Saturday, April 10, 2010
My City Gets A LGBT Retirement Community
The project was initially announced five years ago and immediately saw resistance from the surrounding community in which it was to be built. Since that first anouncement, I had heard nothing more and had assumed that the protest it recieved from the community had overwhelved the developer...Aegis...who packed up and moved somewhere else. Well....I did a double take when I saw in my Edgewire news widgit a story called, "California city Approved Gay Retirement Community". Looking a little further I noticed Santa Rosa was mentioned....I was shocked...Just a few days before I had been thinking about that project and why we had heard nothing more about it. I had assumed it was dead. Not so, it seems.
Architects rendering of the soon to be built community:
Jay and I were both excited. We were under the mistaken belief that this was the first of its kind and I was all ready to hop on here and crow about it. However, a quick google search on LGBT retirement communities tells a different story. There are a few communities scattered across the country that claim to be LGBT exclusive. "Rainbow Vision" of Santa Fe, New Mexico claims to be the first, though how you can make that claim when there is so little news available on the subject is beyond me. According to gayretirementguide.com there are similar communities in about eleven states in the U.S....who knew?
However, it still does not take away my happiness at the fact that one will be located in my home town.
According to Edgewires account and their source document..my local paper, The Press Democrat...the reason that it took nearly five years to earn city approval is because the developer faced an enormous amount of resistance that ranged from environmental concern to the "not in my neighborhood" kind of people. The Evironmental protests claimed it would "result in the removal of hundreds of trees, intrude into wildlife habitat, generate unwanted traffic resulting in higher greenhouse gas emissions.
Uh huh....and perhaps it would also further threaten the evironment by ripping a hole in space-time and turning all the animals gay. Heres why their line of reasoning in unreasonable...
Whenever you build ANYTHING in Sonoma County you automatically face a hord of people with environmental concerns. Thats a good thing...i'm not judging it...but its also a fact. You can not build a lemonade stand on the street corner without a host of environmental impact studies...but heres the rub
For my ENTIRE upbringing the hills on which the community is to be built were bare but for grass, oak trees, and the occasional ranch house. In the 90's, developers began to notice that they were ignoring a prime piece of real estate overlooking the city and began to develope it in earnest. So up sprang Skyhawk and a whole range of upscale communities with homes whos prices edge above the 1 million mark. At the time of construction a manmade lake and golfcourse were also built to attract those capable of affording those homes.
The retirement community was named Fountaingrove Lodge and will be situated on the back end of that same manmade lake. So the trees to be cut down? Probably planted there to replace the ones cut down for the million dollar home built ten years prior. The species displaced were also displaced by those same homes and where was the outrage then? I know this first hand because I used to work at a home improvement center at the foot of those hills that catered to the surrounding hillside home owners. They would always come in complaining about how the deer had eaten all their landscaping. "thats because your living in THEIR backyard", I would think to myself, remembering the time when those hills were open ranchland. Also...any added traffic would also occur when they inevitably build more multi million dollar homes and completely cover my once green hills with high end tract homes. In short I believe that a certain percentage of resistance actually came from the people who didn't want to see a gay retirement home in their community and used environmental concerns as a polite mask for their real objections....even though city council members got their fair share of emails from protestors NOT afraid to voice their real concerns about building an LGBT retirement community.
But, five years later and one long battle with Santa Rosa City Council later..they won the right to proceed (though with a slightly smaller plan)... and Fountain Grove Lodge will be built...and on one of the most expensive pieces of land in the county to boot.
So who will be the first to take advantage of such an opportunity?
LGBT seniors are a largely undiscussed portion of the gay community. Many who reach retirement age, do so alone, without the support of their families and often without children to help support them. Many land in retirement facilities with the very same people that looked on them as sick, immoral, sexual predators when they were younger. Many are aging in from the generation that first stood up for gay rights now find a system that is completely unsymmpathetic to them now that they are older. Still others may have lost much to AIDS and now face it alone. I don't mean to paint a dire picture here...the stories that could be told here are many. My point is that alot of them aren't good and most don't get talked about at all...positive or negative.
The classic example from my growing up experience, are those couples that everyone would refer to in public as the "eccentric bachelors" or the "unmarried ladies" down the street. At least thats the polite term that was used in public...behind closed doors other things were said. After years of life together, one succumbs to illness and passes on. His or her family then swoops in and demands their share of the estate even though their is a surviving partner...sometimes even the house they lived in. The surviving partner, getting on in years and slowly becoming unable to care for themselves as well, finds him/herself facing the prospect of losing the life they built together and an uncertain future alone. Where does someone in this situation go?...well, a high number go into retirement communities and assisted living facilities with the same people that whispered behind their backs or even outright attacked them their entire life. Yeah...not exactly a happy ending.
We don't talk much about growing old gay ...even though we all think about it. No one asks...what happened to the bachelors down the street because they simply dissappeared. The only evidence being the for sale sign on the home they once shared together. Perhaps if you grew up like I did and had to overcome some pretty bad indoctrination about what it means to be gay, then maybe we didn't think we would make it to that age? However, its a discussion thats growing in the gay community as more couples gain retirement age with a set of legal protections the "bachelors down the street' did not have. Living wills, trusts, domestic partnerships, and in some cases...legal marriages help establish some form of financial security and legal protections against family members who never...EVER liked they fact that you were gay....or a government that does not acknowledge your relationship as legal. Its the beginning a a new class of people who are bringing up a topic that many feared to face because they didn't have any good answers....and its long overdue.
But while there are alot of couples out their with protections and rights previous generations where not afforded...there are still lots a men and women out there aging through the system alone that won't enjoy those benefits. Many of them blazed the trail so that we can have the live as we do today. In my private hours...when I get those...it bothers me because I know how generationally close I came to being in the same boat. When my our life calms down a bit, both Jay and I have talked some about volunteering at the new community in some capacity. The gay community too often has to rely on itself for the support missing from family and society....growing older is no different....we need to reach out and help those within our community that may not recieve that aid anywhere else....even if its just making it o.k. to talk about it.
Perhaps some of these people look at us in later generations as the unusual ones....because we make such a big deal out of our gayness. They lived a life where silence=survival and those habits, once learned, don't die easy. Perhaps they would be uncomfortable with the thought of being in a place where everyone is gay...where they can/might have to talk about it...but I take it as a positive sign that these places are beginning to exist....that there are places where you can be with others that have similar life experiences where you can talk about them freely and nobody douses you with holy water and hauls out a cross.
Fountaingrove Lodge is an LGBT seniors-only community. That may not sound glamorous to some but it sure is important to all of us. Time already passes so quickly for me, that the next time I blink, it may be me that is considering moving into such a place. I hope I will be blessed enough to be with Jay then. We always joke about becoming cranky old men together....we should all be so lucky. Perhaps by then the world will have changed to the point where being gay will be no big deal and the only reminders of a time when it WAS a big deal will be in the reminiscences of those of us who lived it. Perhaps in that day, an LGBT retirement community will be a thing of the past....but for now, I'm happy to have one in my back yard.
If you would like to become a part of the discussion or learn more about the issues facing LGBT seniors, please visit Sage, one of very few voices that tackle the subject in a comprehensive manner. Check them out at: http://www.sageusa.org/
Until next time everyone...