Paul Glass, who grew up gay in the 1960s, has painful memories of being called a “faggot” in his Roxbury neighborhood and on excursions into downtown Boston. He’d like to think all that’s behind him now. People at the stores where he and his husband shopped for their wedding flowers and centerpieces six years ago “were genuinely happy for us,” said Glass, 68, a retired sales executive who lives in Falmouth and drives for Uber part time.
But old fears rush in when he recalls visiting a gay friend in a senior facility. Feeling shunned by other residents, the man took his meals alone. “When we get older and we have to depend on others, how will we be treated?” Glass said. “Some people will have to go back in the closet.”
Gay and lesbian baby boomers have seen extraordinary gains in social acceptance during their adult lives — especially in Massachusetts, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. Yet now, as they look ahead to old age, long-buried fears of isolation and discrimination are resurfacing. Many lack the support of extended families that straight people often can count on. And social service agencies report that harassment of older gays and lesbians is a problem nationwide.
Massachusetts is known as one of the most welcoming states for residents identifying as LGBTQ. The state has the second highest percentage of LGBTQ adults in the nation — 5 percent overall, or nearly 395,000 people, according to a report released last month by the Boston Foundation. The state’s LGBT Aging Commission estimates that 65,000 older LGBTQ adults live in Massachusetts today.
Older gays and lesbians can’t always depend on close relatives as caregivers. The report found that LGBTQ seniors were three to four times less likely to have children than their heterosexual peers. But many have developed strong “peer-to-peer” networks, sharing holidays and checking on each other, especially those who live far from where they grew up or who are estranged from their relatives.
Roslindale resident Aileen Montour, 70, a retired nurse and acupuncturist, is a community activist and part of a group working to make sure there is senior housing where gays and lesbians can feel comfortable. Montour, who grew up in Worcester and was closeted until age 40, now has a large group of friends. She hopes they can lean on one another as they age.