CM: “I shouldn’t have to worry about going back in the closet”: Edmonton’s LGBTQ2S+ Friendly Retirement home
By Sydney Sheloff
The Edmonton Pride Seniors Group Society’s mission is to ensure that seniors’ services, activity centers, and housing are safe for LGBTQ2S+ seniors living in Edmonton. The society is currently working on a project to develop a safe retirement home for LGBTQ2S+ seniors.
We sat down with Blair MacKinnon from the Edmonton Pride Seniors Group Society to learn the impact this housing would have on LGBTQ2S+ seniors living in Edmonton.
Can you give a brief overview the LGBTQ2S + friendly retirement home?
Around 2017 the Edmonton Pride Seniors Group Society (EPSGS) formed the housing development committee to get more focused on the housing project and what we could achieve for our community. In 2015 we had consultants do a survey of our seniors in the LGBTQ2S+ community and found that they had fears about moving into any sort of seniors housing. Many people have been out for many years and never really thought about “OK what happens when I get older, and I can no longer live in my own house” which is what most people want to do. The survey pointed out that people had fears about moving into general seniors housing and that they might face discrimination. We’ve seen research from different jurisdictions that LGBTQ2S+ seniors did face discrimination when they went into seniors’ housing. To have to go back into the closet again after they have been out for 20, 30 years, was pretty terrifying to people.
We did a survey back in 2020 where we contacted about 212 members of our community to find out what’s important to them in housing. The key thing is having safe housing for our community, where they can feel comfortable and that it’s their home. It was important that they be together with members of their community and can be who they are.
Throughout your research what needs did you find that LGBTQ2S+ seniors have that differ from other seniors?
A lot of people, when they get a certain age, they have a question “but where would I live” and then they pick someplace that’s appropriate for them. We have that same concern but also, a number of other worries: If I have a partner, I should be able to live with my partner in this housing. Would the residents and staff accept me? Would I be able to live free from discrimination? Would my sexual orientation be assumed? Would they assume that I’m straight? If there was healthcare like home care, how would I be treated by healthcare professionals? Some of them mentioned they are afraid of violence or harassment from residents. One of them said for example, “I shouldn’t have to be inauthentic to survive,” I should be able to be who I want to be, I shouldn’t have to struggle to get the care I want, I shouldn’t have to worry about going back into the closet. We’ve heard from people who were out, had a partner and all of a sudden had to hide that relationship when they’re in seniors’ housing. It was like going backward, and so they said, “I want to feel respected and comfortable and safe just like any other person.”
The housing that we would provide would be somewhat different in that we wanted it to be a Community Center too. They would provide programs and services and social events in the building, not just for the residents, but for other members of our community, so it would be the go-to place. In the design of our housing, our consultant made sure that we had space not just for the apartments, but for a community kitchen and a large open area where you can hold events. There would be a cafe for people in the building and residents’ friends and relatives. It would be more than just an apartment building, it would be unique and as far as we know, it would be the first in Edmonton. Social events are very important for the LGBTQ2S+ community because as seniors age they often get more isolated from the rest of the world and in our community even more isolated.
Why is it important to form community between LGBTQ2S+ seniors and other seniors?
In the survey over 90% of people said they didn’t want it to be just LGBTQ2S+ seniors, that they wanted their friends and allies to be there also. They didn’t want it to be what we call a gay or lesbian ghetto, that was very critical, they wanted it to be just like they are in their own life. Members of our community may have been married previously and have children, and so they interact with members of their family, and lots of us have straight friends. They wanted the home to be a community for everyone, that was very important.
What is the importance of aging in place in the context of this project?
Once people move from their home into this housing, they want to stay in their home. It was very critical, we heard from them that they shouldn’t have to move up and go to another higher level of care just because they need more services. That’s the whole concept of aging in place, the care that you need when you need it continues with you so you can stay in the same place.
What sets this home apart from other existing affirming facilities such as the Ashbourne?
While the Ashbourne is an affirming facility, anyone who is LGBTQ2S+ there is accepted, that doesn’t mean it was built expressly for the LGBTQ2S+ community. Whereas in our housing the majority would be LGBTQ2S+. Our members of the community would feel very safe, and I think that’s very important for them. It is important to feel connected to community. It’s almost funny in a way that our community never thought we would ever get old, and now we’re at this point in our life, we have fought for our rights for many many years and now we’re seniors and then we have to fight for those rights too. That’s what sets this apart from other general seniors housing.
What is one message you would like people to take away from this project you’re working on?
We want to have the same rights and feel safe and part of the community just like everybody else. It’s very important for our community, just like every senior, to feel welcomed, safe and comfortable. I’d say these are just basic rights, it’s not anything unusual, it’s something that members of our community deserve, and we just want to be who we are.
You can learn more about this project by reading the Edmonton Pride Seniors Group Society’s LGBTQ2S+ Friendly Seniors Housing Prospectus, and by signing up for their newsletter to receive updates on the project.
Note: This is an excerpt from our September 2022 Community Matters, you can read the full publication here
Did You Enjoy this Article? Please provide feedback here