, Kramer, as an old man, is still a gay man (as Rogers is) and Rogers is living AIDS and its movement, albeit in a different phase. A better narrative could have been the continuity of being gay, AIDS and the gay movement (with their own fissures), rather than artificial antagonisms.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Differences in Health Outcomes between Older Gay and Heterosexual Men

Thanks to our colleagues at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research for this brand new study looking at differences in health outcomes between older gay/lesbian and heterosexual populations in California. Some highlights:
  • 50% of gay men live alone compared to 13% of heterosexual men.
  • 36% of gay men are partnered/married compared to 79% of heterosexual men.
  • Overall, older gay men's health is worse than that of their heterosexual peers.
These findings are very consistent with what we know from other studies (yet, ethnic minority older gay folks are not well represented in these data, so we can not make generalizations to all older gay men in the State).

Now, let's not jump to quick and easy conclusions that patologize single life or call for marriage. What we should gather from these data is that older gay men (along with lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people) are changing the face of aging and that their health is uniquely fragile.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Queer Gerontology

Queering gerontology means to critically analyze the heterosexual norms shaping scholarship in gerontology. The idea is not new, but only a handful of authors have written about it (Mark Hughes, 2006). It reminds fairly unexplored.

Queering gerontology is a strategy, more than a concept. It is a strategy to raise questions, develop methodologies, and gather empirical data. It works as a set of lenses to look at gerontology. The goal is to unmask and deconstruct the ways in which heterosexual dominant norms define what it means to be of old age – from the decline of health to retiring and living in assisted facilities or nursing homes.

This strategy also implies making visible same sex desire, love, and relationships in old age. To make gerontology queer requires documenting the manner in which older lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning people live.

The queering of gerontology will not only create a critical stand and analysis, it will also help redefine the actual aging experience. It will inform policy changes, health care delivery, and housing.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

We Where Here & Obituaries

This new documentary, We Where Here, promises to be a so needed historical piece on the arrival of the AIDS epidemic and the gay liberation movement. There is a plethora of books, academic and otherwise –including my on forthcoming book Compañeros – chronicling the AIDS epidemic and its impact on the gay and lesbian communities, but we’re missing the imagery, sounds, and voices of the time. It will be screened this weekend at Sundance.

Take a look at the trailer here

Through the film’s site, I found the archive of the obituaries published by the San Francisco gay news paper, Bay Area Reporter. I found myself hooked reading those published in the 1980s-1990s. To give you a sense of the devastation among gay men: between January and February of 1982, there were only 2 obituaries published, four years later, same month: 74.
I'm showing two obituaries here from the archive of the 1990s.