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Older, out, and infinitely proud: a look inside a lifesaving LGBTQ senior home.

Our LGBTQ seniors deserve better. Finally, more people are paying attention.

Older, out, and infinitely proud: a look inside a lifesaving LGBTQ senior home.

As a transgender woman, 65-year-old Eva Skye knows firsthand that living her truth means living in danger too. Three years ago, the only home she had was at a single room occupancy housing facility, or SRO, for those living in poverty. There, she often chose to trek up several flights of stairs to her fifth floor room instead of taking the elevator out of fear she'd be trapped and assaulted by other residents.

When I talk to Skye, her brightness fills the room with color. She's rocking a hot pink top, flashy blue fingernails, and a rainbow bracelet wrapped around her left wrist. "I’m a 65-year-old trans-queer punk mom," she explains in a gentle voice, brushing back hair dyed the color of rosé wine.

Eva Skye. Photo by Robbie Couch/Upworthy.


It's amazing what a difference a few years can make. Skye's quality of life has improved dramatically since 2014, when she moved out of the SRO and into Town Hall Apartments on Chicago's north side, one of the country's few LGBTQ-inclusive affordable housing centers for seniors.

But not every LGBTQ senior is that lucky.

Pushed back into the closet

In contrast to young Americans — a demographic coming out as LGBTQ earlier in life and in larger numbers — data and discouraging anecdotal evidence suggest LGBTQ seniors are retreating into the same closets they once escaped years prior to avoid discrimination today — whether it be at the hands of their peers, as in Skye's case, or at the hands of a senior care industry that carelessly erases them.

An alarming 2010 study discovered just 22% of LGBTQ seniors felt comfortable being "out" to health care workers. Many respondents had been harassed or refused basic services because they were LGBTQ; some, incredibly, reported being told that they were being "prayed over" or that they'd "go to hell" because of who they loved or how they identified. Instead of facing these abuses, many LGBTQ seniors said it was easier to simply blend in — even if it meant becoming invisible.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Elderly LGBTQ people are far more likely to live alone and far less likely to have adult children they can rely on as they age compared with their straight, cisgender peers. There's a greater chance they'll end up in nursing homes, where this type of discrimination can take place. Staff members at such care centers often don't even believe they have LGBTQ residents — not because that's actually the case but because residents often choose not to come out in such uncertain conditions.

A safe place to grow old

Walking through Town Hall's cafeteria during lunch, the nurturing, jubilant atmosphere feels worlds apart from the findings of that 2010 study.

The cafeteria in the Center on Addison. Photo by Robbie Couch/Upworthy.

Through the Chicago Housing Authority's Property Rental Assistance Program, Town Hall has been providing studio and one-bedroom apartments to low-income seniors — most of whom identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer — for over three years.

"Seniors, as they get older, tend to want to go back into the closet," confirms Todd Williams, senior services manager at the Center on Addison, which provides many programs to Town Hall residents. "They suffer from isolation, and they feel as though they can’t necessarily be themselves in their own communities."

Eugene Robbins, another Town Hall resident, understands that struggle well. Before moving in three years ago, he'd been living in a housing project a few miles away where being gay and black had its challenges to say the least.

As a proud man of color born in Selma, Alabama — where, he recalls, white supremacists threw bricks through his family's home windows — he avoids trudging through too much past heartache. But Robbins acknowledges the stains discrimination has left on his life: "As the old saying goes, when your back is against the wall, you'd be surprised at what you can do," he reflects on his time in the housing project.

"I’m happy here," he says of Town Hall. "I feel good here."

Eugene Robbins (left) and Marti Smith (right). Photos by Robbie Couch/Upworthy.

At Town Hall, residents gush about their improved lives as if the apartments were their grandchildren's straight-A report cards. Skye says living in her top-floor studio apartment, with Lake Michigan just beyond view, makes her feel like Alice in Wonderland. Marti Smith, a 72-year-old "card-carrying lesbian," considers herself "extremely lucky" to have landed there and credits Town Hall and its programs with saving her life.

Smith survived throat cancer in the late 1990s. It wasn't just a health setback, it was a financial one too. The cancer's many lingering effects were considered pre-existing conditions and — long before Obamacare — deemed her uninsurable. Smith racked up credit card debt to pay for the necessary care.

The apartments' affordable rates, along with a bevy of center services that help residents manage external costs, are invaluable. Smith has used almost every program offered through the center, she says — free of charge, of course. Residents with ailments like Parkinson's disease and juvenile diabetes — even 30-year AIDS survivors — have benefited greatly from the Center on Addison, Smith notes. "There's no way that I could ever pay back what I have gotten," she says.

Books line the wall at the Center on Addison. Photo by Robbie Couch/Upworthy.

The building's refurbished hallways, where rainbow flags and smiling faces welcome you around most corners, makes Town Hall feel like a queer oasis, safe from the systemic challenges waiting outside. The Center on Addison, which operates on the building's first floor, offers innovative programs and experiences to residents, from those more focused on socializing and well-being — like yoga, trips to the theater, and genealogy classes — to less fun (but certainly just as critical) services — such as help managing health care benefits and job readiness workshops. Programs at the center are open to LGBTQ nonresidents who live in the Chicago area too.

Scaling success beyond Chicago

Outside groups have toured Town Hall and the Center on Addison in hopes of replicating its success elsewhere, Williams says. Locally, the apartments have become astoundingly popular among seniors hoping for a coveted studio or one-bedroom: "We no longer have a waiting list," he notes. "The waiting list was so long, we actually couldn’t [continue it]."

That's the sobering punch that complements touring Town Hall: There's overwhelming demand for more places just like it and nowhere near enough facilities to accommodate. Queer seniors, with their unique needs, are more likely to live in poverty; in Chicago alone, roughly 10,000 LGBTQ seniors could potentially benefit from affordable, queer-inclusive housing. With its 80 apartment units, Town Hall simply isn't enough.

Town Hall's outdoor terrace overlooks Chicago's Lake View neighborhood. Photo by Robbie Couch/Upworthy.

Fortunately, more doors are opening for people like Skye, helping queer seniors close the closet doors for good. Along with Town Hall, facilities in cities like Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and San Francisco are blazing trails for the often overlooked demographic within the LGBTQ community; New York City is in the midst of building its first two queer-inclusive centers as well — one in Brooklyn, one in the Bronx.

"Pandora’s box has been opened," Skye says of her new take on life after moving into Town Hall. "Look out world, here I am."

If only every LGBTQ senior could say the same.

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Amazon

Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

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Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

Katie Schieffer is a mom of a 9-year-old who was recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes after spending some time in the ICU. Diabetes is a nuisance of a disease on its own, requiring blood sugar checks and injections of insulin several times a day. It can also be expensive to maintain—especially as the cost of insulin (which is actually quite inexpensive to make) has risen exponentially.

Schieffer shared an emotional video on TikTok after she'd gone to the pharmacy to pick up her son's insulin and was smacked with a bill for $1000. "I couldn't pay for it," she says through tears in the video. "I now have to go in and tell my 9-year-old son I couldn't pay for it."

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Increasingly customers are looking for more conscious shopping options. According to a Nielsen survey in 2018, nearly half (48%) of U.S. consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

But while many consumers are interested in spending their money on products that are more sustainable, few actually follow through. An article in the 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review revealed that 65% of consumers said they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, but only about 26% actually do so. It's unclear where this intention gap comes from, but thankfully it's getting more convenient to shop sustainably from many of the retailers you already support.

Amazon recently introduced Climate Pledge Friendly, "a new program to help make it easy for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products." When you're browsing Amazon, a Climate Pledge Friendly label will appear on more than 45,000 products to signify they have one or more different sustainability certifications which "help preserve the natural world, reducing the carbon footprint of shipments to customers," according to the online retailer.

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In order to distinguish more sustainable products, the program partnered with a wide range of external certifications, including governmental agencies, non-profits, and independent laboratories, all of which have a focus on preserving the natural world.

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ZACHOR Foundation

"What's 'the Holocaust'?" my 11-year-old son asks me. I take a deep breath as I gauge how much to tell him. He's old enough to understand that prejudice can lead to hatred, but I can't help but feel he's too young to hear about the full spectrum of human horror that hatred can lead to.

I wrestle with that thought, considering the conversation I recently had with Ben Lesser, a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor who was just a little younger than my son when he witnessed his first Nazi atrocity.

It was September of 1939 and the Blitzkrieg occupation of Poland had just begun. Ben, his parents, and his siblings were awakened in their Krakow apartment by Nazi soldiers who pistol-whipped them out of bed and ransacked their home. As the men with the shiny black boots filled burlap sacks with the Jewish family's valuables, a scream came from the apartment across the hall. Ben and his sister ran toward the cry.

They found a Nazi swinging their neighbors' baby upside down by its legs, demanding that the baby's mother make it stop crying. As the parents screamed, "My baby! My baby!" the Nazi smirked—then swung the baby's head full force into the door frame, killing it instantly.

This story and others like it feel too terrible to tell my young son, too out of context from his life of relative safety and security. And yet Ben Lesser lived it at my son's age. And it was too terrible—for anyone, much less a 10-year-old. And it was also completely out of context from the life of relative safety and security Ben and his family had known before the Nazi tanks rolled in.

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Nearly a year into the deadliest pandemic in a century, the U.S. is still battling not only the virus, but Americans living in denial of reality as well.

Take this video of a group of anti-maskers who stood in front of a Trader Joe's entrance and tried to argue that they had every right to shop there without masks. The woman narrating the video states that they have "a right to commerce" (they don't—there's literally no such right), that Trader Joe's doesn't have the right to require masks (they do—it's their store), that the mandate to wear masks in public places can't be enforced because it's not a real law (it can—), and that they were not there to demonstrate, but just to buy groceries (umm, right).

The manager, to his credit, did what he could to calmly talk with these people while also making it clear that they were not going to enter the store without a mask.

"The point you're trying to make isn't going to be made with us," he said. "It can be made with your government...I am not here to debate policy. I totally respect for you to think anything you want to think...my job, as manager of the store is to enforce the mandate, whether you believe in it or not."


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