Chicago | Gay Seniors | News

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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  1. 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.

    Posted by: GMT | Jun 23, 2009 11:29:45 AM

  2. 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.

    Posted by: Michelle | Jun 23, 2009 11:54:16 AM

  3. I while ago I watched a fantastic docu called "TEN MORE GOOD YEARS" on precisely this subject.

    RENT IT! WATCH IT! DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT IN YOUR COMMUNITY It's sad, poignant, hopeful and unapologetic.

    Posted by: DrTheopolis | Jun 23, 2009 1:05:04 PM

  4. 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.....

    Posted by: John | Jun 23, 2009 1:23:50 PM

  5. 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?

    Posted by: Vince B. | Jun 23, 2009 1:29:41 PM

  6. @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.

    Posted by: mike | Jun 23, 2009 2:15:24 PM

  7. 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....

    Posted by: Leo | Jun 30, 2009 10:11:38 AM

  8. 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

    Posted by: Rickey | Oct 24, 2012 1:11:07 PM

  9. Yes my email is any one know of a gay communnity, at 30 persent of your income are ascepts section 8 thank Rick

    Posted by: Rickey | Oct 24, 2012 1:15:23 PM

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