It’s possible that there’s never been a better time in human history to be a member of the LGBT community, even while pockets of discrimination and homophobia stubbornly persist. Perhaps no one appreciates the radical civil rights victories of recent years more than LGBT seniors, who faced decades of discrimination, fear, and hatred.
“We are a group of people that has been harassed and seen as criminals and dismissed by law,” says Swedish man Christer Fallman. “The whole question started within myself: what will I do, what are my possibilities as a single man if I don’t find anyone to live with, what will my older days look like?”
Although Fallman would probably reject being called a senior (he’s only 57), he’s the proud founder of Regnbagen, Sweden’s first retirement home for LGBT seniors. Regnbagen — the Rainbow House — opened in 2013 in an idyllic Stockholm suburb with a view of the city’s bustling port. Its mostly male residents enjoy a hairdresser, foot therapist, health care, and a rooftop terrace.
“We have the same activities, we live the same life and we love in the same way,” Fallman says. “The only thing that is different is that a small minority of people who are gay can get together to find security when they are ageing.”
Fully 90% of seniors say they want to stay in their homes as they age, sometimes called “aging in place.” However, the Regnbagen already has a waiting list of more than 100 applicants, as more LGBT seniors seek out the kind of community they once thought was impossible. Similar LGBT retirement homes exist in the United States and Canada, but the Regnbagen founder says he dreams of a day when countries like Uganda and Russia open rainbow houses of their own.
In the United States, elderly LGBT seniors can face unique challenges. For instance, the non-profit Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) recently launched a program called Talk Before You Walk, which helps gay and lesbian seniors weigh the financial consequences of a long-awaited marriage. Some retired and fixed-income partners could risk losing important benefits when they finally walk down the aisle, and so advocacy groups like SAGE are stepping up to help.
For many activists, it’s the least they can do for the trailblazers who helped launch the gay liberation movement.