Planned Fenway Gay Retirement Community Faces Foreclosure

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday May 18, 2010

As the baby boomers enter their retirement years, the services geared toward elder needs will have to adapt to accommodate them. Any demographic as large as the boomers will inevitably include a large GLBT contingent, so services for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender seniors will also need to adapt or develop; already, stories of elders facing discrimination and abuse because of their sexuality are coming to light.

One innovation that might address the needs of GLBT seniors is the concept of the retirement community for sexual minorities--assisted living facilities or communal living situations where elder gays can be assured that they will be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.

But though several GLBT elder communities have been planned, they face rough going. A case in point: a Boston-based community for GLBTs over the age of 55 that would have been the first of its kind in New England seems to have gone belly-up without ever even breaking ground. The Boston Herald reported on May 18 that the company behind the proposed GLBT senior community, Stonewall Miner LLC, will be subjected to a foreclosure auction next month.

The company was a joint venture undertaken by Stonewall Communities and the Boston-based Abbott Development, the article said. The company had purchased property near Boston's Fenway neighborhood four years ago for development into a 53-unit planned community for GLBT elders, but the project seemingly stalled and went into tax delinquency.

For any development project, cash flow is key. But given that so many GLBT elders feel unsure or unsafe in elder care communities or assisted living facilities that serve a general populace, are gay-specific communities the wave of the future?

If so, the wave seems slow in gathering momentum. But that doesn't mean a need doesn't exist: an October 2007, New York Times article reported that GLBT elders frequently encounter homophobia, social isolation, and even abuse in elder care facilities. One senior citizen named Gloria Donadello, a lesbian in her 80s who came out to her fellow residents at an assisted living facility in Santa Fe, New Mexico, found herself frozen out of the limited social fabric of the facility. It was isolating; it drove her, the Times article said, into a depression.

The same article recounted how a gay man in a senior care facility in an East Coast city was removed from the general population of healthy, lucid seniors because other residents, and their families, protested his presence. The man was warehoused in a section of the facility for patients suffering from dementia; before more suitable accommodations could be arranged for him, the man, who had no family, hung himself.

That article went on to report that a facility in Chelsea, Massachusetts, scheduled to be built as part of the existing Chelsea Jewish Nursing Home, would include a section for gay and lesbian seniors, where they need not fear social isolation or, more terrifying still, inadequate care from staff who might treat them badly because of their sexualities.

It's an idea whose time has come, or is about to arrive, but not in the form of a landscape-altering wave. Rather, senior care for the GLBT community seems to be arriving piecemeal, in fits and starts.

An article from the Oregonian published on March 14, 2008, reported on an attempt by gay real estate businessman Henry Moshberger, 65, to establish Rainbow Vista, a facility meant to serve as "a retirement home for me and all my friends." But the facility's sole residents at the start were two heterosexuals; no groundswell of gay elders flocked to fill the rooms of the facility, located in conservative Gresham, Oregon. Location might have played a role: Daniel Torrence, the co-chairman of Senior Housing and Retirement Enterprises (SHARE), which has been committed to senior GLBT housing for nearly a decade, said that although his group had considered a partnership with Moshberger, the facility's placement was problematic.

Gresham is seen as conservative territory. The Oregonian quoted Torrence as saying, "We're really wanting people to be in a community where they can be themselves." But, added Torrence, "We're not so sure that's possible in Gresham at this point in time."

Plus, Rainbow Vista is in the suburbs, and, said Torrence, "[O]ur folks are isolated enough... Do we want to isolate them even further by locating them in the suburbs?"

SHARE, the Oregonian said, is looking into creating its own facility for GLBT seniors. Moshberger acknowledged that, "Certainly people on the other side of the river have that feeling that this is the hinterlands," and noted, "Just the name Gresham turns off people that aren't familiar with it."

Alley Hector, a blogger at, added his own take on the issue, opining in a posting that despite the low cost of the suburban environment, the cost at Rainbow Vista was comparable to a facility in the city. "Though queer seniors are often stereotyped as rich, the reality is that, on the whole, we have a lower median income," Hector noted. "So price is important."

Because gay elders often lack family support systems, they may face financial and logistical hurdles to accessing quality living situations that they cannot overcome on their own. Moreover, the myth of gays being on the whole wealthier than heterosexuals is, by and large, just that: a myth. On average, gays make less money than do their heterosexual counterparts.

That fact could go a long way toward accounting for why no major shift in GLBT-specific eldercare housing has yet taken place. "For the low income, obviously there's no money in it, so if you're a for-profit developer this is not what you want to do," Mark Supper, executive director of Gay and Lesbian Elder Housing, told EDGE in a May 13 article. "In the criteria to acquire funds, you have to have a lot of development experience and you're also a landlord and social service provider. There's a lot of bureaucracy, in a sense, in running these things."

But with enough funding and determination, successful GLBT elder housing projects can succeed; Supper's own GLEH created Triangle Square in Los Angeles and saw the facility take off with GLTB elder residents.

At this point, however, Triangle Square remains the exception rather than the rule. The earlier EDGE article noted that similar projects in Dallas and Boston had ground to a halt due to a lack of funds and the economic crash.

Catherine Thurston, senior director for programs of Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders, told EDGE that different kinds of communities were needed to meet the needs of GLBT elders. "I'm always really glad to hear that people are trying to create graduated communities so that LGBT older adults can age in place," Thurston said, adding, "We need to remember there's going to be a time where they can't live independently, and how are we going to support our community then?"

But Thurston, too, returned to the theme of safety and dignity, saying that GLBT-centered retirement communities and assisted living facilities were "not born of a desire to be exclusive," but rather from "a desire to age in peace and age in a way to really be able to be themselves."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.