A Vancouver gay man living in a Christian seniors residence is pointing to the need for more queer housing for seniors, after being threatened with eviction for leaving queer publications in his lobby. Activists say it’s a situation that underscores the need for dedicated, gay-friendly seniors housing.
Thomas Martin agrees.
Last month, he received a letter from his building’s assistant property manager, Maryanne Fasanya, telling him to stop displaying “offensive magazines and newsletters in the common areas of the building” — or risk eviction.
The materials in question consisted of queer publications, including Xtra West, says Martin.
“You are advised to desist from this immediately, as it is contrary to public decency and has invited complaints from other residents of the building,” states the letter, dated Sep 21. “Kindly restrict such material to the confines of your suite as the Society will no longer tolerate this act. Please consider this as a final warning.”
Fasanya then threatened to send him a 30-day eviction notice if he does it again.
“I would move out of here in a heartbeat if I could,” says Martin, who is on a disability pension with HIV and hepatitis after working as a geriatric nurse’s aide. “I feel threatened here. I’m not happy.”
The 59-year-old lives in a well-kept, newish tower with lush gardens called the Twin Arms, at 1030 Burnaby in the heart of Vancouver’s gay village. The 217-suite building is operated by The Society for Christian Care of the Elderly and has rents starting at $450 per month.
After numerous attempts to contact someone at the Christian Care society, Xtra West reached Jeff Jones, who referred all questions to the society’s lawyer, Cameron White.
White says the situation was all a misunderstanding. “Once head office became aware of it, they issued an apology to Mr Martin. It’s not been their policy to discriminate against anybody.”
Martin questions the complaints said to have kicked off the incident in the first place, since none of his neighbours have ever expressed any concerns to him about leaving gay publications in the lobby.
Many of his neighbours are closeted gay men who take the newspapers surreptitiously, he adds. He’s been leaving the papers behind for them ever since he moved into the building three years ago — without any problems.
But in the last year, the Christian-run building has come under new management. And that, surmises Martin, may be the source of his problems today.
Now, he says, he may have little choice but to move. Despite the society’s apology, the suggestion of eviction for sharing his “offensive” queer materials still hangs over his head.
Add to that, he says he’s also been having trouble with some of his neighbours who seem to feel free now to object to his homosexuality.
One resident recently threatened him with an umbrella while muttering “dirty homo,” Martin says, while the woman next door has repeatedly pushed Biblical scriptures under his door. She has also been complaining about the volume of his music which, he says, hasn’t really changed in the last three years.
Suzanne Bienvenu says the situation highlights the need for dedicated homes for queer seniors where they can enjoy their retirement years with their peers.
Bienvenu works for Urban Home, which recently opened a gay men’s seniors home in Montreal with another soon to come. A women’s home is also in the planning stages, she adds. The company is looking at expanding to Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver where demand is also high.
“I think they’re needed everywhere,” Bienvenu says. “The gay and lesbian population is everywhere. It is an urgent need.”
It’s an issue the gay and lesbian committee of Vancouver’s 411 Seniors Centre has been exploring as well.
“It’s certainly something that needs to be rectified,” says committee member Roger Lee, a retired art history professor.
Lee says most seniors would, of course, rather stay in their homes but there comes a time when that is no longer possible. And that’s when having gay-friendly seniors homes, where residents can live openly in a gay-friendly environment, becomes essential.
“We have to deal with a maturing gay community,” says Lee, adding that the 411 centre could help by creating parameters through which queer seniors’ homes could be established.
But, he says, the issue is bigger than just seniors’ homes. The aging of queer community has not been addressed as part of gay liberation, he says.
With the queer community’s unrelenting focus on youth, seniors’ needs are not well reflected through social outlets, recreation centres or the media, he says, and that’s something that needs to change.