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.

Comments

  1. elcamino says

    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.

  2. Paul R says

    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.

  3. alguien says

    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.

  4. JerzeeMike says

    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.

  5. david ciminello says

    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.

  6. Chitown Kev says

    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.

  7. says

    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

  8. says

    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?

  9. brandon H says

    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.

  10. says

    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.

  11. says

    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.

  12. says

    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.

  13. GMT says

    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.

  14. GMT says

    One thing LGBTI organizations and individuals can do is be more inclusive of older people in our communities – represent them and their experiences and interests in our publications, include them and their experiences and interests in our events and programs, etc. We can all act shocked and saddened by this story – it is very sad! – but have to also ask ourselves, as a community or communities, what is our role. Yes, homophobia is a huge factor but so is ageism within LGBTI communities. Most studies of older gays and lesbians report that they are excluded and marginalized with in LGBTI communities (especially gay men’s communities). Taking action to be inclusive and to end or minimize ageism is what can really help.

  15. Michelle says

    You know, SAGE is absolutely amazing. I wrote a piece about them a few months back, and just spending a few hours in there as someone in my early 20s was equally heartbreaking and awe-inspiring. There is definitely a need for more organizations like this all across America, if not simply more tolerance so our elders can age in peace and grace.

  16. John says

    It would also help a lot to have more glbt nursing homes built for our community. The ones I know of, are for the wealthy senior glbt community, not for gays on SS. We need to do more than just talk about this…..

  17. Vince B. says

    Re Johnny NYNY2FLFL’s comment:In “gay years”, once you’re over 35, you are a senior citizen.” This nonsense is a big piece of our problem. It isn’t enough to have survived the Stonewall years, then the 80’s & 90’s HIV/AIDS crisis (still on-going) that, beyond 35 (seriously?!) we are then regarded as irrelevant? How boring. Says who? Some 2-dimensional twenty-something year old child?

  18. mike says

    @Alguien

    You hit the nail on the head. It would be nice to see some younger gay men reaching to the elderly gay community. You cannot imagine how uplifting it is to have people visit you and feel that people care about you. Many elderly gays and lesbians live on fixed incomes, have no close family or friends and live very lonely and isolated lives, whether in nursing homes, care facilities or even in their own apartments. Some would love a weekly visit, someone to come and talk to, listen to music with or watch television with. Some have troubling reading. One older friend (now gone) loved having me come over and read to him. Some need someone to help them get to their doctor or clinic. Some need someone to grocery shop or run errands or maybe just to help them get out for a walk and some fresh air. I know it is may difficult for some who post here to believe, but you WILL get older and sometimes it can be very lonely. I am nearing 60. I am active, healthy and I am still working. But, I have done a lousy job of replacing all those friends that I lost in that first, second and third wave of the HIV epidemic. Shell shock, I guess. As my retirement years approach, I worry about being alone. I am glad someone here mentioned SAGE. It reminds me that our wonderful community does provide so many services. Love and appreciate your friends and hope they’ll make that journey into old age with you.

  19. Leo says

    Victor, you have my sympathy. I am already 46 and walk with limp. Alone but I have loving family who supported me of what I am right now. What I am afraid of is soon, I will be left alone and I need someone to talk with and to be with. Most often than not, when someone gets older (especially when you are gay)it the companionship that you are looking for in your life. Someone to share and to listen to your memories. I wish I have one….

  20. Rickey says

    Yes ia am a59 year old living in am apartment that was built for hiv. But know is open to everone that has a dsb. lot of the renters do not like the gays, Im ready to move move were my brothers a sisters are Im a person that cause no promblems but i would like to live were the seniors gays are living its worth the move to me will you see this gets to the right place Thank you Rickey

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