LGBT Retirement Communities – Unrealized Potential vs. Unclear Demand

[Editor’s Note: An article which lists LGBT retirement communities and apartments appears here.]

You are probably aware that the baby boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) is now reaching the ages of 50-68, which means that we’re entering an era in which a lot of people are and will be retiring. According to Serena Worthington of the nonprofit Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), there are currently between 1.75 million and 4 million gays and lesbians over age 65. By 2030 that number is expected to nearly double.

Given these statistics, it seems reasonable to assume that there could be a boom in the need for LGBT retirement community options. Over the past ten years, many projects have started, but most never made it out of the planning stages. The recession and real estate bust that occurred in the late 2000s scuttled some projects. But the question still remains: how big is the need for LGBT-focused retirement communities, now and in the future?

When I polled readers of this website in August, 2013, 30% of the respondents said they would seriously consider living in an LGBT retirement community, and 50% said they might consider it if the community was located in the area they were planning to move to anyway.

Before we continue, it’s important to distinguish between retirement homes and retirement communities. For the purposes of discussion in this article, a retirement home is a facility in which seniors require some level of assistance, from assisted living to full nursing home care. In these homes, residents live in rooms or small suites. Conversely, retirement communities are those in which the residents maintain their own residence – either a detached home, mobile home, condo, or apartment. In the former, residents require some level of medical care or basic living support; in the latter, residents can live independently or with minimal assistance.

The need for LGBT retirement homes, or at least LGBT-friendly retirement homes, seems clear. For years, LGBT retirees have suffered inhumane indignities during their final stages of life. For example, same-sex partners have been denied the opportunity to share the same room; staff members who personally object to homosexuality have treated LGBT elders insensitively; finances and benefits normally given to heterosexual partners have been withheld from surviving same-sex partners; and the loneliness and isolation that accompany aging is often compounded by discrimination. Many seniors have had to go back into the closet when they entered the senior care system. While the situation has improved in recent years, far too many areas of the country are still backward and intolerant in this regard.

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To me, the need for LGBT retirement communities (for independent and active retirees) is less compelling. In fact, I question the desirability of living in retirement communities in general (straight or LGBT). Perhaps that is internalized ageism, but I don’t think so. I want to stay in the mainstream of life. I’m involved in a number of organizations, such as musical groups and Toastmasters clubs, in which people of all ages participate. These organizations offer me the opportunity to be exposed to current culture and remain engaged in the greater flow of life. I get revitalized by being around younger people. To many of them, my advanced age is either a minor issue or no issue at all. I’d rather remain part of the mainstream than isolate myself into a community comprised predominantly of older folks.

Since I don’t have children, I also want to maintain a support system of friends, a few of whom may one day be able to assist me when I need it.

Just as I don’t think I want to live in a community that is almost exclusively senior, I don’t think I want to live in a community that is almost exclusively LGBT, either. As acceptance of LGBT people into mainstream society increases, I think the need for such communities will diminish. But that’s just me. If you would prefer to live in an LGBT-exclusive community, you are entitled to that choice.

As baby boomers continue to age and retire, perhaps the market for LGBT retirement communities will revive. But as the nation’s acceptance of LGBT people continues to grow, the need and demand for these types of communities will probably fade.

To the best of my knowledge and research, there are only a handful of LGBT retirement communities operating in the U.S. today. These communities are profiled here.

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