STYLE

Grad student aims to create a safe haven for gay and lesbian retirees

09/01/2012 07:38 EDT | Updated 11/01/2012 05:12 EDT
VANCOUVER - A grad student wants to try to give gay and lesbian retirees in British Columbia a comfortable place to spend their golden years.

Alex Sangha is trying to raise $25,000 dollars for a feasibility study for a retirement home catering to the gay community.

It's part of his masters degree in social work at Nova Scotia's Dalhousie University.

Sangha, who is from Vancouver, says gays and lesbians often face and fear discrimination in retirement homes, forcing them to go back into the closet during their twilight years.

Many gays, lesbians and transgendered retirees don't have family to rely on for support and comfort, leading to depression and even suicide, Sangha said in a phone interview.

"There's a lot of risk of alienation and isolation and loneliness," he said.

Richard Sullivan is an associate professor at the University of British Columbia's school of social work.

He said the problem extends beyond loneliness and is actually putting the safety of elderly members of the gay community at risk.

"Who wants to come out again in your 70s and 80s?" said Sullivan.

"For fear of prejudice (gays and lesbians) are avoiding aggregate care to the point where they probably should be using it, where they're no longer safe in their own home."

Sullivan said such infrastructure for the gay community is lacking because of the effect AIDS had on the population.

"The wealth of the gay and lesbian community is greatly diminished by the fact that baby boomer men in that community perished at a rate of 50 per cent through the AIDS epidemic," said Sullivan.

"If that had not happened I would venture to say there would already be a resource like this."

According to Sangha, staying in gay communities in Vancouver is especially hard for retirees because the community is centred in the city's pricey downtown or West End.

"What's happening in some cities especially in Vancouver is it's becoming very expensive for people to live in downtown Vancouver and the rental market, the housing market has low vacancy and high cost," he said.

"The population is aging and it's important to develop infrastructure for the senior population and this includes all the vulnerable sectors of the population."

He says many older gay and transgendered people have fought for equality their whole lives and deserve a happy retirement.

But, Sangha hinted the project could be a way to show gratitude to a generation gays and lesbians who helped bring their struggle for rights into the mainstream.

"We need to (help) our elders and our seniors who have fought for years for rights for our generation to live in dignity, to live in respect and to live with compassion," he said.

Such gay retirement homes have already sprung up in limited numbers across the U.S. and one is also operating in Montreal.

MORE:cpStyle