Tag Archives: SAGE

Remembering Bobbi Fries

Roberta Fries, known as Bobbi, was Queen of the SAGE Spring Fling a few years ago. (SAGE is a social service, and advocacy organization for LGBT seniors.) But she was more widely known for her adoption work. She died Oct. 9 following surgery, while still recovering from a previous fall.

Bobbi founded her Adoption Option agency in 1985 and over the next quarter century was instrumental in the placement of babies and children in many lesbian and gay families, as well as in numerous other families. Until recently Bobbi hosted a picnic each summer to bring adoptive families together.

In addition to her services for adopting families, Bobbi was actively involved with the Equality Wisconsin adoption committee, working to change state laws on behalf of lesbian and gay adopters and children.

Born Dec. 8, 1934, Bobbi grew up in Racine and graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.  She earned her master’s degree in social work from UW – Milwaukee. Her passions included country line dancing, classical music, bridge, Sudoko, and the Cubs.

An open-hearted and nonjudgmental person, Bobbi had many friends in the women’s community and beyond. She is survived by her son John, his wife Karri, her sister Arlene and her husband Steve, her sister-in-law Diana and her husband Carter, and numerous other relatives. Bobbi’s husband

David and son Robbie preceded her in death.

A memorial service will be held on Sat., Oct. 19, at Church and Chapel Funeral Home, 1875 N. Calhoun Rd., Brookfield (visitation at 1 p.m., service at 3 p.m.).

Push to build LGBT senior housing begins

As the rebels of the Stonewall era enter their 60s and prepare for the sunshine years, the movement they forged is helping shape new ways of aging for the LGBT community.

More than 20 LGBT-focused retirement communities – homes, apartment buildings or resorts – are in various stages of development in the United States, some as private enterprises, some as public-private partnerships. Several communities already exist, catering to a people who busted open closet doors and don’t want to retreat to those closets in retirement.

But new housing cannot nearly meet the needs of LGBT seniors. For instance, a new affordable housing project underway in San Francisco will provide only 110 apartments and there are an estimated 25,000 LGBT seniors in the city already.

A National Gay and Lesbian Task Force study in 2010 estimated there were 3 million LGBT Americans over the age of 65 and that number will double by 2030.

The Cream City Foundation, which serves as a catalyst for social change on behalf of LGBT communities in Southeastern Wisconsin, published the groundbreaking “Wisconsin’s Elder Readiness: A Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Lens” in 2011. The report estimated that about 53,000 to 106,000 older adults in Wisconsin are LGBT. The report also said Wisconsin’s population is aging rapidly – by 2020 there will be more people 60 years and older than children enrolled in K-12 schools in the state.

“And we’re talking about an increasingly diverse older adult population,” said Serena Worthington, director of community advocacy and capacity-building for SAGE. Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders is a national organization with 23 affiliates in 16 states, including a popular group in Milwaukee that Worthington said is becoming part of the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center.

Worthington was working in art therapy at a nursing home in Chicago when she began taking a specific interest in LGBT aging issues. Eventually she went to work for the Center on Halsted, Chicago’s LGBT community center on Halsted Street in the heavily gay Lakeview neighborhood, and then for SAGE.

“If you get a group of seniors together, they’ll talk about the same thing, the same concerns,” Worthington said. Regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, older Americans will talk about health care, transportation, housing and being alone.

LGBT people, Worthington added, will also talk “about acceptance and being able to be who they are where they live.”

These are valid concerns for a population that knows about isolation and discrimination.

Today’s LGBT seniors “came of age in an era when it was illegal to be gay. …This is a whole group of people whose formative years are shaped by this stigma, this rejection,” Worthington said.

In Milwaukee, different groups have examined aging issues and assessed needs in the LGBT community. There’s general agreement that providing access to affordable – and welcoming – housing must be a priority. 

“There’s certainly a need, as we well know,” said Paul Fairchild, president and CEO of Cream City Foundation.

Fairchild said community leaders have had some discussions with representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. But, he added, “We have a lot of work to do.”

Fairchild played an early, pivotal role in developing an LGBT aging program in Chicago in the 1990s and acknowledged that establishing affordable housing can be a lengthy effort.  Although construction is set to begin this year on the senior housing project in Chicago’s Boystown, Fairchild said, “We started talking about that housing issue all those years ago.”

A ‘vulnerable population’

Contrary to a public perception, study after study shows that LGBT people are not disproportionately affluent. Discrimination has limited or ended careers, including military service, and denied same-sex couples many benefits others receive to prepare for their sunshine years.

Studies also show that LGBT people are twice as likely to enter old age as singles; less likely to have relatives who will care for them in old age; less likely to access health care, housing or social services – or, when they do access such services, more likely to say the experience is stressful or demeaning.

“We’re talking about a population that is pretty vulnerable,” said Worthington.

Older LGBT Americans in partnerships may find themselves unwelcome in a traditional retirement community or find that, because they are not legally married, they can’t share a room at a nursing home.

Some of these trends are likely to shift as a result of changing attitudes about LGBT people and transformative political reforms, especially the potential overturning of the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act as early as this summer. But what won’t change is the need for adequate services for a booming LGBT senior population.

A study by the National Senior Citizens Law Center and Lambda Legal found that many LGBT seniors in traditional retirement settings feel pressured to return to the closet. But, in some communities, there are nonprofits working with government agencies to create affordable housing so seniors can remain in their neighborhoods, in some cases the vibrant LGBT-centric neighborhoods they helped establish.

Triangle Square Hollywood is a four-story retirement community in Los Angeles that’s operated by the nonprofit Gay and Lesbian Elder Housing and provides housing to seniors who are 62 and older and earning 60 percent or less of the area’s median income. Triangle, built as a result of a public-private-nonprofit partnership, features more than 100 apartments, as well as an activity center, a pool and social service programs.

In Philadelphia, construction is underway on the John C. Anderson Apartments, named for a gay city councilman instrumental in the passage of Philadelphia’s gay rights bill in 1982 and a mentor to Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. The 56-apartment affordable housing project in the city’s Gayborhood involves the William Way LGBT Community Center, the city, the Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund and Penrose Properties. Construction could be finished this year.

In Denver, SAGE of the Rockies is working with other groups on exploring the creation of a retirement community in the heavily gay Capitol Hill neighborhood.

In Minneapolis, Spirit on the Lake Housing Co-op is a proposed 46-unit project for those earning less than half the area median income. The project involves the Spirit of the Lakes UCC Church and a community housing development group. The building may open as early as September.

In Chicago, the Center on Halsted and the Heartland Alliance, Inc. are working with the city and local housing authority to convert an empty police station at Addison Avenue and Halsted Street into a mixed-use building that contains commercial space and 70 apartments for low- and moderate-income seniors. Construction could be completed by next spring.

In San Francisco, the nonprofit Openhouse has city and county support, as well as the involvement of a private developer, for the development of 110 apartments for low-income seniors at 55 Laguna St., part of a larger multi-family development at the property. Construction is expected to start in late 2014.

“The 55 Laguna development addresses a critical need for LGBT seniors, who face enormous challenges in finding welcoming and affordable housing,” said Openhouse’s Seth Kilbourn. “For decades, thousands of LGBT people have come to San Francisco to find personal freedom and acceptance. As older adults with increasing needs, the pioneers of this migration are being forced back into the closet in order to receive the quality care and housing they need. They are being forced to relocate and leave dear friends behind. 55 Laguna will be a critical community resource to help LGBT seniors age with dignity and grace in the city they call home.”

Elsewhere, there’s a focus on market-rate LGBT-centric retirement communities, although some have struggled to survive the recession, foreclosure and bankruptcy.

In New Mexico, RainbowVision Santa Fe consists of a restaurant, a lounge with cabaret entertainment, the Billie Jean King Spa and Fitness Center, as well as more than 100 condominiums and 26 assisted-living apartments.

In Santa Rosa, Calif., the luxurious Fountaingrove Lodge LGBT Retirement Community features a pool, pet park, orchard, wine cave, art studio, bistro and cocktail lounge, as well as apartments and bungalows.

Outside Palm Springs, Calif., a massive proposed market-rate project is to be called Boom. The $250-million “urban village” is in the early planning stages.

In addition to creating LGBT-specific senior housing, aging specialists are working on alternatives – homesharing programs, building partnerships with housing authorities and continuing to train people at senior centers, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to help make LGBT seniors feel more comfortable in more settings.

Perhaps it is not as exciting as seeing  the groundbreaking on a new building, but this work will lead to “huge structural change,” Worthington said.

On the Web…

Market-rate retirement communities

Fountain Grove Lodge: fountaingrovelodge.com 

RainbowVision Santa Fe: rainbowvisionsantafe.com

Boom (planned): boompalmsprings.com

Affordable housing retirement communities

Triangle Square Hollywood: gleh.org

John C. Anderson Apartments (underway): dmhfund.org

Spirit on the Lake (planned): prginc.org

Openhouse (planned): openhouse-sf.org

Town Hall on Halsted (planned): centeronhalsted.org

Aging resources

FORGE (Milwaukee): forge-forward.org

Milwaukee LGBT Community Center: mkelgbt.org

Gray Pride Parade (blog): grayprideparade.com

SAGEUSA: sageusa.org

National Resource Center on LGBT Aging:


U.S. agency: Older LGBTs a population of ‘greatest social need’

The U.S. Administration on Aging on July 10 announced new guidance empowering federally funded aging-care providers to consider lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender older adults as a population of “greatest social need.”

The announcement paves the way for increased services that can significantly improve their health and well being, according to a statement from the Human Rights Campaign and Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE). The two groups urged the administration to provide the instruction.

“SAGE applauds this critically important step … to recognize that LGBT older people have acute needs and to ensure that services are available to meet those needs,” said Michael Adams, executive director of SAGE. “We look forward to working with the Administration on Aging to continue to improve the availability of appropriate services to LGBT elders across the country.”

HRC president Chad Griffin said, “This step brings much-needed attention to the unique needs of LGBT older adults, and the urgent actions we must all take to preserve their dignity. AoA’s actions today are a crucial step toward ensuring that this generation has equal access to the services and resources that they deserve.”

The instruction or guidance clarifies that the current definition of “greatest social need” in the Older Americans Act – the country’s leading vehicle for funding and delivering services to older people nationwide – allows communities to identify populations in their service area that experience isolation for cultural, social or geographic reasons.

The guidance provides specific examples of these populations, including increased need based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

LGBT older adults, according to SAGE, are at an increased risk for social isolation, experience poor health and health access and face higher poverty rates than other seniors. Despite the increased need, the population is less likely to seek federal assistance and healthcare due to actual and perceived discrimination.

Designating LGBT older adults as a population of “greatest social need” will encourage agencies to give priority to funding, outreach, needs and data for the community.

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SAGE releases guide to assist aging LGBT population

SAGE/Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders this week released a guide to answer questions from older adult service providers about differences in the aging experience for LGBT people and how those differences should be “reflected and honored.” 

SAGE estimates that there are 1.5 million adults aged 65 and older who identify as LGB. By 2030 the number is expected to double.

Previous research has shown that housing is the No. 1 issue for LGBT seniors.

“The vast majority of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender older adults have lived through discrimination, social stigma, and the effects of prejudice both past and present,” said SAGE. “Aging service providers should be aware that the effects of a lifetime of stigma, discrimination, rejection and ridicule puts LGBT older adults at greater risk for physical and mental illnesses,” along with other issues including social isolation and delayed care-seeking.

SAGE, with the 28-page “Inclusive Services for LGBT Older Adults

A Practical Guide To Creating Welcoming Agencies” guide, seeks to:

• Address common misconceptions about LGBT people.

• Promote the incorporation of LGBT inclusive terminology in intake forms, emergency contact forms and other documents.

• Include marketing techniques that can also appeal to and welcome LGBT people.

• Encourage LGBT-specific programming.

SAGE, in a statement, added, “

Clearly defined non-discrimination policies also play a role in ensuring that an agency or provider’s environment is inclusive for diverse populations, and this should extend to all staff members, not just supervisors.

Chapters in the guide include: “Knowledge Is Key to Inclusion ,” “Terminology Makes a Difference,” “Good First Impressions Demonstrate Inclusion,” “Set the Tone Through Programming,” “Gender Affirmation Is Vital,” “Lasting Change Starts with Everyone,” and “Inclusion Is an Ongoing Process.”

The guide can be downloaded here.

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New NYC center caters to gay and lesbian seniors

New York City celebrated the opening on March 1 of what city officials say is the nation’s first full-service senior center designed specifically for the gay community.

A standing-room-only crowd of more than 200 people attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the SAGE Innovative Senior Center in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.

“This is long overdue,” said Lillian Barrios-Paoli, commissioner of the city Department for the Aging. “We are beyond thrilled.”

The center is operated by the Department for the Aging and SAGE, a 34-year-old social service agency. SAGE stands for Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders.

Robert Philipson, a 77-year-old retired jewelry salesman, said he started going to bereavement counseling at SAGE after he lost his partner of 50 years.

“When you find yourself alone at 77 and you’ve built your life around another person, you are at somewhat of a loss as to where to go next,” he said. “SAGE filled that gap.”

Philipson said he and his late partner used to go to a straight senior center nearby and were welcomed there, but that center could not meet all of his needs when his partner died.

“They did not have the orientation to understand my position as a gay mourner,” he said.

Although March 1 was the center’s official opening, it started serving meals last month. Unlike most senior centers that serve lunch, the SAGE center serves dinner, albeit during the senior-friendly hours of 4 to 6 p.m. The suggested donation is $2 for dinner but no one is turned away.

“It saves money for me,” said Mary Hynes, 75. She added, “a lot of the guys that I know, they come here and have their dinner. Otherwise they wouldn’t feed themselves. They live alone and they don’t want to cook for themselves, so they’ll go without eating.”

In addition to meals, the center will offer a range of services including fitness classes, health seminars, cultural outings and computer classes. It joins New York City’s network of 258 senior centers across the five boroughs.

SAGE Executive Director Michael Adams said the center is going to change the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender elders in New York with its array of programs.

“And it is going to be … a beacon of light all across this country,” he said.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the city’s most powerful openly gay elected official, said the opening of the center represents another milestone for gay New Yorkers, who last year gained the right to marry in the state.

“There was a time not so long ago when both of those things would have seemed impossible,” Quinn said. “And we are sending a message today that the impossible is not only possible, it is expected.”

Speaking for herself and three other openly gay City Council members who attended the ceremony, she added, “Save us a chair. We can’t wait to be here someday ourselves.”

US sees call for more gay-friendly senior housing

Many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender seniors fear discrimination, disrespect or worse by health care workers and residents of elder housing facilities, ultimately leading many back into the closet after years of being open, experts say.

That anxiety takes on new significance as the first of the 77 million baby boomers in the United States turn 65 this year. At least 1.5 million seniors are gay, a number expected to double by 2030, according to SAGE, the New York-based group Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders.

Recognizing the need, developers in Philadelphia have secured a site and initial funding for what would be one of the nation’s few GLBT-friendly affordable housing facilities. They hope to break ground on a 52-unit, $17 million building in 2013.

Anti-discrimination laws prohibit gay-only housing, but projects can be made GLBT-friendly through marketing and location. And while private retirement facilities targeted at the gay community exist, such homes are often out of reach for all but the wealthiest seniors.

Census figures released this month indicate about 49 percent of Americans over 65 could be considered poor or low-income.

Gays are also less likely to have biological family to help with informal caregiving, either through estrangement or being childless, making them more dependent on outside services. That makes them more vulnerable, SAGE executive director Michael Adams said.

“They cannot at all assume that they will be treated well or given the welcome mat,” he said.

Cities including San Francisco and Chicago also have projects planned. But the first and, so far, only affordable housing complex for gay elders in the United States is Triangle Square-Hollywood in Los Angeles.

Open since 2007, the $22 million facility has 104 units available to any low-income senior 62 and over, gay or straight, according to executive director Mark Supper. Residents pay monthly rent on a sliding scale, from about $200 to $800, depending on their income. About 35 units are set aside for seniors with HIV/AIDS and for those at risk of becoming homeless, Supper said.

The Triangle’s population is about 90 percent GLBT and it has a waiting list of about 200 people. The project’s developer, Gay & Lesbian Elder Housing, plans to build a second facility in Southern California in the next 18 months, Supper said.

Chris Bartlett, executive director of the GLBT William Way Center in Philadelphia, noted that advocates spent the better part of two decades devoting their energy to programs for those affected by HIV or AIDS, which were decimating the gay community.

While AIDS remains a priority, Bartlett said, the crisis mentality has passed and allowed the community to focus on other things. He said he looks forward to the Way Center providing social services at the planned Philadelphia senior housing facility, in a sense repaying those who led the gay liberation movement.

“Don’t we owe it to them … to ensure that they have an experience as elders that’s worthy of what they gave to our community?” Bartlett said.

Adams said the real solution lies not only in building more facilities, but in cultural competency training for staffers at existing elder programs. The Philadelphia Corporation on Aging, the private nonprofit that serves the city’s seniors, began offering such seminars to health care workers a couple of years ago, said Tom Shea, the agency’s director of training.

“They’re going to be seeing a diverse slice of the aging population in Philadelphia … and we need to be sensitive to all their needs,” Shea said.

Adams suggested that discrimination faced by today’s GLBT elders could diminish in the decades ahead, since he said opinion research shows that younger generations are less likely to harbor anti-gay biases than older generations.

“So we hope that the passage of time will provide part of the solution,” he said. “But of course, today’s LGBT elders can’t wait for that.”

Jackie Adams, 54, said being diagnosed with AIDS many years ago meant she never thought she’d live long enough to need elder housing. But now Adams, who was born male and lives as a female, is part of a local initiative focused on GLBT senior issues.

On a limited income after losing her job as an outreach worker for those with HIV, Adams said affordable, GLBT-friendly senior housing is badly needed. She is not related to Michael Adams.

“I would be incomplete if I had to go from wearing stockings and dresses to (work boots) and jeans,” Adams said. “I would like to be able to live in a community where I could fully be me.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of an AP-APME joint project looking at the aging of the baby boomers and the impact this so-called silver tsunami will have on the communities in which they live.

A community Thanksgiving

About 130 people enjoyed homemade food along with a helping of community spirit at the ninth annual Rainbow Community Thanksgiving Potluck dinner Nov. 27. PFLAG, Brew City Bears, Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, Galano Club, SAGE/Milwaukee, Lesbian Alliance and Milwaukee Metropolitan Community Church sponsored the event, which was held at Plymouth United Church of Christ, 2717 E. Hampshire St.

“It’s always about bringing people together to be with the rainbow community, where you don’t have to explain yourself,” said event co-founder Dawn Schmidt.

– Sarah Leonard

Carol Stevens remembered as lesbian pioneer

Over 120 family members and friends crowded Milwaukee’s Quaker Meeting House on July 5 to pay tribute and share a potluck dinner in memory of Carol Stevens, a founding mother and guiding light of the city’s lesbian community.

Stevens passed away Saturday, June 26, at St. Mary’s Hospital surrounded by loved ones. She was 86.

Stevens was a member of the Gay People’s Union in the early 1970s, and one of only a handful of people at that time willing to publicly identify herself with the first gay organization to incorporate as a non-profit in Milwaukee.

She was a mainstay of many LGBT and feminist groups in the decades that followed, including Grapevine, the Lesbian Alliance of Metro Milwaukee, Silver Space and Senior Action in a Gay Environment (SAGE). She was an avid volunteer, working for publications like GPU News and Amazon, staffing information tables, selling raffle tickets and organizing dances for the women’s community.

“The great thing about Carol was how committed and dependable she was,” an old friend said. “She’d have an idea for a fundraiser or event and then get everyone involved to make it successful. She didn’t really see herself as a leader and yet that’s exactly what she was.”

She was also a legendary hostess and cook. Together with her longtime partner Jai, she opened her home to hundreds of women over the years for feasts and potlucks. All women were welcome, from argumentative political dykes to nervous “newbie” lesbians taking their first tentative steps to meet other lesbians.

Almost everyone at the memorial celebration commented on the generosity and gift for friendship which Stevens used to bring women together and mentor them.

Mo White, who called herself one of Stevens’ “adopted granddaughters,” cited six important life lessons she learned from her grandmother: Always look for the good in people. Fight for what is right and stick up for yourself. Find pleasure in life. Work continuously to better yourself. Be true and loyal to your partner.

Finally, White said: “Carol always said, ‘I have a good life because I think I have a good life. There are always things to be grateful and happy for.’”

Longtime friend Kathy Herbst pointed out that alongside her goodness and generosity Stevens also had a “toughness and tenacity about her.”

The crowd roared when White told an anecdote illustrating that toughness. Once, when a driver cut Stevens off and took her parking space, she marched to the offending vehicle after the driver had left and released the air from some of its tires.

Stevens loved reading, especially mysteries, and enjoyed music, theater and games. At the service, participants joined in singing some of her favorite songs, including “Shenandoah,” “Always” and “The Girl in the Red Velvet Dress.” For many years, Stevens and Jai hosted the Off-Stage Players, an amateur play-reading group, in their home. They also loved playing Charades, Scrabble, UpWords and Finish Lines.

Education and self-improvement were constant themes in her life. She earned her bachelors degree in Criminal Justice from UW-Milwaukee just a few months before her 75th birthday.

Stevens was born Carol Mauser in 1924 in Oak Park, Ill., and grew up in Chicago. As a child, she lived a few blocks from Wrigley Field and became a big Cubs fan, attending games with her father.

She married in 1951 and had three daughters, Vicki, Valerie and “Little” Carol, who later chose the name Chiron. Stevens divorced about 20 years later, starting her new life in Milwaukee in the early 1970s and getting involved with the emerging gay, lesbian and feminist communities.

She and Jai were presented with the PrideFest Community Service Award in 1997. On the occasions of Stevens’ 75th, 80th and 85th birthdays as well as her and Jai’s 30th anniversary, potluck parties were held at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center. Last year, they were named king and queen of SAGE’s annual Spring Fling. “It was such a treat to see them dancing,” Bill Serpe, SAGE executive director recalled. “Carol was always such a pleasure to be with.”

Stevens is survived by daughters Valerie and Chiron, four grandchildren, her partner of 38 years Jai, and hundreds of friends and admirers.

LGBT seniors come out late, start second lifetime

MIAMI (AP) — On his 75th birthday, Bill Farthing decided to be reborn. In the six years since he’d buried his wife of 45 years, he’d felt as he did long before: Lonesome, different, outcast. He wondered if he was going crazy; he contemplated suicide.

Looking back, the clues leading to this day had been scattered throughout his life, but only made sense just now.

So Farthing dressed in the most basic of blue wool skirt suits he could find on the Internet, with a white blouse and low-heeled, open-toed white shoes, and went shopping. Arms loaded with skirts and blouses from the clearance rack, Farthing approached the checkout.

“Did you find everything you wanted, ma’am?” the cashier asked.

Farthing looked over his shoulder, then realized she was talking to him. He had pulled it off.

He had become a she.


Increased awareness and acceptance of varied sexualities and gender identities has led Americans to come out far younger, as early as middle school. A less noticed but parallel shift is happening at the other end of the age spectrum, with people in their 60s, 70s and 80s coming to terms with the truth that they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

While no one tracks the numbers of the elderly who come out, those who work with older adults say the trend is undeniable, and a resulting network of support groups and services has cropped up.

The decision can fracture lifelong relationships. Or it can bring the long-sought relief of an unloaded secret.

“For the first time in my life, I’m not putting on a show,” said Farthing, who eventually had sexual reassignment surgery and changed her first name to Chrissie. “It seems like I’ve been out on a cloud all my life and now I’m not. I’m me.”

Outing yourself late in life can be complicated after having lived through times when being openly gay could get you arrested, put in an institution and given shock treatments. It’s snarled in a lifetime of trudging along through society’s view of normalcy and the resulting fear of being ostracized by children and grandchildren. And it’s marked by a nagging doubt that all the heartache, all the potential for it to go wrong, may not be worth it with one’s years numbered.

“When somebody comes out at the age of 20, they have their whole life ahead of them,” said Karen Taylor, the director of training and advocacy for SAGE, a national group that works with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender seniors. “There’s a real sense of regret and loss for somebody who comes out later in life, even when talking to them and they say the decision was the right one.”

Still, many seniors have felt empowered by the growing presence of gays and lesbians in pop culture and some high-profile, late-in-life outings. Among the most notable, “Family Ties” star Meredith Baxter came out in December at 62; Richard Chamberlain, long the target of rumors, came out in 2003 at 69, decades after the height of his career as a TV heartthrob.

Those who’ve mustered the gumption to out themselves say they feel as if they’ve been given a second chance.

Carl Martin, 83, of Falls Church, Virginia, came out as gay not long after his wife died in 1997. He says he was happy in his marriage but had known of his feelings for men since he was in high school and revealed an unrequited crush to a friend. Coming out, he says, has changed him from a withdrawn, tense, reticent bystander to a vibrant social butterfly who even talks to strangers in the supermarket.

“I would describe these as the happiest years of my life,” he said. “I’m free to be who I am. I was not free to be who I was before.”

The realization often doesn’t come easily. Sue Pratt, 74, of Kirkwood, Missouri, remembers having feelings for her high school English teacher, but she wasn’t sure what to do with them when she always dreamed of getting married and having a husband. She got her wish, but even when her husband left her, she still couldn’t come to terms with the truth.

“You would think I would say, ‘I’m free now,”’ she said. “But that thought never occurred to me. I was so deep in denial.”

Eventually, in her 60s, she answered a personal ad and slowly began coming out to her loved ones as a lesbian. Not everyone has taken it well, as she feared would be the case, but she has no regrets.

“I didn’t want to have a secret,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if I lose every friend that I have, this is what I have to do.”

Dr. Loren Olson, a psychiatrist in Des Moines, Iowa, who has studied late-in-life outings, said for most such seniors, there are losses, though they are typically less than they fear, and often vary greatly by socioeconomics.

Olson himself was 40 before he came out. While it may seem incomprehensible to some, he said it makes sense that many can’t face the truth for so long, even if some around them have surmised it.

“We don’t like disharmony in our thinking so sometimes we block out things that really are in opposition to really what we believe is true,” he said. “It’s like a child believing in Santa Claus: You just hang on to that as long as you can.”


Farthing’s life was sprinkled with hints.

As a boy, his mother asked one day how he liked school. “It was OK,” Farthing said. “But it would be better if I was a girl.”

He didn’t want to do the things other boys did. Girls didn’t want him around. He fought every haircut.

“We’ve got a homo on our hands,” he overheard his father say.

But with no sense what to do with his feelings of being different, life wore on. He served in the Air Force. He lived overseas. And then there was that girl he found at a pub in England.

She felt different, too, always attracted more to women than men. But they got along so well. And they fell in love.

Sex was never a big part of their relationship, but a daughter was born. The marriage, Farthing says, was happy. Both of them thought they would die with their soul mate by their side.

She did. Afterward, he tried anything to keep busy. He got his pilot’s license back. He bought a small plane; he built a hangar.

One day, he needed a brass, elbow-shaped piece for his plane’s fuel line. They call them male-to-female fittings, and he typed some such phrase into his computer. One of the search results that popped up was titled “The Male Lesbian Complex.”

“That’s stupid,” he thought, moving along to find the part.

But later, something drove him back. The description of the “complex” sounded just like him. Was he always meant to be a woman? Was he too old to accept this?

“I read it and it was so close to me that it made the hair stand up on the back of my neck,” Farthing said.

The transformation that followed has not sat well with all, of course.

A neighbor runs indoors now when Farthing comes outside of her Oakville, Missouri, home. A brother-in-law and other relatives have cut her out of their lives. And her volunteer work at a nursing home had to end when her secret became known.

But those who are closest have accepted her. And now, in life’s twilight, she says she finally feels normal.

“For the first time ever my life feels like it’s in the right place,” she said. “I’m going to check out of this world the way I was meant to come into it.”

SAGE awarded $900,000 grant

The federal government is awarding a $900,000 grant to establish a national resource center for services to LGBT citizens in their sunshine years.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging will be paid out over three years to Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders. The organization, the nation’s largest and oldest serving the aging LGBT population, is better known as SAGE.

“The resource center will provide information, assistance and resources for both mainstream aging organizations and LGBT organizations and will provide assistance to LGBT individuals as they plan for future long-term care needs,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a news release.

In creating the resource center, SAGE will forge a partnership with 10 organizations with expertise in a wide range of areas – including LGBT aging, culture change and competency and program evaluation.

HHS said the grant money is intended to provide information to engage, empower and support aging providers, LGBT providers and “ensure that LGBT elders have the necessary and culturally appropriate supports and services to successfully age in place.”

“AoA frequently turns to national organizations to support our national network of community-based aging organizations in their efforts to work with specific minority populations that are traditionally underserved,” said Kathy Greenlee, the assistant HHS secretary who heads the Administration on Aging. “AoA has traditionally funded national organizations to provide technical assistance on providing supports and services to African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian and Pacific Islander Americans and Native Americans. LGBT older adults represent a community with unique needs that also must be addressed.”

SAGE will focus on establishing a wealth of resources on the Web, including an “Ask the Experts” service, Web-based training programs and social-networking tools.

SAGE executive director Michael Adams said the center “will make a big difference.”

The news from HHS followed an announcement in October 2009 that the administration would commit $250,000 a year for such a resource center.

A month later, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and SAGE released “Outing Age 2010: Public Policy Issues Affecting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Elders,” which took an in-depth look at the challenges faced by millions of aging LGBT people in the United States.

“The needs of the oldest members of our community have been invisible and ignored by most institutions in our society,” said NGLTF executive director Rea Carey.

“Outing” found:

  • Research on LGBT people at the federal level is almost nonexistent.
  • Many elder housing and care programs have no mandate to provide competent services to LGBT people.
  • Many LGBT elders report widespread fear, discrimination and barriers to care.
  • Health disparities exist, with no federal commitment to addressing them.
  • The federal safety net that exists for heterosexual couples does not exist for aging same-sex couples, specifically the transfer of Social Security benefits to a partner.

Activists will put a spotlight on the last finding this spring, with Rock for Equality, a rock ’n’ roll rally scheduled for April 11 in Los Angeles and April 18 in Washington, D.C.

For more information about SAGE, visit www.sageusa.org.

For more information about the Administration on Aging, visit www.aoa.gov.