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Advocates: More Gay-Friendly Senior Housing Needed

Gay seniors fear discrimination by health care workers

While AIDS remains a priority, Bartlett said, the crisis mentality has passed and allowed the community to focus on other things. He said he looks forward to the Way Center providing social services at the planned Philadelphia senior housing facility, in a sense repaying those who led the gay liberation movement.

"Don't we owe it to them ... to ensure that they have an experience as elders that's worthy of what they gave to our community?" Bartlett said.

The Philadelphia group has been trying to get its project off the ground for about eight years but has been stymied by location problems, a tough economy and stiff competition for federal housing tax credits.

Rejected once for the credits, developers recently reapplied and hope for a different answer this spring, said Mark Segal, director of the Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund, which is spearheading the project. It's planned for a thriving section of the city affectionately known as the Gayborhood.

"I'm extremely optimistic," said Segal, also publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News.

However, Adams said the real solution lies not only in building more facilities, but in cultural competency training for staffers at existing elder programs. The Philadelphia Corporation on Aging, the private nonprofit that serves the city's seniors, began offering such seminars to health care workers a couple of years ago, said Tom Shea, the agency's director of training.

"They're going to be seeing a diverse slice of the aging population in Philadelphia ... and we need to be sensitive to all their needs," Shea said.

Adams suggested that discrimination faced by today's GLBT elders could diminish in the decades ahead, since he said opinion research shows that younger generations are less likely to harbor anti-gay biases than older generations.

"So we hope that the passage of time will provide part of the solution," he said. "But of course, today's LGBT elders can't wait for that."

Jackie Adams, 54, of Philadelphia, said being diagnosed with AIDS many years ago meant she never thought she'd live long enough to need elder housing. But now Adams, who was born male and lives as a female, is part of a local initiative focused on GLBT senior issues.

On a limited income after losing her job as an outreach worker for those with HIV, Adams said affordable, GLBT-friendly senior housing is badly needed. She is not related to Michael Adams.

"I would be incomplete if I had to go from wearing stockings and dresses to (work boots) and jeans," Adams said. "I would like to be able to live in a community where I could fully be me."

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