There’s an entire generation of LGBTQ+ baby boomers approaching retirement age, many of whom were at the frontlines of the gay rights movement of the 60s and 70s.
But with aging often comes relocating to senior housing and long-term care, and it also means that about a third of LGBTQ+ seniors worry they’ll be back in the closet before long. Discrimination — fear of, or actual retribution — plays a big factor in LGBTQ+ seniors hiding their identities. Longtime LGBTQ+ activist LuAnn Boylan is taking a community-facing approach to lower this statistic.
Boylan is a marketing and leasing expert for Living Out, a luxury retirement community coming soon to Palm Springs for active LGBTQ+ adults 55 and over. Living Out, the brainchild of philanthropist and developer Loren Ostrow, will house 122 units for the community’s eldest next spring.
“You ought to be able to walk out of your apartment and walk to the restaurant, holding your partner’s hand, sharing a kiss across the table, raising a glass together,” Boylan says. “Why shouldn’t you be able to do all of those things and not feel like you have to look around first to see if it’s okay?”
With a background in marketing and art, Boylan has been instrumental in the design and branding of Living Out. Her favorite part of the job, she says, is working directly with the community to make sure the space meets the needs of LGBTQ+ seniors.
Serving on the development team of Living Out is just the latest in Boylan’s dedication to activism. A self-proclaimed “true child of the 60s,” Boylan’s sheltered experience growing up thrust her into protesting during the Civil Rights Movement. Later, after coming out in her 30s, Boylan says she found her “new tribe.”
“I was having the luxury of coming out already having established a career, fairly successful in that career. There was certainly [still] risk in coming out,” Boylan says. “And that pushed me into recognizing … that I probably needed to pay attention to what that meant.”
Boylan has served on the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Board of Directors for nearly three decades, which she credits for bringing awareness to “LGBTQ seniors across the country who are feeling like they were forced to make a decision about feeling authentic or being safe.”
Boylan’s contributions to Living Out come at a time when threats to LGBTQ+ community spaces are rampant in daily headlines. The Colorado Springs LGBTQ+ nightclub shooting and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas calling to reconsider Lawrence v. Texas reminds us — we still aren’t completely safe in this country.
There’s a need for solidarity at all levels, but particularly for senior citizens, who have fewer funded community spaces than LGBTQ+ youth.
“The overwhelming response is, ‘Oh, my gosh, finally, finally, somebody is doing this. We can’t imagine why it’s taken so long; we can’t wait to be a part of a community that affirms us as opposed to tolerates us,’” Boylan says.
Ostrow knew he wanted to have Boylan on board the Living Out team from the beginning. He says she’s “contributed probably more to this than anybody, including me,” because of her ability to put Ostrow’s vision into actuality.
“When you’re renting to people who are making this their home, it really takes more than a business approach. It takes a willingness to spend time and listen to people, she’s a very good listener,” Ostrow says.
It was her idea, for example, to include a piano bar, a significant community tradition. As a sculptor and artist, she’s also spearheaded decorating the resort with the work of LGBTQ+ artists.
Boylan is also laser focused on incorporating LGBTQ+ community programming, whether it’s through film, performance and even a senior prom, which many LGBTQ+ seniors didn’t go to because they weren’t free to go with the person they loved.
“As a gay person, I don’t need every moment of my life to be about being gay,” Boylan says. “But in most senior communities, if you happen to be a gay person, you’re not going to hear anything about who you are, what your history is, what your community has brought to bear in this society, what your community has succeeded at.”