Affordable housing finally available to LGBT seniors in Philly

In a recent article entitled, "Rainbow-Hued Housing for Gays in Golden Years," The New York Times explores issues with which low-income LGBT senior citizens struggle, including affordable housing and finding accepting communities. They visited an LGBT-friendly affordable apartment complex in Philadelphia, developed by long-time advocate and co-founder of the Gay Liberation Front and Gay Youth, Mark Segal.

The article reads:

So it was with great pleasure that she [Denise Samen, 65-year-old LGBT military veteran] recently moved into the John C. Anderson Apartments here, a new, rent-subsidized 56-unit building for older adults where about 90 percent of the tenants are gay. “You don’t have to explain yourself,” she said. “You don’t worry about anyone putting you down.”

Among her new neighbors is Susan Silverman, 65, a retired social worker whose lesbian activism dates to the 1969 Stonewall riots, when street protests after a police raid on a bar in Greenwich Village helped kindle the gay rights movement; Elizabeth Coffey Williams, also 65, a transgender woman who appeared in a number of John Waters films; and Jerry Zeft, 70, a former Internal Revenue Service administrator who was in the closet for years.

Mark Segal, the developer of the apartment complex, tells visitors how liberating living here is: “We have a man in his 90s getting around with a walker, and for the first time in his life he’s wearing mascara. We have a regular mah-jongg game where lesbian separatists play with the men.”

The Philadelphia building, which has a waiting list of 85, is the nation’s third government-subsidized low- to moderate-income housing project for older adults that is specifically intended to be welcoming to gays. Triangle Square in Los Angeles, built in 2007, and Spirit on Lake, which opened in Minneapolis in 2013, were the first two. Three more are expected to open in the coming year in Chicago and San Francisco and a second one in Los Angeles.

There is a real need for this housing, said Michael Adams, executive director of Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders (SAGE). In a recent study, the Equal Rights Center in Washington had testers in 10 states pose as either gay or straight couples and make phone calls to senior living facilities.

In nearly half the cases, according to the study, the same-sex couples faced discrimination from housing agents, such as not being told about vacant units that were mentioned to the straight couples.

Within the article, residents reflected on to social and emotional benefits that come with safe and accessible housing, as well as the ways in which times are changing for the LGBT community--particularly, for some of its most vulnerable members.

Mr. Palumbaro considers himself a not-so-minor miracle, having lived with AIDS since the late 1980s. He likes that people here share a history, and that he can talk about his T-cell count without explaining. “I’ve made a nice little group of friends,” he said. “We check on each other.” They’re thinking of starting a weekly movie night, maybe chip in and get a pizza.

Surviving AIDS hasn’t been the only miracle. “I grew up when your parents could force you to have shock therapy for being gay. Now we have marriage. And this,” he said, meaning his new apartment.

You can read the full story here.

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