This column was submitted by SAGE, Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders:
I’m a 260 pound, six-foot-tall, bald, straight, white, uptight, father of six, Republican, NRA card-carrying, beer-drinking guy. I’m the last person anyone expects to be an LGBT ally. But I am.
My wife, Christa, and I own a home-care agency called Generations at Home in St. Petersburg. Our experience with a 76-year-old lesbian couple opened our eyes to the kind of discrimination LGBT older people face on a regular basis. I want to share their story because no one, gay or straight, should have to suffer the indignities of discrimination as they age.
Annie and Annette were happily together for 42 years, mostly in New York City. They would tell me fascinating stories of the old days when bar raids were common, and they could not live openly as a couple. Annette kept them safe using techniques her relatives in Poland had used when fleeing from the Nazis.
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They retired and bought a house in Florida. When Christa and I met them, another home-care company was financially exploiting them. After being informed of their situation, we jumped into action to help. They had to sell their house, at a substantial loss, so they could afford to move into an independent living facility.
Annie and Annette settled into their new building as “cousins.” Under this cover, they made a lot of friends and went to tons of activities. They joined a social group for former members of the military and another for native New Yorkers, who would watch baseball games together — they were Mets fans.
Everything was great — until the day they married. On May 31, 2015, Christa and I oversaw their wedding. I was best man. Our whole family was there to celebrate their wonderful union. It was beautiful.
When they shared the news of their marriage with their tablemates at dinner, it was like they had a communicable disease. No one would sit or talk with them. They were completely ostracized. They didn’t even want to take the elevator from their apartment to the lobby in order to get mail, because standing in the elevator with their former “friends” was too painful. Being lesbians, and married ones at that, was an affront to the rest of the residents. The owners of the facility did nothing to address the situation and the couple only had each other, and their caretakers, for company.
Annie died of a heart attack in September and Annette couldn’t live alone because she suffers from Alzheimer’s. As we made call after call to find her an assisted living facility, four facilities declined to admit Annette after we told them she had just lost her wife. She now lives in a small assisted living facility and I ended up inheriting and taking care of Annie’s cats, even though I’m allergic.
This kind of abuse and discrimination is happening every single day and it needs to stop. There are an estimated three million LGBT older Americans over 65 in this country and that number will double by 2030. These folks suffer from higher rates of depression, poverty and isolation. They are twice as likely to age as a single person; twice as likely to live along and three to four times less likely to have children to support them.
People like Annie and Annette who have worked hard their entire lives, who have raised children, who have given back to their communities — they deserve to be treated fairly and kindly. That’s why I support updating our nondiscrimination laws to protect gay and transgender Floridians — so thousands of LGBT older people have the same chance as anyone to grow old with dignity. That’s what Annie and Annette should have had. That’s what I want for my mom, for my wife, for myself. Don’t we all want and deserve that respect?
Christopher J. Moffatt, R.Ph. is currently the Chief Financial Officer for Generations at Home, a small, family-owned home health care company specializing in the care of elderly and disabled members of the community. Chris and his wife, Christa, have just purchased a property to create an LGBT inclusive assisted living called GALA (Gay Assisted Living Accommodations) in Florida.