Out Of The Closet And Into Old Age: Caring For LGBT+ Seniors

Around the world, the first generations of openly LGBT+ people are arriving at a point in life where nursing homes and geriatric care become a real issue.

LGBT+ seniors have a higher risk of being isolated
LGBT+ seniors have a higher risk of being isolated
Rozena Crossman

PARIS — As he started walking down the hallway of a nursing home in France, Victor Castanet, a journalist for Le Monde, came across the haunting image of an elderly man calling out for a loved one: "Eléonore! Eléonore! Eléonore!" It was a forlorn and, unfortunately, stereotypical snapshot of care homes in many countries. But at the end of the hallway, Castanet discovered a different microcosm of the geriatric world, just as universal yet not quite as visible.

"It was the portrait of a passion that defied the laws of aging, bodily decline and ‘social norms': two women, aged 89 and 100, curled up together in a tiny nursing bed," recounts Castanet in an article on LGBT+ individuals in nursing homes.

The two women met and fell in love in their care home; today they spend their time knitting, practicing laughter yoga and singing karaoke hand in hand. Yet the life they created together is in spite of a system that is not particularly LGBT+ friendly. "You should have seen the staff's reaction when I announced they were a couple," recounted their former caretaker to Castanet. "Classic love stories are already unthinkable in nursing homes. Because we're old and ugly, apparently we don't have the right to fall in love. But two women! You can't imagine it."

I've been fabulous throughout my life and I want to be fabulous till the very end.

While "gay friendly" retirement homes exist in the United States, Canada, Germany, Denmark and Sweden, the widespread isolation of LGBT+ seniors remains problematic. In 2016 a lesbian couple were turned away from a retirement community in the U.S. due to their sexual orientation, and Castanet cites multiple examples of queer French seniors encountering mockery and scathing remarks from both their nurses and peers. Isolation is already a problem in the aging population, and multiple studies have found that the risk is higher for those who identify as LGBT+.

Today's LGBT+ seniors are one of the first generations to have lived openly queer lives — Photo: Alex Boyd

Being a queer senior is not exactly news. What is new is that in some countries, the now-aging population are the first to have lived openly queer lives and they are unwilling to accept compromises. "I've been fabulous throughout my life and I want to be fabulous till the very end of my life," an Irish-American man named David told the LGBT+ media PinkNews. He relocated to Spain in anticipation of the new queer-focused retirement home that is planned to open later this year in Madrid. In a country where homosexuality was cause for imprisonment until 1979, the government-funded care home is an enormous step forward for LGBT+ rights.

In New York City, a metropolis with a rife history of LGBT+ activism, a public housing project for LGBT+ elders is scheduled to open at the same time of the 50th anniversary of the homophobic, New York-based Stonewall Riots, illustrating the leaps in queer rights that have unfolded during the lifetime of these New York seniors.

What is being hailed as the first "shelter for the elderly" service in Latin America opened last year in Mexico City with the name "Laetus Vitae" or "Happy Life" in Latin, reports El Universal daily. "Since (our) community has been discriminated against, here the doors are open to everyone," says Samantha Flores, an 87-year-old transgender woman and founder of the shelter. Like so many elderly "these are people who are alone, and need company and someone to talk with."

Even in cities like Manchester — which holds the second-highest LGBT+ population in Britain — local reports have indicated that queer seniors suffer higher levels of loneliness and isolation. Their city council is in the process of creating residences for queer seniors in a diverse, bustling part of the city to help residents maintain their independence. Scotland is also weighting the importance of creating an LGBT+-friendly care home in a downtown location; In this case, it's an Anglican church in Dumfries. The new center would fund the church, help an at-risk group and bring more citizens to the town.

"There is not much of a social life which is why LGBT+ people have always gravitated to cities because there is a kind of "critical mass' almost," Dr. Belle Doyle, who is leading the project in Dumfries, explained to the BBC. "If there is a large enough group you become the majority, you are taken seriously at that point. It is not just one or two people and they are isolated and you can bully or intimidate them." Dyfrig Hywel, a member of the project board, added: "We have got other people who come out of the closet in their 60s when their parents die. Despite the huge progress in society they are still really, really vulnerable people."

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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