BY Advocate Contributors
August 10 2011 3:00 AM ET
64 • San Francisco
Like a lot of her compatriots, Marcy Adelman moved to San Francisco in 1971 to live an openly lesbian life. “It was the epicenter of the gay rights movement,” she says. But as she went to political meetings or walked about the predominantly gay Castro neighborhood, she noticed a lack of older people. “I had grown up in an intergenerational family and couldn’t imagine a community that didn’t include seniors,” she says.
In 1973 she worked on the first National Institute of Mental Health study of lesbian and gay aging, and she later edited an anthology of life stories written by lesbian elders. Among them was an 85-year-old who was having trouble seeing, walking, and bathing. Since the woman had no family, Adelman and her friends stepped in to provide the care necessary to let her live independently in her own home until she died.
It didn’t take long for Adelman, who received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology, to realize that LGBT seniors were invisible to the city's mainstream service providers, so in 1998 she and her late partner, Jeanette Gurevitch, founded what would become Openhouse, a nonprofit, community-based organization seeking to ensure that the LGBT elderly have access to affordable housing and any assistance they may require, delivered in a culturally sensitive manner.
“Research shows that today’s LGBT seniors are twice as likely as heterosexuals to live alone, four times less likely to have children, and 10 times less likely to have a caregiver,” she says. Other particular challenges to older LGBT people, Adelman learned, include a dearth of health care programs and nursing homes that welcome them, plus their own reluctance to seek services out of fear of discrimination.
In partnership with the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing, and aided by a $50,000 Social Innovator Prize, Openhouse is developing 109 units of affordable housing in the city. Slated to be completed by 2016, the complex will offer studio and one-bedroom apartments for low income LGBT seniors, and it will provide both on-site services and a senior center.
Adelman is rightfully proud of her organization’s accomplishments. “Most importantly, LGBT seniors aren’t invisible anymore,” she says. “They now have a place to call that will refer them to the right LGBT-welcoming resources.” —Winston Gieseke