Pride 2011 • LGBT seniors in Dallas ‘just out of luck’

One man’s plight highlights the needs, dangers facing the entire community of older LGBT people

Kee-Holt
Kee Holt

David Webb  | Contributing Writer
davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com

Almost a year after a well-known gay community activist was discovered wandering the streets and apparently suffering from dementia, he remains alone in a nursing home near White Rock Lake without any support from family or friends, according to representatives of Dallas’ Crisis Intervention Unit.

“He is completely alone,” said Valencia Hooper, a caseworker for the unit, which is a program administered by the Dallas Police Department. “He doesn’t have anybody.”

The activist, whose identity is being withheld because of his vulnerability, was arrested by police just before Christmas last year when he was allegedly discovered trying to get into a car that did not belong to him. At the time the activist was homeless and wandering the streets after being evicted from his Oak Lawn apartment.

It is suspected that at the time of his arrest he was too confused to understand what he was doing, and that he was likely trying to find shelter from the weather.

While he was in jail¸ the activist came into contact with a nurse who realized that he was suffering from dementia and did not belong there, according to Marilu Thorn, another caseworker with the unit that initially assisted him and tried unsuccessfully to locate family members or friends who knew him.

Thorn said that when she started looking into the activist’s personal history in an attempt to find help for him, she was shocked to discover that he had been so well-known in the community. A few years ago, the activist was on the Democratic Party’s ticket running for a state representative’s position for a district in central Dallas.

Thorn reached out to the Dallas Voice for help, and a notice was posted on the newspaper’s blog featuring a picture of the activist and asking for assistance in locating his family. The effort was unsuccessful so the activist now only has contact with nursing home staff, other residents and the caseworkers who still monitor him.

“He’s pretty much out of it,” said Hooper, who noted that he needs someone to visit him and make sure that he has the personal things he needs such as clothing and shoes. “He’s really a very sweet man.”

Hooper said that as it stands now, if the activist were to die there wouldn’t even be anyone to notify to determine if anyone wanted to hold a memorial service. “He is going to die someday,” she said.

The activist, who moved to Dallas in 1975, is believed to have a son and a grandson somewhere, but apparently no one knows how to contact them. A former roommate of the activist’s now reportedly lives in Florida.

Hooper said that when the activist was first evicted from his apartment, some of his neighbors tried to help him for a while. One neighbor would let him sleep on her sofa at night. He would go to the streets during the day when she left for work.

“They didn’t know what to do,” Hooper said. “They kind of treated him like he was a little dog.”

At the time the activist’s plight came to the attention of the Dallas Voice, research showed that there were scarce resources dedicated to aging LGBT people who lack personal resources. Although the activist’s plight sparked some concern in the community, apparently no progress has been made so far.

One reader who commented about the lack of resources said the community’s resources are rightfully dedicated to HIV/AIDS services, and that there is no room for other programs.

He said that LGBT people are already entitled to the same resources that benefit all elderly people, but another reader noted that many programs benefiting seniors are religion-based and reject homosexuality.

Resource Center Dallas sponsors a program for LGBT seniors, the GLBT Aging Interest Network or GAIN, but its primary focus is education, entertainment and social activities, according to Kee Holt, RCD’s center services manager who oversees the GAIN Program.

After the activist began receiving help from the caseworkers, he was transferred from jail to a medical facility for evaluation and eventually was placed in the nursing home.

Thorn said anyone who was aware of the activist’s plight could have called Dallas’ 311 service to report his situation. That would have resulted in his case probably being referred to the

Crisis Intervention Unit, and he would have avoided the trip to jail, she said.

“It shouldn’t have gotten that bad,” Thorn said.

Holt said that as unfortunate as this man’s story is, a nearly complete lack of services in Dallas for LGBT seniors means that he is probably not the only one in such a situation.

“There’s really nothing at all out there for GLBT seniors in this city,” Holt said. “If you’re an older GLBT person here who needs some specific services, you’re really just out of luck.

There are no GLBT-specific shelters, no GLBT-specific services or resources. Oak Lawn United Methodist Church does have a program that helps a lot of people, but it’s not GLBT-specific.”

There are, of course, more general services and resources for senior citizens in the area, and Resource Center Dallas recently became a member of the Community Council of Greater

Dallas, an umbrella organization for Dallas-area agencies on aging. But, Holt stressed, those services are often not educated on the special needs of LGBT seniors and in some instances are outright hostile.

“When I first took this job in 2008, I started just cold-calling all the nursing homes and assisted-living facilities I could find in this area, just to try and get a feel for what people knew about LGBT seniors and their issues and how welcoming they would be,” Holt said. “I got hung up on a lot of times, and I even had some people tell me that they didn’t have any LGBT residents because ‘they grow out of it by now.’ Some just told me, “We don’t have that kind of thing here.’”

It’s attitudes like those, Holt said, that put many older LGBTs in an untenable either-or situation: “They have lived their lives as out LGBT men and women, and now, they face the decision of either going back into the closet and spending the rest of their lives hiding who they are, or they can stay out and face being ostracized, maybe even mistreated, by staff members and other residents at the nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

“It’s just a really, really difficult situation, with no good answers right now,” he said.

Holt noted that the Dallas Area Agency on Aging has recently asked Resource Center Dallas to conduct diversity training for its staff in an effort to increase understanding on LGBT issues. That is a step in the right direction, he said, but there are many more steps that are needed.

“The Resource Center needs a full-time staff person to work on just these issues. I don’t have the time to do that, and the funding for that isn’t there right now,” Holt said. “What we need in Dallas is an activist organization focusing on these [LGBT senior] issues. I don’t think that GAIN will be that organization. But we need one.”

Dallas Voice Senior Editor Tammye Nash contributed to this report.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas