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

Graying gays face a growing problem

The sad story of one longtime activist left homeless and alone highlights the many issues facing our aging LGBT population

DAVID WEBB  |  The Rare Reporter

Imagine being old, sick, confused and alone without a roof over your head when winter weather arrives. That’s exactly what happened late last year to a well-known gay political activist who had lived in Oak Lawn for many years.

It’s unclear how much he actually understood about his circumstances because he was suffering from either the early onset of Alzheimer’s Disease or some other form of dementia — a condition that left him unable to survive alone or to seek help.

After he came to the attention of a Dallas Police Department social worker, who tried to locate help for him, the activist eventually was admitted to a residential facility where he is now receiving the care he needs.

A plea for information about the identity of his family members, published last year by the Dallas Voice at the request of the social worker, went unanswered. The activist had mentioned in the past he was the father of a grown son, but he has never been located, according to the social worker.

The only response to the newspaper’s blog post was from an individual who had found photographs and others of the activist’s belongings on a curb and wanted to return them to him. Someone apparently had dumped the items there after the activist was evicted from his apartment sometime last year.

The activist had been on the streets for months when law enforcement officers picked him up because he allegedly had tried to break into a car.

The activist may have been confused and only seeking shelter in the car, the social worker said.

He was arrested and taken to jail, where a nurse who realized he was suffering from dementia sought help from the Police Department’s crisis intervention department.

It’s shocking that someone who had run for political office on the Democratic Party ticket, worked with police and other local officials to benefit the community and participated in so many other LGBT endeavors could wind up helpless and on the streets.

Neighbors of the activist contacted the social worker when the Dallas Voice blog post was published and informed her about his eviction. She suspects that he may have gotten evicted because his dementia left him too disorganized to pay rent and take care of his personal business.

The activist’s story reveals that there doesn’t appear to be many resources dedicated specifically to LGBT seniors in Dallas. That’s a cause for great concern because gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are more likely to become estranged from their families than are their straight counterparts.

In years past a few concerned people tried to raise interest in a local LGBT retirement community of townhouses, apartments and a full-care facility that would serve people of all financial situations. But they failed to make any headway after repeated tries.

Resource Center Dallas sponsors a program for LGBT seniors, but its focus is learning, entertainment and social activities, according to the organization’s website.

If there are any local organizations sponsoring outreach to LGBT seniors who need help surviving, they failed to make contact with the homeless activist before police officers put him in jail.

Some of his neighbors — one of whom had let him stay in her apartment several nights — apparently were concerned about his welfare but had no idea where to turn to find him help.

In comparison, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center’s Senior Services program employs four workers to assist gay people 50 and older with social, educational and support issues. About 70 events are held monthly at the center, which is a much larger and older operation than the one in Dallas.

The case management services and referrals sponsored by the Los Angeles group’s program addresses affordable housing, benefits, home health assistance, bereavement, isolation, mental health and legal issues, according to the organization’s website.

The Los Angeles center’s operation is a good model for Dallas’ center to consider implementing — especially in the area of senior services — as its leaders look to the future. The number of aging LGBT people is only going to grow in the coming years as baby boomers continue to mature. It only makes sense to support the idea of providing services to our community’s older population because everyone who lives long enough is going to grow old eventually.

And anyone who hasn’t started planning for their future ought to take a lesson from what happened to the activist and start thinking along those lines.

David Webb is a former staff writer for the Dallas Voice. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 11, 2011.

—  John Wright