By Steve Charing
While I was celebrating a landmark birthday of sorts at the “Gay Mecca by the Sea”—Provincetown (P-Town), Massachusetts, I couldn’t help but notice a difference in the demographics of those visiting this iconic LGBT resort. Over the three-plus decades of vacationing at P-Town, the crowd has changed from a predominantly younger group to a more mature one.
This is not to say that Provincetown resembles Miami Beach; far from it. But if there was a pie chart depicting the various age groups through the years, the slice showing, let’s say, over 45 is getting thicker while the slice showing under 35 is narrowing.
One of the main reasons is that the cost of lodging, food and entertainment have been increasing steadily and have probably priced out the less affluent younger generation, both male and female, from partaking in this wonderful vacation spot. Why spend that much money on a scenic, historic, vibrant venue when the newest iPhone is about to go on sale?
Another factor is that the number of seniors in the LGBT population—a microcosm of the general population—is increasing faster than just about any other age group. This has been enhanced by the Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. Currently, there are an estimated 3 million LGBT elders in the United States. By 2030, that number will nearly double.
It’s not that obvious in P-Town, but it is safe to say that in general older gay men and lesbians have been the subject of scorn and ridicule by many in the younger generation especially in this youth-obsessed culture. The pattern has existed for decades. Although it is true that many younger LGBT folks have marginalized the older generation, it’s not always the case. Plenty of young gays and lesbians find attraction to their elders and establish friendships.
In the excellent book Reeling in the Years: Gay Men’s Perspectives on Age and Ageism (Harrington Park Press), author Tim Bergling presents anecdotal nuggets from hundreds of gay men over and under 40 and their experiences with the opposite generation. Some of these stories cover the swath of emotions from fear and loathing to love and happiness.
The book also points out that while younger gays have cast the elders aside, many older ones show a decided lack of respect for the younger generation. It cuts both ways.
But the concerns of the older LGBT generation go beyond their acceptance by the younger one. The recent San Diego LGBT Senior Needs Assessment Survey polled some 500 LGBT seniors, ages 50 and up, on topics most important to them as they grow older. Social matters, support, and concerns of social isolation were the top issues among those surveyed. That was followed by health and quality of life issues, financial concerns, LGBT-affirmative housing and housing affordability, and health insurance/access to quality health care.
As identified in the San Diego survey, an important issue facing LGBT seniors is living alone. That's true for 50 percent of LGBT elders versus 33 percent of the general population, according to Dr. Judy Bradford of The Fenway Institute, a Boston-based researcher of LGBT health issues. She notes that LGBT seniors are more likely to be estranged from their families.
In addition, there is a paucity of LGBT retirement communities in the U.S. While the number is increasing each year, there are still too few to house the burgeoning older LGBT population.
Moreover, nursing homes are a problem for LGBT seniors. Few states recognize the marriages of same-sex couples, and the existing cultural discrimination results in couples being split up in such facilities.
Yet with all these clouds forming above the heads of LGBT seniors, there are solid support networks to help allow the sunshine to peer in. As we spotlighted last issue, the Prime Timers of Baltimore offers an outstanding array of social activities and interaction to help their members address some of these concerns, especially the major issue of social isolation.
For lesbians, there is the social group Older and Wiser Lesbians (OWLs) of the Greater Capitol area) whom we would like to similarly profile in the near future.
The mega-organization AARP is also recognizing the needs of the increased aging LGBT population. Last month, in conjunction with Pride, AARP launched a new online web portal to serve us older LGBT folks. The site features articles on news, personal finance, relationships, travel and other topics of concern to older LGBT Americans, and their family and friends, as well as a community forum.
In addition, it presents targeted news, trivia quizzes and information on healthcare, retirement planning, care giving, taxation, employment discrimination and more. Visitors can access AARP’s coverage of relevant topics, including an article from the latest issue of AARP The Magazine examining—three decades after the emergence of HIV/AIDS—–the new face of AIDS: people over 50. (Included was a profile of Lee Fischer, the President of the Prime Timers of Baltimore.)
The portal also features AARP’s 20-part multimedia package, The Stonewall Riots: 40 Years Later, A Milestone Anniversary.
The quirky new film Beginners, now playing at the Charles Theatre in Baltimore, is centered in part on a character played superbly by Christopher Plummer, who came out as gay at the age of 75 following the death of his wife. He had the support of his son (Ewan McGregor), his much younger boyfriend, and a host of gay friends and lived a full and happy life until his ultimate passing.
Most of those mature folks who enjoyed Provincetown this summer also had friends and partners to share the magical moments with. Many more, however, need that support system. Hopefully, they will reach out to those organizations that can help them secure the friendships and resources that are needed to allow them to live fulfilling lives. And it wouldn’t hurt to reach out to them as well.