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Documentary chronicles struggles of LGBTQ+ in long-term care

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In their younger days, many LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, queer) individuals came out of the closet to fight against discrimination. As they age, however, they often face a different kind of discrimination as they need medical care, causing some to consider returning to the closet to assure quality of care without prejudice.

Insight Memory Care, in collaboration with AARP, recently screened the 2010 documentary film “Gen Silent.” The film follows four groups of LGBTQ seniors in the Boston area as they navigate the health care system.

Most seniors live with someone, but two-thirds of LGBTQ seniors live alone. Many do not have children or are estranged from their families of origin. Isolation for LGBTQ seniors is a big problem, yet many fear how they might be treated if they need nursing care.

Case workers and LGBTQ advocates interviewed for the film said they’ve heard stories about priests entering the rooms of LGBTQ nursing home patients, imploring them to pray and ask for forgiveness. Sometimes they are told “it’s not too late” for them to be cured.

In addition, about 50 percent of nursing homes report their clients are intolerant of LGBTQ persons, adding to the discomfort of LGBTQ seniors.

Lawrence and his partner, Alexandre, lived quietly together for many years until Alexandre developed Parkinson’s dementia. Alexandre, a World War II veteran, remembers the difficulty of coming out in the early 1950s, when gays were considered “perverts” who had a personality disorder.

Alexandre’s first partner succumbed to the pressure of being gay, committing suicide in 1951.

When Alexandre’s illness progressed to the point of needing home care, he worried about being seen as gay, telling Lawrence to “make the house as straight as possible” prior to visits.

Ultimately, however, Alexandre needed to go into a care facility. Lawrence recalled trying to help his partner down the stairs, only to have both men stumble and fall. The move caused Lawrence great guilt, pushing him into depression with thoughts of suicide.

Both Alexandre and Lawrence were uncomfortable with the way staff viewed them at Alexandre’s first nursing home. “You just know they don’t want you there,” said Lawrence.

Lawrence ultimately moved Alexandre to a different nursing home. He gave the example of applying lotion to Alexandre’s hands. At the first home, he felt he had to apply the lotion very quickly because of staff perceptions of disapproval.

But at the second location, applying the lotion became a loving, intimate gesture. “I don’t know what I’ll do once he dies,” said Lawrence.

Lawrence discovered the Ethos Community Café for LBGTQ Seniors, which helped him cope with his guilt and depression. “Maybe I shouldn’t be concerned about what people think,” he said. He also published a book of poetry that he had written to help him get through the ordeal of missing Alexandre.

Alexandre died shortly before the film’s release.

Transgender senior KrysAnne lived more than 50 years as a male and is a Vietnam War veteran. She was sad and miserable as a male and suffered from deep depression. Once she made the decision to transition, her depression lifted.

“Most people who transition expect losses,” said KrysAnne, “but I didn’t expect [to lose] everyone. I haven’t heard from them since.” Attempts to contact her family by mail were returned to her, often with vile messages stating, “no such person exists.”

Estranged from her family and diagnosed with lung cancer, she lives alone, suffering from depression as she worries about her future. She wants to stay at home but can’t afford someone to care for her.

“What am I going to do when I can’t care for myself?” she said.

KrysAnne’s condition deteriorated to the point she needed to be hospitalized. The ambulance staff was confused about her gender because she had not had transition surgery, even though she presented as a woman. This was the type of discomfort she was hoping to avoid.

After she was hospitalized, KrysAnne’s hospice case worker pulled together a team from the LGBTQ community to assist KrysAnne upon her return home. Most were strangers but reached out to help provide her with a loving, friendly environment.

The LGBTQ community, said KrysAnne’s case worker, “learned how to mobilize during the AIDS epidemic” in the 1980s. Now LGBTQ aging is an epidemic, she said, with similar support needed. KrysAnne’s care team was not comprised of health care professionals but of ordinary community members.

KrysAnne also reunited with her son Adam. Although she was hopeful for more contact and to win his acceptance, he did not visit her as often as she hoped.

When KrysAnne returned home, she was grateful for the care network that took time to help her. After about three weeks, however, she wanted the people out of her house. She managed on her own for a few weeks, but then deteriorated. In the film, she breaks down, saying how “terrifying” it was to be alone.

KrysAnne died soon afterward.

Sheri and Lois are a lesbian couple who have been together since 1963. Lois said she thought she was “the only lesbian in the world” when she came out in the late 1950s. Both women remember they had to be careful about what they said and wore “girly” dresses so they wouldn’t be perceived as homosexual.

The two marched for gay rights during the 1970s, but as they grew older, they developed a mistrust of mainstream institutions. Sheri doesn’t want to go to a nursing home where they’d be with “old people,” saying if she can’t have care people who accept her for what she is, she’d rather not have care at all.

Lois, on the other hand, said that, if necessary, she’d be willing to hide her sexual orientation if it meant she’d receive proper care.

Lois and Sheri modified their four-story brownstone home to age in place in a LGBTQ-friendly neighborhood. An exuberant Sheri showed off the stairlift while singing, “I’ll build a stairway to paradise.”

In a follow-up video, Sheri and Lois reveal health issues required them to move to an assisted living situation. They said they are lucky to be in a place that is friendly to the gay community. This is “not so at every facility,” said Lois.

When Mel’s partner Walter became ill, he chose to remain in the closet to avoid discrimination as he sought medical care. The two had kept their relationship quiet, and Mel was conflicted over Walter’s decision because he could not be with him.

Mel’s case worker recognized their situation, even though the couple had been quiet about their status. This “opened up a whole new set of communication in my life,” he said. After Walter died, he decided to finally acknowledge their relationship and his sexual orientation, attending a gay pride parade for the first time in his life.

Lois and Sheri still attend marches and gay pride parades, although now they ride in a bus. “These kids today don’t have a clue and don’t know who we are,” said Sheri. “Some day they’ll be 70, too.”

Following the screening, Jennifer Brown of Seabury Resources for Aging facilitated a question-and-answer period. Little has changed since the film’s 2010 release, said Brown. LGBTQ seniors still experience health care discrimination.

One significant change is health care staff training, with a focus on cultural sensitivity. Yet fear and tension of being different still affects how some LGBTQ seniors behave, said Brown.

Brown said there have also been improvements in support for young people who come out, unlike what the seniors in the film experienced. Groups such as PFLAG, which supplies support, education, and resources for the LGBTQ community and their families and friends, are more prevalent today.

Yet Brown said her organization still encounters LGBTQ youth who are homeless because their families throw them out or disown them, so significant issues still exist.

“All people have the same resources, but not all have the same privileges,” said Brown. She said the documentary is important because it shines a spotlight on the complex realities for some LGBTQ seniors.

Insight Memory Care hosts an LGBTQ Care Partner Support Group of the fourth Wednesday of every month at its Fairfax location. For more information, visit

Insight is also presenting, in collaboration with AARP Virginia, an author spotlight with Tim R. Johnston, author of “Welcoming LGBT Residents,” on June 7. This program will be held both in person and online. For more information and to register, visit

Other resources for LGBTQ individuals, families, and care partners include:

AARP Community Voices: LGBTQ+

National Coalition for LGBTQ Health

National Resource Center on LGBTQ Aging


Seabury Resources for Aging - LGBTQ

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