Gay, Grey, and Abused?
Some of us are familiar with the message of the movie Gen Silent, a documentary that highlights problems facing our aging LGBT population. Ten thousand Americans turn 65 every day, and in a society that is becoming more and more accepting of LGBT people, many of these have come out. But in the retirement homes and communities that more and more LGBT seniors are obliged to enter, discrimination and ill-treatment by caregivers is becoming more and more visible—sometimes obliging seniors to go back in the closet to get considerate treatment from retirement facilities.
The percentage of our aging population that is grey will continue to climb for years to come. What are our retiring seniors to do to claim the benefit of respectful treatment to which all are entitled?
The interaction of out gays and homophobic caregivers has perhaps fostered some specialized retirement communities around the globe, including one in North Carolina (Carefree Cove in western NC), though there are few others on the East Coast.
The presenter on January 22, Ms Patricia Harris, is extraordinarily well equipped to address this topic. In her middle school years, Patricia Harris wanted to become an architect. Problem is, there were few women in architecture at the time, and no African-American women at all (it took her until 1994 for her to become a licensed architect, the tenth African-American woman in the U.S. to do so). After her first degree, a BA in English and Theater from Wittenberg University in Ohio, for a time she served as an educational planner and social worker there. But then her dream took hold, and she earned a Master’s in Architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1986.
Since coming to NC in 1990, Ms Harris has put a lot of effort into community/facility revitalization, reuse, and preservation, for which she founded The New Synergy, Inc. in 1995. To provide planning and architectural consulting services, in 2006 she formed The Harris Collaborative, PLLC. And her latest firm, Golden Dawn Development, is at the beginning of design and fundraising efforts for a mixed-age retirement community in Durham. In that context, she is eyeing the need for sustainable and affordable LGBT-inclusive senior living in the Triangle and beyond, but including LGBT-friendly, artistic, and other niche customers as well—with part of the residences set aside for people younger than 35. This intergenerational mix should both foster a better sense of community and enrich the living experiences of older residents. Another idea is group housing designed for and occupied by several families, with shared living space but individual private family areas. “We want to do life- and community-enhancing architecture that addresses the entire person,” Harris says.