What happens when you’re old and gay?

Opening Doors

Some of the members of Opening Doors, from left: Donald Black, Tom Devine, Alexander Duncan, Willie Millar, Lyndon Scarffe

Angelo Marcellini is 75 and lives in sheltered housing in London. When he’s in the lift, his fellow residents won’t join him. If he comes in, they leave. Only two of the households on his floor speak to him. Angelo is gay. The managers of his sheltered housing are evangelical Christians and they won’t help because they don’t like him either.

Many older people are having to find new ways to live, but perhaps none as obviously as gays and lesbians. Previous generations of older gay people weren’t out; they were invisible throughout their lives and expected to stay that way when they became old or vulnerable. But for the current generation, that’s simply not good enough. Civil partnerships and equality legislation have changed Britain. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people know they are entitled to to be acknowledged for themselves. They no longer have to pretend to be something else.

The progress that has been made is the direct result of the campaigning and suffering of the older generation; by rights gay elders should now be celebrated by a society that has finally found itself at ease with their sexuality. But when I went to see a group of older gay men who meet to discuss issues affecting older gay people and asked what these were, they said: ‘persecution, depression, suicide, homophobia.’ Continue reading

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The fight for older women’s cohousing

Jayne Nelson and Bertie the dog in her garden

Jayne Nelson (and Bertie)

Five years ago, Jayne Nelson watched her 94 year-old mother die. ‘She refused to leave home and she complained of loneliness all the time. It was so painful to watch. She somehow felt my sister and I should be able to sort it out, although neither of us lived nearby. Knowing what I’d felt about trying to help her, and that nothing could decrease her unhappiness, I never wanted my children to experience that.’

Jayne, who is now 72, was divorced in the 1970s and brought up three children as a single parent. ‘I’ve always been aware that women usually end up living on their own and I don’t want to end up as a solitary person in an old people’s home. I’ve been a member of women’s groups and had a lot of women friends and I’ve felt for a long time that women need to find a way of living together in old age.’

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