The LGBTQ+ scene has long been characterised as one centred around clubs and bars, with the gay/bi male scene in particular obsessed with the young body beautiful. Pride festivals are more porn than politics, more corporate than charitable, and generally focus more on the art of having a good time than they do on highlighting the stigma still attached to being a part of the LGBTQ+ community. The trouble is, it’s not really a community unless everyone is a part of it, and one particularly alienated group is the older LGBTQ+ contingent. Rocking out on the dance floor to Demi Lovato in a miniskirt and heels might be fun when you’re 20, but even at nearly 38 I’m beginning to enjoy a quieter life. All power to those still ramping it up on the Soho dance floors in their 60s and beyond, but they are nevertheless something of a minority.
On the other hand, as far as I’ve experienced, age gap relationships do seem to be slightly more acceptable on the LGBTQ+ scene. Perhaps this is because we are different anyway, and age gaps are simply another thing that wider society often looks down upon. Certainly, when I’ve had an older girlfriend or non-binary partner, fewer comments have been passed by my LGBTQ+ peers than by straight people of my acquaintance when they learn I’m dating someone older.
Francesca, 59, has a partner of 69. “I don’t know whether the LGBTQ + community is more accepting of age gaps. I do know that our age gap (which appears larger than it is, because I look about 10 years younger than I am) tends to make us invisible as a couple, unless we do public displays of affection. People tend to assume that we are sisters. On a couple of occasions, people have actually assumed that she was my mother, which made her feel awful – and made me feel awful for her!” She continues: “I do think that there’s a fair amount of ageism, in general, in the LGBTQ + community. We have gone to several events (I particularly remember a Pride weekend dance party, before Covid) where we felt uncomfortable and out of place, because everyone else looked young enough to be our children! There aren’t a lot of truly multigenerational LGBTQ+ community events. I wish that there were, especially now that it’s possible to do things in person again. It would be nice to feel connected to the community.”
James, 77, tells OutNewsGlobal: “I’ve seen a lot of changes in the gay scene over the years. I’ve lived in the shadows, celebrated decriminalisation and same-sex marriage, shouted at the telly over Section 28… I’ve seen it all compared to many of today’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual youth. But old people are generally ignored, even though we risked our lives to pave the way for later generations to live their lives freely. It’s a shame, but I can’t see it changing anytime soon. I was with the same partner for 40 years but he left me 10 years ago for a younger man and at my age I can’t see myself ever meeting anyone else. I don’t use the internet, although plenty of my friends my age do, but I’m thinking of going to evening classes to learn because it seems that it might be the only route out of my disconnection to the gay community.”
Opening Doors is a London-based charity for LGBTQ+ people over 50. It organises support groups, trips, befriending services and a social club. It has more than 2,000 members and is currently attempting to use a combination of Zoom, telephone and face-to-face meetings in order to continue delivering its services, including its 120+ active befriending relationships. It is the biggest charity for LGBTQ+ elders in the UK. One Opening Doors member, upon being introduced to his new befriender, exclaimed: “I’ve never spoken with another LGBT person before. You mean you’re gay and people know about that?” Another member said of the social club: “Rest of the week there is nothing going on, so it is the only day in the week I have a laugh and I look forward to it every week.” This is testament to the isolation that many older LGBTQ+ people feel every day. Many have lost friends with the passing of time, through death caused by ageing or simply drifting apart, or due to the lack of adequate medication at the advent of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.
One of the more interesting developments in LGBTQ+ facilities for the elderly is the emergence of the LGBTQ+ exclusive retirement home. When Tonic Housing opened in March this year, CEO Anna Kear said: “I’m delighted that we were finally able to celebrate this momentous achievement and I’m so proud to be the CEO of Tonic. There has been recognition from within our community of the need to provide choice in housing and care for our elders since at least 1994 when Polari Housing Association was formed, with similar objectives to Tonic. Achieving this vision has been a long journey, not often understood by the mainstream, but our community has worked collaboratively along with our allies, to create a safe place where we can live our lives OUT.”
The need for this type of accommodation is clear – not only does it afford every resident the freedom to be themselves, it allows older couples to live their days out of the closet in an accepting environment and for single residents to perhaps find love in their twilight years.
Older people of all sexual orientations and genders are often stereotyped as sexless and uninterested in relationships. When they are part of a marginalised group this problem becomes exacerbated by lack of contact with their peers within that group. It’s up to everyone in the LGBTQ+ community to make sure that nobody – from confused teens to isolated older people – is overlooked.