LGBT social movements
2 min

Spain’s gay retirement home

BY NOREEN FAGAN – Being forced back into the closet should
not happen, but it does — especially if you are elderly and live in a retirement home. “Becoming invisible” is a common fear for many gay seniors and one
that Jose Maria Herreras faces every day.

Herreras, 65,
who lives in a retirement home in Madrid, says his life has been miserable
since the other residents discovered he is gay.

"They
started to steer clear of me and insult me. They called me ‘queer,’ and it made
me feel awful. My room has two beds, but no one wants to share with me. So I’m
alone and it’s bad,” he told the BBC. “I have to make myself as invisible
as possible — go back in the closet — so they don’t notice me. And I spend as
much time outside the home as possible."

But
when the BBC interviewed Herreras, he was relaxed and happy: his dream had come true. Construction on Spain’s first gay retirement
home is scheduled to begin in a few months.

The new home is
the inspiration of the December 26th Foundation — based in Madrid, it’s named for the
date in 1979 when the law used to imprison homosexuals, or “cure” them with
electroshock therapy, was repealed. The foundation
formed a cooperative and designed a retirement
complex with 115 apartments, a gym, a spa and a restaurant.

There is space
for yoga, tai chi and dance classes — and, in case you think activism is dead
— there are plans to house archival material for the first research centre on the history
of the gay rights movement in Spain.

It makes you
stop and think: elder gays have paved the way. Today we agitate for equal marriage
rights, but 40 years ago it was a fight simply to be out.

Now, with many activists growing older, the fight has turned to the rights of aging members of the community. So when those of us who are younger retire, we’ll be able to pick retirement homes that don’t force us back into the closet.

So who do we
thank?

In Ottawa, it
seems pretty simple: the Senior Pride Network. They are a group of aging
activists tackling the last frontier to get better care for
lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender elders.