By Kayla McKiski
The LGBT Network unveiled plans this August to build Long Island’s first LGBT affordable senior housing complex in Bayshore next year. However, the nonprofit’s attempt at accommodating elder sexual minorities is raising questions about inclusivity.
“It’s a good idea in principle because as the population gets older we need more services, including assisted living and nursing homes,” Anthony Santella, associate professor of health professions at Hofstra University, said.
And the population size is significant. More than 39 million people in the U.S. of age 65 years or older and 2.4 million identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, according to recent estimates by the American Psychological Association. The Administration of Aging predicts that this number will double by the year 2030.
“Do I think we need one for people just because of their sexual orientation though,” Santella said. “Not really.”
David Kilmnick, LGBT Network president and CEO, says that the need for affordable LGBT-friendly housing is “considerable, especially on Long Island and particularly for LGBT older adults who have faced a lifetime of stigma and discrimination from their peers.”
“This type of housing is critical for our LGBT older adults so they can be their true selves and experience the highest quality of life that all should be entitled to,” Kilmnick said during a press conference.
As of 2016, 4.2 percent of adults in New York identified as a member of the LGBT community, according to a poll by Gallup.
“I don’t know how many residents it’s going to fill, but that’s going to be a really small slice of the older LGBT community on Long Island, so what about everyone else that needs those services that can’t access that one place,” Santella said.
The housing complex will consist of 75 rental apartments for citizens aged 55 or older that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, or who are LGBT-friendly. The site will also include an 8,000 square foot LGBT Center, replacing the old one that was half the size. The center will adjoin the housing complex and provide a variety of services to residents spanning from counseling to HIV testing to socials events, according to the Network’s website.
“Because it’s just housing for senior LGBT people, they are segregated when it comes to a living community,” Jeffrey Hein, 24, an openly gay man from Selden, said. “But that doesn’t mean they can’t leave their housing to become integrated into the community outside.”
Instead of making an exclusive complex, Santella suggests that current facilities be amended.
“The bigger issue is making all of the other facilities that are so prominent on Long Island, making their staff and their policies and procedures more culturally competent to work with people in the LGBT community,” Santella said.
Long Island is home to at least 65 assisted living homes, according to the Elder Care Resource Center.
“In Nassau County, I see assisted living places all over the place,” Santella continued. “We need to train their staff on how to be and work with the older adults in the community as opposed to making a segregated place for them.”
Some believe that the deep-rooted segregation that is plaguing sexual minorities extend far beyond accessible senior housing.
“Since the post-WWII boom which made Long Island the populous suburban powerhouse it is today, Long Island has always been innately exclusive,” Kyle Kilkenny, 20, an openly gay man from Ronkonkoma, said. “Though it is seated right next to one of the largest and most diverse mega-cities in the world, communities on Long Island were established to cater to an emerging white, middle-class, heterosexual population.”
Despite the disparity felt between the climate towards queer folk on the island and in the neighboring city of Manhattan, two of the most famous gay communities in the U.S. are located on Long Island. During the summer, the two beach towns, Cherry Grove and the Fire Island Pines, are havens for over 5,000 individuals.
“I often find in conversations with Long Islanders, and residents of other parts of the country, that LGBT people are viewed as single-issue individuals,” Kilkenny said. “Once we make strides to view queer folk as separate from their sexual and gender identities and view them as human beings with interests and goals is when Long Island, and all communities, will be truly inclusive.”
The project is heading for final approvals and construction is expected to begin in the late spring of next year. The housing complex is expected to be completed in May 2020.