When people in the LGBT community start to think about possibly moving into a retirement community, they often proceed with fear for safety. Most of us are aware of LGBT seniors being discriminated against. Often times, elderly residents in nursing homes may not get bathed or clothed because the staff does not want to ‘touch a lesbian’. Others have been threatened with “outing” if they report their abuser. LGBT people need more options.
There are fewer than a dozen retirement communities exclusively for LGBT people; one of them happens to be just outside of Portland, Oregon, Rainbow Vista. I was able to speak with Ian Jones, the General Manager of Rainbow Vista before interviewing one of its residents. Ian is a gay man and admits that it helps to make the residents feel safe to know the General Manager is gay. Ian has been with Rainbow Vista for almost three years. Rainbow Vista is, “here to provide a comfortable home for gay seniors at a comfortable price. We want it to be affordable and safe.” Ian says optimistically, “When my partner and I retire hopefully there will not be a need to have a gay retirement community. It is not a safe place right now, and given the history our residents feel safer here.” There are some openings available currently, so if you are interested you should contact Rainbow Vista soon.
I also had the great pleasure of talking with William Stein, the Peruvian scholar and social do-gooder. Stein has published several books and has one coming out in August, Power and Oppression in the Andes. Stein does not identify as a Marxist, but certainly acknowledges that Marx influenced both how he lives his life and his writing. He grew up as a secular Jew in Buffalo, New York with a single mom. He will be 90 in October. While it is clear that he is a scholar and a great intellect, he is very gracious and has a delightful sense of humor that puts people at ease.
I grew up during the depression with single mom in Buffalo in a flat with my grandmother. I was taught that homosexuals were degenerates. So the last thing I wanted to be was a degenerate. We did not use the word homosexual but images of oral and anal sex between men were degenerate. My mom was ignorant and unhappy and sexually frustrated herself. When I was 16, I had a lovely homosexual encounter with two guys one night, but when I sobered up it scared the shit out of me. Such that I took an overdose of sleeping pills. I didn’t take enough and I survived. I had a bad case of homophobia.
I joined the National Guard in 1940 and served in the army in WWII. We trained at Camp Stewart in Savannah, Georgia. We were in the search light battery. After basic training they gave us radars and sent us to Vidalia and we practiced with planes. When December 7 came along, FDR already signed the order and we knew we would be sent away. We were originally sent to San Diego for a year and then sent to Algeria. They sent us to Sicily but then all of the sudden the Sicilian campaign was over. Then they sent us to Italy. We had a couple of air raids and a couple of purple hearts by guys that were hit by flak. I was lucky. I was out of danger for most of the war. I served in N. Africa and Italy.
I finished high school and went to college after the war. I got an assistantship at Cornell—I wan in the anthropology department. My mentor was Peruvian and I went to Peru and became a Peruvian scholar in 1951.
Life Before Coming Out:
Just before I went to Cornell I met my wife. She has just received shock treatments for depression. I was not right for her and she of course she was not right for me. We got married in 1949. Her bi-polar disorder came back and she needed a lot of taking care of. We had sex for a year and we had a son. We lived in Peru but she could not handle it and she took our son and moved back to the states. We had sex one more time when I returned from Peru and nine months later my daughter was born. We stayed together for 40 years. She died in 1993. She came down with an Alzheimer’s disorder in the early 80s. She had a massive stroke in 1989 and lingered four years in a nursing home.
In 1970 I remember hearing the Kink’s song Lola, you know “boys will be girls and girls will be boys”. Then the Stonewall riots happened. I always knew I was gay. 1971 I just turned 50 and I went downtown to the porno bookstore and I looked at the male porn and my knees turned to liquid. Eventually I found my way to the Advocate and subscribed to these newsletters, for mature gays looking for each other and managed to get myself into homosexual liaisons, sometimes I had to drive a couple of hundred miles. I was involved with a guy from Queens and I had to meet him in Binghamton. I came out to my colleagues in 2003. I published a book and in the preface I thanked my gay friends and lovers over the years. My colleagues did not take it amiss. Anthropologists are anthropologists! I was sexually active until I got here. I just got too old. I have been celibate for three and a half years. Two years ago I had lung cancer and had radiation treatments.
Telling your kids?
My daughter is quite proud of me. She discovered a cache of my collection of the Advocate and Out Magazine. When she meets someone who is gay she proudly announces, “My Dad is Gay.” My son lives in NW Portland and my daughter lives in South Carolina. My son is a retired geologist. In the early 2000s with my daughter and I think they talked about it, so he was not surprised. My son would like to chalk it up to my foolishness. I see him once a week and we have a beer.
I’m all for it. I’m so pleased that New York now had marriage equality and so pissed at California and pissed at the Catholics and the Mormons for interfering and hoping more states will follow New York.
How and why did you end up here at Rainbow Vista?
When I moved to Portland, I moved to another elderly community outside of Beaverton. The guy I was seeing here in Gresham told me there was a gay retirement village. I came here and met Ian and Hank and I knew this was the place I wanted to be. Because you can relax and be who you are here. I don’t have to think about it I don’t have to think about my safety here. It is nice to be here with other gay people.
What do you want people to take away from this interview?
That it is possible to have a place like this for gay people. We exist and we are persistent.
I want to thank Bill and Ian for their time. I also want to thank Bill for sharing a part of his story. I love what he said: “We exist and we are persistent.”