What might a retirement community want in the way of organised events? A book club – perhaps a coach trip to the seaside? Nope; a poker night and a drag night were top of the list when Tonic Housing, the UK’s first provider of LGBT+ affirmative housing, conducted a survey at a community housing scheme. And that was just the heterosexual retirees.
“We said, we can 100% make that happen!” says Matthew Riley, Communications and Marketing Manager at Tonic Housing, which was set up to address the issues of loneliness and isolation among many older LGBT+ people. It has bought 19 out of the 84 shared ownership homes in the scheme in Lambeth, south London, providing a non-exclusive but LGBT+ affirming retirement community to support older LGBT+ people.
“We’ve got 19 properties, but our register of interest is already over 400,” says Riley. “There are a lot of people who need this. Our research shows that only 1% of LGBT+ people are comfortable with the general retirement communities on offer.”
The current generation of older LGBT+ people have lived through a unique period. Their identity and place in society have been transformed over their lifetime; from being deemed criminal or mentally ill, vilified as unnatural and marginalised within our society, the LGBT+ community is now a recognised group that affirms the value of its own culture and history.
Living through the legacy of LGBT+ discrimination
It hasn’t been easy for today’s older LGBT+ cohort. They were born into a world of electro-conversion therapy and prison sentences, lived through the HIV/AIDS epidemic and fought for Section 28 to be overturned.
The LGBT+ rights movement has shifted considerably in recent years, highlighted recently with the landmark ruling allowing more gay and bisexual men to give blood. But the lasting effect of discrimination against the older generation of LGBT+ people is still reflected in the lives of these individuals today.
Riley says, “When you’ve grown up in an era of homophobia, you may have first-hand, negative experiences of public services, such as the health service or the police, and you’re more likely to avoid interacting with them. If you need to go into a care home, you may be surrounded by people of the same age but not the same community, and fear meeting those biases again.”
Many older LGBT+ people feel they have to go back “into the closet” if they need to go to hospital or into a care home, and it’s not uncommon for carers to be insensitive or, in extreme cases, abusive. Older LGBT+ people may face a tougher experience, in that often younger members of their own community fail to understand their life experiences.
“If you’re a single, older LGBT+ person you don’t always feel welcomed in a lot of LGBT+ spaces, which are often based around alcohol or clubs or nightlife,” says Riley. “And a lot of younger people have come into a world that looks more accepting of LGBT+ and don’t realise the scale of the issues that have been faced by older LGBT+ people.”
How discrimination can impact your financial planning
That discrimination extends to the representation of the LGBT+ community in the financial services sector, which has been slow to understand the full diversity of the older community, according to Meg Dickens, Marketing Director at Legal & General Retail Retirement.
“Traditionally retirement has been talked about and marketed in a very stereotypical way – the heterosexual couple in white linen walking along the beach, or riding bikes, or drinking coffee at the laptop,” she says. “These images have been used for far too long. Retirement isn’t just one homogenous group of people – even the term ‘retirement’ means different things to different people – and we want to make sure everything we do is bringing to life what real retirement looks like.”
Many LGBT+ people find themselves financially disadvantaged in later life, whether the result of workplace discrimination, mental health issues, or because they chose an alternative to the standard career path.
“It’s critical not to underestimate the importance of starting to save for the future as early as possible,” says Dickens. “I know that’s really difficult, but putting away small amounts can make a massive difference because of the effects of compound interest over time.”
But she points out that the stories told by individuals such as Patrick, Annie and Ted highlight that you never know what life is going to throw at you. Sound financial advice can help provide the basis for financial independence.
But later life is about much more than money, and everyone deserves a safe place to call home, and an inclusive community around them.
“For us, it’s not about handing over a key and saying, have a nice life,” says Riley. “The community and what happens within the building is important. LGBT+ people don’t want to be exclusive or segregated; they want to live in a space that is affirming of their lives, histories and needs. We’re building a better future for older LGBT+ people.”
To hear more from Matthew and hear stories from Patrick and Annie, two people who are living inspiring retirements, listen to our Rewirement podcast episode, Retirement among the LGBT+ community.