LGBTQ+ seniors are often left behind in discussions about affirming community spaces, services, and accommodations. Earlier generations of LGBTQ+ people blazed trails for the freedoms and opportunities many queer people enjoy today, yet the enduring legacy of discrimination has made it harder for them to reap the fruits of their labor, including the ability to retire with dignity and economic security.
Now, organizations and officials in the United Kingdom have joined forces to address this pervasive issue and will open Britain’s first LGBTQ+ retirement community in mid 2021.
According to Reuters, the complex will be located in London on a location along the Thames River. Tonic Housing, an organization focused on supporting the LGBTQ+ seniors through shelter and other resources, obtained a $7.9 million loan from London Mayor Sadiq Khan through the government’s GLA Community Fund to build the facility. The organization has purchased 19 apartments at One Housing’s Bankhouse, a retirement center based in the Lambeth borough, which has the highest LGBTQ+ population of any area of London.
“We are making history today, realising a long held dream to provide a safe place for older LGBT+ people to live well, in a community where they can be themselves and enjoy their later life,” said Tonic Housing CEO Anna Kear, in a press release. Kear noted that the home, dubbed Tonic@Bankhouse, is intended to be the first of many retirement communities opened by the organization.
Kear told Reuters that many LGBTQ+ seniors in the country have said it would be “terrifying” to live in predominantly heterosexual retirement settings where they may not be affirmed by their peers. “People say that if they get to that stage, they would rather [die by] suicide than go into a heterosexual care home or sheltered housing environment, which is just awful,” she said.
Tonic Housing said it plans to create events and activities based on the interests of the residents and will work in tandem with other LGBTQ+ groups and support providers to ensure people in the retirement community have their needs met.
Age U.K., an organization supporting British LGBTQ+ elders, notes that the entire United Kingdom is home to an estimated one million queer and trans people over the age of 55. Tonic Housing’s website indicates that 145,000 of them are based in London, which was part of its decision to place the nation’s first LGBTQ+ retirement community in the city.
In a statement, Khan said he is “delighted to see these long-held plans come to fruition.”
“Older Londoners deserve to be able to enjoy their later years in comfort and security, surrounded by a thriving, supportive community,” he said. “I look forward to seeing this realised at Bankhouse and to supporting Tonic’s work to establish further LGBTQ+ affirming developments in the years to come.”
According to a 2020 survey, 56% of LGBTQ+ Londoners over the age of 50 expressed a strong preference for an LGBTQ+ retirement community. In addition, 64% of respondents said they preferred an LGBTQ+ focused care provider, whereas 25% said they’d accept one that is LGBTQ+ accredited. Three out of four people surveyed said they preferred to continue living in London. A majority of respondents live on incomes at or below 2,000 pounds per month.
Other U.K. organizations are also working towards creating LGBTQ+ housing facilities for the community’s elders. Developers L&Q and London Older Lesbian Co-Housing announced plans last year to create an alternative care and co-living space where LGBTQ+ seniors could live with their peers in a space dedicated to their needs and operated under their leadership.
Meanwhile, in the United States, many LGBTQ+ focused retirement communities have been opened in recent decades. But for a number of elders, retirement and assisted living communities aren’t always accessible due to economic disparities and affordability issues.
For example, a January report from AARP of New York and the LGBTQ+ elder advocacy group SAGE notes that one third of queer and trans people over 50 in New York State live at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, compared to a quarter of non-LGBTQ+ people. Due to these disparities, 44% percent of older LGBTQ+ people respondents reported concerns over the necessity of working well beyond retirement age, compared to just 26 percent of non-LGBTQ+ people.
“This is a consequence of spouses or partners of older LGBTQ people having either died or retired before marriage equality passed,” SAGE said in the report. “Therefore, they may be unable to access Social Security survivor benefits, their partner’s benefits, or assets.”
Similar disparities exist in England, according to ILC-U.K., a nonpartisan think tank focused on aging and population change. Its 2019 analysis of 24 different research surveys found that a lifetime of prejudice and stigma is leading to worse physical and mental health and poorer access to health and social care, as well as greater levels of social isolation and loneliness among older LGBTQ+ people.
“We need to see action now to build on the [U.K. National Health Service’s] pledge to end discrimination in health and care across the country. We must also enhance our understanding of the needs of the older LGBT community,” said Brian Beach, a senior research fellow at ILC-U.K., in a press release. “Health and care staff must be trained to ensure that they are not directly or indirectly discriminating against older LGBT people.”