Last Updated: June 30, 2015
"It's Not A Lifestyle -- It's Your Life," proclaims the Santa
Fe-based RainbowVision. The property management and development
group was co-founded by Joy Silver, its president and CEO, to
create and operate welcoming and fun retirement communities for
lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender elders. The first fully
operational LGBT retirement community, RainbowVision Santa Fe, is
now a mainstream assisted living community called The
"If I planted you at the doorway and you walked in you would
never say this is a retirement community," says Bogosian. "It feels
more like a boutique hotel."
Indeed, the resort-style spread features four-star dining, a
lounge with cabaret nights, a Spa and Fitness Center, and a cascade
of special events, setting the benchmark for LGBT retirement
communities very high. The Montecito Santa Fe features 72
condominiums, 48 condominiums for lease, and 26 assisted-living
apartments for lease, which range from $2,691 to $4,456 a month,
Silver says that "enlightened self-interest" guided her and her
colleagues to build a multicultural and prejudice-free LGBT
retirement community for people of all orientations. In fact, says
Bogosian, the community is proudly mixed: 75% of residents are
LGBT, the rest are straight. The community is also
multi-generational; a 44-year-old as well as a 96-year-old make it
home, "which is why we call it your home for the next 50 years,"
says Bogosian. "A lot of times as people age they are denied
choices. We wanted to give people a lot of options and a lot of
choices. … We've got a mixed community that is working together
The success of RainbowVision and that of Triangle Square,
another fully operational LGBT retirement community in Los Angeles,
is exciting news for LGBT elders. While RainbowVision attracts many
LGBT elders of means, Triangle Square, operated by the non-profit
Gay and Lesbian Elder Housing, is designed specifically for
low-income residents who earn 60% or less of the Los Angeles-area
median income. The four-story Los Angeles property offers on-site
social services, an activity center, and a pool, in addition to 104
units of varying size.
A Growing Segment of Assisted Living
According to the Lesbian and Gay Aging Issues Network (LGAIN), a
subsidiary of the American Society on Aging, no less than 28 LGBT
retirement communities are in various stages of planning and
development. Of those, 18 projects are only in the predevelopment
stage, according to LGAIN's Gerard Koskovich, but 10 others are
well on the way to reality.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force estimates 3 million LGBT
elders live in the United States. As Baby Boomers age, that number
will grow. But only recently has the wish for specifically designed
LGBT retirement communities been fulfilled.
"Many of these folks have been out for a very long time and have
no intent of going back in the closet," says Kimberly Acquaviva, an
LGAIN co-chair and nursing educator at George Washington University
School of Medicine and Health Sciences. "… They are looking for a
place where they can be the vibrant people they've always
This can be challenging in standard retirement communities. For example,
same-sex partners may not be allowed to room together; staff may
treat LGBT elders insensitively; recreational interests may be
ignored or denied; finances and benefits normally given to
heterosexual partners may be withheld from surviving same-sex
partners; and the loneliness and isolation that accompany aging may
be compounded by discrimination.
Gay Friendly Communities
"We still have a tremendous amount of prejudice in this
country," says Mary Thorndal, co-founder and executive director of
the Gay and Lesbian Association for Retiring Persons, Inc. (GLARP)
in Los Angeles. "Part of the reason that GLARP was formed was to
help provide a safe and secure environment for older gays and
lesbians that are vulnerable."
In general, many elders are vulnerable to discrimination,
alienation, isolation, and insensitivity, but in the past these
have been especially severe for LGBT elders because of age-old
mores and social conditioning. Organizations such as GLARP and
Seattle's Rainbow Train have helped to increase public and industry
awareness of aging issues unique to LGBT elders. And that work
seems to be paying off.
"Any retirement community can be LGBT-friendly," says Acquaviva.
She encourages loved ones to look for visual, verbal, and physical
cues that openness is valued and promoted in the community. "It's a
place where the administration of the retirement community really
ensures that the residents there value diversity in one another."
Pictures of men and women together are good signs, as is inclusive
language on forms that acknowledge same-sex partnerships and
families of choice.