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Closet the Only Option for Many Gay Seniors

 The plight of many gay seniors is highlighted by the Chicago Tribune's profile of 85-year-old Victor Engandela, whose rich, challenging life journey has brought him to a seniors care facility in Evanston, Illinois, where he has been forced back into the closet:

Engandela"'I always said when I retired, when it was no longer
dangerous, I was going to come out.' And that's what he did, retiring in the 1970s and telling everyone he knew, including members of the YMCA men's club where he was president, that he was gay. It felt good to finally be fully open, and he savored those years. But now Engandela feels as closeted as he's ever been. He often sits alone in the dining room, and has little to do with the various groups and clubs at his long-term care facility. He has a friend who comes by twice a week. On Saturdays they sit in his room and listen to opera on the radio. Engandela has been to the seniors program at the Center on Halsted a couple of times, but it's hard for him to arrange transportation. Once, another man from the nursing home took him, but when the man realized it was a gay organization he stormed off to the Center's lobby, refusing to dine with Engandela and the other seniors. 'At this point in my life, I can't believe I have to feel this way,' Engandela said. 'I have a lot of memories I'd like to share, a lot I'd like to talk about. But I feel like I can't, and I shudder when I think I have to spend the remaining years of my life in this place.'"

Engandela's story is why groups like S.A.G.E. are so important.

The Tribune also profiles 61-year-old Marvin Levin and the city's Center on Halsted and its seniors program.

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Comments

  1. It's disgusting that he has to deal with prejudiced idiots at this point in his life. He's quite right. Seniors need the help and support of the community and GLBT elder care needs to become a political priority.

    No one should be isolated and ignored like that. This story is heartbreaking.

    Posted by: elcamino | Jun 22, 2009 5:27:14 PM


  2. That's tragic. Can't he find a more welcoming center, even if it means moving from Chicago? I know a move wouldn't be easy, but living like that sounds even worse.

    Posted by: Paul R | Jun 22, 2009 5:42:37 PM


  3. i have a feeling that there are probably thousands of hidden gay elders in senior homes who would so welcome visits from the younger folks like us. it is not just the responsibility of the retirement homes to make their residents feel more comfortable but we, as a community, have a moral obligation to recognize our elders as well and not just toss them to the dust heap.

    Posted by: alguien | Jun 22, 2009 5:52:02 PM


  4. I'm a Registered Nurse and I turned 45 years old this year. Believe it or not, I'm scared to death of growing older for the very reasons in this story. Whenever I have a senior patient that I determine is LGBT I make every effort to make them and their S.O. feel comfortable being themselves in the healthcare environment. If they happen to be alone or widowed that effort is even more important to them. I hope someone will do the same for me when I'm at that point in my life.

    Posted by: JerzeeMike | Jun 22, 2009 5:56:48 PM


  5. Hey Andy! How about posting an interview with this gentleman? I bet it would make for some great reading. (If you need a volunteer to conduct it let me know!) Thanks for this post.

    Posted by: david ciminello | Jun 22, 2009 5:58:04 PM


  6. That fucking breaks my heart.

    Posted by: The Milkman | Jun 22, 2009 5:58:52 PM


  7. Andy, I live in Evanston, and I am also available to do an interview.

    I've read a few stories about GLBT seniors in the past few months and I tear up everytime. All that we are, all that we are doing, is because of treasures like Mr. Engandela.

    Our community owes that much to him.

    Posted by: Chitown Kev | Jun 22, 2009 6:07:55 PM


  8. I hope someone reads his story and maybe gives him a phone call or pays a visit.

    this is so sad

    Posted by: Johnny | Jun 22, 2009 6:08:03 PM


  9. to interview him, I mean, of course.

    Posted by: Chitown Kev | Jun 22, 2009 6:08:48 PM



  10. @hey chitown kev:

    he may find a ride to the gay senior center in halsted a little more useful than being interviewed.

    just sayin'

    Posted by: alguien | Jun 22, 2009 6:19:47 PM


  11. My partner actually volunteers with SAGE. I am signing up asap. No one should ever have to spend the last part of their lives like this.

    Posted by: CB | Jun 22, 2009 6:30:18 PM


  12. This story made me cry. This is an area of gay rights that most people never even consider.

    Posted by: Chris | Jun 22, 2009 6:33:38 PM


  13. Sincerely, now you have made me cry.

    Posted by: JackFuknTwist | Jun 22, 2009 6:34:44 PM


  14. It such a shame that people in the prime of thier life still have to stay in the closet.

    Posted by: Cincinnati NAMjA | Jun 22, 2009 7:08:03 PM


  15. What a sad commentary on society.

    Posted by: Harry | Jun 22, 2009 7:11:42 PM


  16. In "gay years", once you're over 35, you are a senior citizen.

    Posted by: JONNY NYNY2FLFL | Jun 22, 2009 7:24:16 PM


  17. sad

    poor guy

    people like this made it a little easier for the generations after him

    we have a better existence because all of the shit the lgbt folks of his generation had to walk through

    after all his life struggles, i hate that he has to live this way at the end

    Posted by: sundog | Jun 22, 2009 7:33:51 PM


  18. whats the mans address - we can all send him post cards,and let him know people are thinking of him..

    Posted by: Disgusted American | Jun 22, 2009 8:16:20 PM


  19. so what can we do to insure people like him don't spend the rest of their days in isolation? what can we do to make sure that doesn't happen to us one day?

    what can we do?

    I wouldn't mind driving up to Evanston to maybe have lunch with this fellow sometime. Anyone want to join me?

    Posted by: james | Jun 23, 2009 12:26:36 AM


  20. I work at a non-profit Senior Center as a program and activity coordinator where we provide day care respite for people with Alzheimer's and Dementia. The problem we run into is just because its a community service does not mean the leadership is open and liberal and the same goes for the clients that pay for the services. That means that it is not in the company's best interest to foster LGBTQ safety and openness, and it's not in the employee's best interest to push the issue. It's also not really an issue that you want to push with clients (outing someone is just as bad) and the specific generation of elders right now have a really hard time with the entire concept of being gay let alone changing their opinions. That coupled with a general "don't rock the boat" attitude makes it really difficult to provide for LGBTQ seniors. I think senior centers and long-term care facilities really need to get over that. For every one bigoted client you loose there are 2 who are not assholes to make up for it. If only the management would realize that. Besides, we make dyed-in-the-wool racist seniors who don't want to have a thing to do with anyone who isn't white and able-bodied interact with African-American and Japanese-American successfully and without incident on a daily basis. Why can't we do the same for our LGBTQ seniors?

    I wish I knew if some of my clients were LGBTQ, I would have that much more I could connect with them on, but the closet is so insidious. It makes it so that we are not just hidden from our oppressors, but also from each other.

    Posted by: brandon H | Jun 23, 2009 12:59:08 AM


  21. @alguien

    If I had a car, that would have been the first thing that occured to me. Alas, I don't.

    Posted by: Chitown Kev | Jun 23, 2009 7:28:14 AM



  22. A few months ago... at the Maple Pointe Senior's Apartments,here in Chicago,we put together a current events club for Saturdays.
    It has now turned into a weekday morning thing... unscripted and very lively, and very diverse. It has the flavor of a melting pot of Chicago... rich in history, and commentary about yesterday's and yesteryear's news. You can feel the spontaneity, wit and natural humor of our senior's group daily get together.

    The best part is its great mixture... blacks and whites, Jews, Muslims, Christians and Atheist... gays and straights including a grandmother who belongs to PFLAG, A former school teacher, a couple of consulting engineers,a former resident of Hong Kong,army veterans (including gays) myself... a pioneer in the gay rights movement for over 30 years, and various other vocations. We have great discussions on all topics... sometimes we make the "View" look tame! During the week, we have no moderators... and a supply of cookies, caffeine and original thoughts that provides us all we need to start the day off on the right path... and a few smiles too.

    Yesterday... several people brought me this article to me, just in case I missed it. Last year the same Tribune reported wrote a front page story about my gay theme photo exhibit at the Community Center on Halsted. Most of us feel that it is always better to be part of an inclusive living condition. Of course it is nice to have something in common with your neighbors... but in the long run, it's better to live in a diverse world. There is talk about building a gay senior's building here in Chicago... but I honestly believe that it is better to build one like I live in... and make a floor or 2 available for gays who prefer to be among their own kind.

    I am 72 years old... and found, at least for me... life is better, because I have friends that are both similar and different than myself... and for this I am thankful.

    Posted by: jerry pritikin | Jun 23, 2009 7:57:15 AM



  23. A few months ago... at the Maple Pointe Senior's Apartments,here in Chicago,we put together a current events club for Saturdays.
    It has now turned into a weekday morning thing... unscripted and very lively, and very diverse. It has the flavor of a melting pot of Chicago... rich in history, and commentary about yesterday's and yesteryear's news. You can feel the spontaneity, wit and natural humor of our senior's group daily get together.

    The best part is its great mixture... blacks and whites, Jews, Muslims, Christians and Atheist... gays and straights including a grandmother who belongs to PFLAG, A former school teacher, a couple of consulting engineers,a former resident of Hong Kong,army veterans (including gays) myself... a pioneer in the gay rights movement for over 30 years, and various other vocations. We have great discussions on all topics... sometimes we make the "View" look tame! During the week, we have no moderators... and a supply of cookies, caffeine and original thoughts that provides us all we need to start the day off on the right path... and a few smiles too.

    Yesterday... several people brought me this article to me, just in case I missed it. Last year the same Tribune reported wrote a front page story about my gay theme photo exhibit at the Community Center on Halsted. Most of us feel that it is always better to be part of an inclusive living condition. Of course it is nice to have something in common with your neighbors... but in the long run, it's better to live in a diverse world. There is talk about building a gay senior's building here in Chicago... but I honestly believe that it is better to build one like I live in... and make a floor or 2 available for gays who prefer to be among their own kind.

    I am 72 years old... and found, at least for me... life is better, because I have friends that are both similar and different than myself... and for this I am thankful.


    Posted by: jerry pritikin | Jun 23, 2009 8:17:51 AM


  24. A few months ago... at the Maple Pointe Senior's Apartments,here in Chicago,we put together a current events club for Saturdays.
    It has now turned into a weekday morning thing... unscripted and very lively, and very diverse. It has the flavor of a melting pot of Chicago... rich in history, and commentary about yesterday's and yesteryear's news. You can feel the spontaneity, wit and natural humor of our senior's group daily get together.

    The best part is its great mixture... blacks and whites, Jews, Muslims, Christians and Atheist... gays and straights including a grandmother who belongs to PFLAG, A former school teacher, a couple of consulting engineers,a former resident of Hong Kong,army veterans (including gays) myself... a pioneer in the gay rights movement for over 30 years, and various other vocations. We have great discussions on all topics... sometimes we make the "View" look tame! During the week, we have no moderators... and a supply of cookies, caffeine and original thoughts that provides us all we need to start the day off on the right path... and a few smiles too.

    Yesterday... several people brought me this article to me, just in case I missed it. Last year the same Tribune reported wrote a front page story about my gay theme photo exhibit at the Community Center on Halsted. Most of us feel that it is always better to be part of an inclusive living condition. Of course it is nice to have something in common with your neighbors... but in the long run, it's better to live in a diverse world. There is talk about building a gay senior's building here in Chicago... but I honestly believe that it is better to build one like I live in... and make a floor or 2 available for gays who prefer to be among their own kind.

    I am 72 years old... and found, at least for me... life is better, because I have friends that are both similar and different than myself... and for this I am thankful.


    Posted by: jerry pritikin | Jun 23, 2009 8:28:05 AM


  25. One thing LGBTI communities and individuals can do is be more inclusive of older people - represent their experiences and interests in LGBTI publications, include their thoughts, ideas and needs in LGBTI events and community functions, etc. We can all act shocked and saddened by this - it is really sad - but this reality for many older people is, in part, a direct result of our (in)action. Yes, the isolation many older people experience is a result of homophobia in the broader society but it is also because of ageism within LGBTI communities. Most studies of older gays and lesbians report that older people are excluded and marginalized within the LGBTI communities. It is our actions of inclusion and our actions to end or minimize ageism in our communities that is really going to help.

    Posted by: GMT | Jun 23, 2009 11:23:56 AM


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