Will LGBTQ+ Retirees End Up Back In The Closet?

What does your dream retirement look like? Your life experience living as part of the LGBTQ+ community will likely play a role in where you retire, how much money you have to spend in retirement, and even your healthcare needs as you age. Sadly, homophobia may put a damper on part of your gay retirement plan. It might even drive some part of the community back into the closet as we get older.

A few years back, I wrote ‘Who will care for LGBTQ+ Seniors‘ which very lightly touched on some of the financial issues facing the Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender retirees. As if planning for retirement wasn’t daunting enough, we as a group face some additional retirement hurdles.

Since then, I’ve met people who’ve gone back into the closet after entering retirement communities. Others living in fear of what will happen to them once their “family” is no longer able to keep an eye on them. Many may wonder if they will be able to afford Long Term Care, and if they will ever actually need it. All of this on top of the fear of ‘getting old’ which many of us are working hard to ensure this process happens as slows as possible. I’ve heard many gay men joke that they are suffering from Peter Pan syndrome (I don’t wanna grow up….)

The LGBTQ+ community has come a long way in the past few years. We now have Marriage Equality, but it appears we will need vigilance to keep it. More out LGBTQ+ candidates are being elected. We even have a gay married man running for President – Pete Buttigieg, gracing the cover of Time Magazine with his husband (Chazten Glesman). The shame of the closet is diminishing (for many). More and more people around the world are living out and proud lives. However, our battle is nowhere near over. I should point out that Fred Karger ran as out Republican in the 2012 Presidential Election.

Older LGBTQ+ baby boomers are leading the way into retirement. There is still a gargantuan need for more LGBTQ+ Senior Services. Not to mention more LGBTQ+ friendly housing options. How to do we make sure no one is forced back into the closet in retirement?

The LGBTQ+ Past will influence LGBTQ+ Futures

We are still in the early stages of mapping out what it really means to be LGBTQ+ and retiring. Much of a generation that would be retiring today was lost to the AIDS Epidemic. Those who remain are often scarred, or unprepared for retirement. I’ve spoken to many members of the LGBTQ+ community who never thought they would live long enough to retire, let alone need elder care.

Some of the younger generations can’t imagine the days when it was not only unacceptable but also illegal to be open about your sexual orientation. They don’t bear the same scars of previous generations who had to hide in the proverbial closet. Most of us are unaware that you can still be fired in at least 22 states simply for whom you choose to love (aka being gay).

While there has been a shift both culturally and legally in the US- time are changing for how we need to approach our LGBTQ+ retirements. Not all senior communities are gay-friendly, or even able to provide the health care needed for the specific needs of L,G,B and T retirees.

The Numbers of LGBTQ+ Retirees Is Growing

Today, there are an estimated 3 million LGBTQ+ people in the US over the age of 65, according to a 2014 Washington Post article. The number of gay retirees is expected to more than double by the year 2030. Keep in mind, these are only estimates, and the LGBTQ++ community is likely to be underestimated in many population counts.

If someone from the government knocks on your door and ask, “are you gay?”- Would you give an honest answer? Ok, to be clear, for most of the heterosexual people reading this article, thanks for reading, and I’m assuming you would answer truthfully. On the flip side, as an out and proud man, I don’t always lead with a big “I’m GAYYYYYY!!!” Those who want to know can use their gaydar; sure it will pick on my gayness.

Pairing fear with the fact that many retirement surveys do not delve further that your marital status, your gender, with perhaps some financial questions mixed in. We can get estimates for same-sex married couples from tax records. Whereas, there is no easy way from tax records to know if a single retiree is part of the greater Queer Community. If you look back at prior marriages, you may assume someone still identifies as straight just from the fact they used to married to someone of the opposite sex.

Issues For LGBTQ+ Retirees

Loneliness is a major drag on the enjoyment one can having during their golden year. LGBTQ+ seniors live alone at twice the rate of hetero retirees, according to SAGE USA, a non-profit which advocated for LGBTQ+ Elders.

A few stats from a recent SAGE USA Mailer:

  • 20% of LGBTQ+ older adults say they have no one to call in a time of crisis—that’s 10x the general elderly population.
  • LGBTQ+ individuals are twice as likely to live in poverty as their heterosexual peers. 70% of them barely get by with an annual income of $20,000 or less.
  • A mere 8% of senior housing offers services targeted at LGBTQ+ older adults.

It should come as no surprise that the members of the LGBTQ+ community are less likely to have children, and we all more likely to be single. Heterosexual retirees are three to four times more likely to have children, more on why this is important later. Not to mention that LGBTQ+ couples have double the chance of being single later in life.

LGBTQ+ Retirement Crisis:

To be fair, as a nation, we facing a retirement crisis across all spectrums of the population, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. That being said, certain groups are more at risk of falling into poverty as they age. Much of the basic care as we age is provided by a spouse or family member. Typically this care is provided free, or out of the goodness of someone’s heart.

Without children of spouses, a member of the community will likely need more resources to maintain a life of dignity as they age. These resources could come in the form of a larger retirement nest egg, charity, government resources, or perhaps some people will be lucky enough to form their very own Golden Girls retirement living arrangement. How fun would that be?

Previously I’ve written that Gay Married Couples make more that Lesbian Couples, who many more than all married couples as a whole. This is great news, but it may obscure the fact that people in the LGBTQ+ community are also more likely to be living in poverty throughout their lives. Think of it as a barbel- many are doing great at the top, and many are not doing well at the bottom.

Regardless of where you fall on the socioeconomic scale, many people in the LGBTQ+ community are not saving enough for retirement. As a community, we will face large costs in retirement, as we will need to pay for things and care that many other retirees will likely have provided free by family members or children.

Healthcare for the LGBTQ+ Retiree

As a gay financial planner, the intricacies of LGBTQ+ healthcare are beyond my expertise. That being said, I am aware of the additional questions my LGBTQ+ retirees must ask concerning healthcare in retirement. This may be as simple as being near a doctor who is up to date on treatments for issues that are represented in our community like HIV / AIDS treatment. All the way up to worrying about the various “religious freedom laws” being tossed around. If you are having a heart attack or stroke, do you really want to be turned away because of your sexual orientation? Do you want even to have to worry about this?

LBGT Senior Housing Options

The cost of retirement living may shock you. Don’t get me started on the cost of Long Term Care services in the place where the largest numbers of LGBTQ+ folks like, cities. A private room in many big cities will easily cost you over $100,000 per year today, and will probably cost quite a bit more by the time you would need care.

Homophobia is still an issue in retirement communities. Many LGBTQ+ retirees have ended up back in the closet as they age. I visited a client in a senior facility right here in Hollywood. So we aren’t talking some rural middle of nowhere senior care facility. Everyone thought I was his grandson, which I found odd. Then he told me, “I didn’t want them to know I was gay, so I told them my grandson was coming to visit.” He could have just told them I was his financial planner, but who am I to judge.

Some good news on this front is there seems to be a few more LGBTQ+ friendly, or LGBTQ+ targeted retirement communities being built or in the works. There are also a variety more communities being build for low-income LGBTQ+ seniors. For example, the Los Angeles LGBTQ+ Center runs Triangle Square, an affordable community for LGBTQ+ seniors as part of their senior services. Currently, they offer 104 units for LGBTQ+ seniors, with an additional 98 units expecting to be completed by mid- 2020, as part of the new Anita May Rosenstein Campus project.

As you can see if you plan on retiring while gay, you may need to do a little extra financial planning now, to avoid being stuck in the closet when you get a bit older. Remember you are not alone, and there a people out there who can help you prepare for your dream gay retirement.

What is your plan to be fiscally fabulous in retirement?

This article originally appeared in Forbes on June 5, 2019.