Mark Your Calendar
Can you imagine what it would be like to fight most of your life to come out of the closet of racial prejudice, bullying, homophobia, obesity, or whatever—then in your waning years be forced back in the closet against your will?
As a senior, I’ve just assumed that if I required assisted living or nursing care facilities, my life as a gay man would continue, albeit with the limitations of age. Friends and family would visit and still be a part of my life. But that’s not always the case as described by documentary film director Stu Maddux in his award winning film Gen Silent. He takes a look at the experience of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender seniors who are open about their relationships with friends and family but may feel forced to hide that part of their lives when they enter nursing homes or assisted living facilities. It’s an issue I’ve not thought about until recently when I saw the film Gen Silent.
The tsunami of Baby Boomer retirees, currently pegged at 10,000 per day, includes many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender seniors who in their final years may require assisted living or nursing home care. These are the same individuals, who have marched for AIDS, volunteered at CAMP Rehoboth, and fought for equality in a variety of ways. But in their waning years they may well face a hostile environment and elect to return to the closet.
Fifty percent of LGBT elders live alone and daily realize that their fantasy of dying in their own bed surrounded by their loved ones is just that—a fantasy. Many instead will face abuse and discrimination if they enter assisted living facilities or nursing homes. Anti-LGBT bias regulations, for nursing homes and assisted living facilities, were issued by the federal government in 2006, but they have never been enforced. According to the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, “LGBT culturally competent care is almost non-existent in mainstream assisted living and nursing care.”
Gen Silent focuses on an older gay couple, a lesbian couple, and a transgender Korean War vet, all in the Boston area, who have had to face discrimination again as they aged. Many care facilities aren’t prepared to deal with issues of sexual diversity. Very few graduates of Harvard, Yale, Smith, or Vassar care for clients in facilities catering to the elderly. The employees caring for senior LGBT residents are more likely at the bottom of the educational scale as well as pay scale. They meet minimal requirements and spend a good part of their free time on weekends in churches and social halls where homosexuality is condemned. So it’s hardly a surprise when an aide offers to pray with a frail resident to be forgiven for the sin of being gay, as documented in the film. Ellen Wedner, chairwoman of the Miami Jewish Film Festival, said, “I watched this film and got sick. ...None of us imagine getting older, so this is serious and thought provoking.”
Wedner was part of a group of individuals and organizations who recently brought the film to South Florida, where I now live, for multiple screenings. While you are always welcome to visit South Florida, it won’t be necessary to visit in order to see Gen Silent. It will be showing in Rehoboth Beach on Saturday, September 22, at 7 p.m. under the sponsorship of the Rehoboth Beach Film Society. It will be at the upstairs screening room of Movies at Midway. The filmmaker will be present to introduce the film and conduct a post-screening Q&A. So, mark your calendar, and don’t miss it. The discrimination against LGBT elders in nursing homes and assisted living facilities is an important issue whatever your age.
John Siegfried, M.D., a former Rehoboth resident, lives in Ft. Lauderdale. He is the author of Gray & Gay, A Journey of Self-acceptance. Email John Siegfried