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Who Will Care for the LGBTQ Community?

For many, aging solo can be a frightening prospect

Author Works to Find LGBTQ-Friendly Future Care

Like me, my friend Vince is a single gay man in his 60s. Prior to his father’s recent death, I witnessed how Vince played crucial roles: caregiver, financial planner, good son. My siblings and I played the same roles with my folks before they died.

Vince and I would talk about who would provide care when our time came. Neither of us has kids or close family nearby. As much as I don’t like to be a stereotype, my life reflects the data: LGBTQ people are twice as likely to be single and live alone as our straight counterparts, and four times as likely to be childless.

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I never expected life to be this way. But who does? In my late 40s, I met the man I’d fall in love with, then legally marry. We often talked about how we’d be the “long-term care solution” for each other. And then we divorced. But the sad truth is that hands-on care from a spouse is only available to the first one to get sick; the survivor is as alone as a single person. That’s where kids typically come in.

I  joke with my nieces, who are in their 20s, that my birthday presents to them as a “guncle” (gay uncle) have been down payments on my future care. But I’d never force that onto them — at least I hope not.

Since my divorce at age 60, I’ve been “lucky.” I’ve had only three medical moments that required having a companion present. Fortunately, I found willing friends to help me for these one-day needs. Still, I felt uncomfortable asking for assistance. What if I got really sick — like, for a long time?

I saw the difficulties my parents faced when new health aides came into their home. Sometimes Mom and Dad weren’t respected. Sometimes the aides didn’t even show up. We kids were always there to fix it. So I worry about managing my own care. And if I need in-home help, will I be comfortable acknowledging my sexual identity to a stranger who might have “issues”?

A few years ago, I watched the documentary Gen Silent, which depicts widespread discrimination against LGBTQ people in long-term care facilities. According to its maker, Stu Maddux, “LGBTQ older people are frequently so afraid of discrimination or bullying that many go back into the closet.”

Still, I know from experience how well practiced the LGBTQ community is in creating self-made “families.” We did that during the darkest days of the HIV epidemic. And, as we’ve gotten older, I’ve seen it continue.

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When an ex-partner was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago, he and his husband created a CaringBridge account to share information with selected friends, making it almost turnkey for them to get support. Similarly, the wife of a transgender friend turned to the online platform Meal Train after her spouse became ill. A calendar was published, and dinner slots were filled by friends offering dishes from mac and cheese to coq au vin.

Both situations are powerful examples of creating small support groups. As Maddux told me, “It’s incumbent upon each of us to be building that network early and often.” I have been. Perhaps that’s my real down payment for the future.

Where I live in North Carolina, I found a continuing care community and a cohousing project that embrace LGBTQ people. I have friends in both, and when I went on tours, I felt welcomed. I put down a deposit on one, giving me a place to call home in the years to come. With any luck I’ll find another husband along the way. Just in case, I’ve requested an apartment large enough for two.

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