Openhouse Co-Founder Dr. Marcy Adelman has worked tirelessly for nearly two decades to fulfill the founding vision and purpose of the agency: to create long-term affordable housing options for LBGT seniors. The recent opening of 55 Laguna in San Francisco realizes that founding vision and could not have come at a better time, given the housing crisis that has impacted so many of us.
We congratulate San Francisco Bay Times columnist Dr. Adelman on this achievement and her being named the recipient of this year’s Openhouse Trailblazer Award. Here, she shares her thoughts on LGBT aging issues, the creation of Openhouse and 55 Laguna.
San Francisco Bay Times: You are considered one of the pioneers in LGBT aging and one of our community’s earliest advocates for lesbian and gay, and later, LGBT seniors. You must have been in your 30’s when you started this work and at a time when few people were focused on aging. What was it that compelled you as a young lesbian to do this work?
Dr. Marcy Adelman: I am deeply honored to be recognized by Openhouse at this year’s Spring Fling. I started to think about lesbian and gay elders, and lesbian and gay aging issues, when I was 27 years old. This may sound hokey, but I think of my advocacy work in LGBT aging as something like a calling and attribute it to growing up in an intergenerational family and having a close and loving relationship with my grandmother.
My parents and brother and I lived with my grandmother and my aunt in my grandmother’s apartment until I was five years old. Growing up in a three-generation household was a hugely positive influence on me. It shaped my experience of family and community, and provided me with a multigenerational perspective on life.
Let me tell you about a moment of clarity that I had about how important that experience was to me and the need to recreate it in my life: As a young woman in 1972, I was standing in line in the East Bay to see a movie that was of interest to me and other members of the Jewish community. There were couples of all ages, groups of friends both young and old, parents with children—the whole tapestry of life. It felt deeply gratifying and familiar to be there.
The next weekend I was waiting in the ticket line at the Castro Theatre on a sunny afternoon. It was a long line that stretched up Castro and around the corner onto 17th Street. It was the early days of the Gay Liberation movement, and the Castro was our home. It was a time of consciousness raising groups, marches, discovering and defining who we were and creating community. I vividly remember looking up and down the ticket line and seeing only people my age—twenty and thirty-something year-old men and women in t-shirts laughing and enjoying being together. Then it hit me, and took my breath away, really: Where were all the old people? Why weren’t they there with us, and what happened to them? I couldn’t imagine building and creating community without them. I didn’t know it at the time, but that moment would stay with me my entire life, and guide my advocacy work for the next four decades.
San Francisco Bay Times: I imagine there were few opportunities in the 1970s to work with LGBT seniors, and few places to talk about LGBT aging. What was it like then, and what is it like now?
Dr. Marcy Adelman: There were very few opportunities, but that was quickly changing, at least in California and New York. By the mid 1970s, lesbian and gay professional and academic groups focused on aging were beginning to emerge. Lesbian and gay elders were beginning to organize and advocate for themselves. By the late 1970s, the earliest studies on lesbian and gay aging were being published. During those early years, everyone was up against the same challenges—fiercely homophobic and relentlessly negative and ageist stereotypes of lesbian and gay elders as socially and emotionally impaired. We were making much progress when the HIV/AIDS epidemic broke out.
During the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, the community focus on aging issues was not sustainable. In a time when so many people were sick and dying and in need of care, the focus on longevity issues and the needs of LGBT elders receded and did not return for more than a decade. But once it came back, it came back more robust than ever before.
Since the 1970s I have been involved, to one extent or another, in different types of activities—I am a researcher, author, editor, frequent speaker on LGBT elder health and wellness, health disparities and an advocate for quality LGBT elder care. Today there are more opportunities than ever before to create change and to make the long-term care system more responsive to the needs of
LGBT elders. Currently I am a member of the San Francisco Advisory Committee to the Aging and Adult Service Commission,
the Alzheimer’s Association of Northern California and Northern Nevada’s Advisory Committee to the LGBT Dementia Care Project, and a member of the Dignity Fund Oversight and Advisory Committee for the City and County of San Francisco. None of that would have been possible 20 years ago.
San Francisco Bay Times: You have served on Openhouse’s board for nearly two decades. What did it feel like to see your founding vision finally realized?
Dr. Marcy Adelman: The moment I realized how real it all was, was when I interviewed Robin Rhuett, an Openhouse Community resident, for my “Aging in Community” column for the San Francisco Bay Times.
When Robin told me that living at 55 Laguna was a chance to start over in a place where she felt safe and cared for, I started to cry. We were both crying. She thanked me for helping to make 55 Laguna happen, for even wanting to make it happen, and I thanked her for making 55 Laguna her home.
I felt grateful for the journey, for Openhouse and for all of the hundreds of people who helped to make it happen. I thought about the people who poured so much of themselves into this endeavor, but were not here to see it—Jeanette, Jan, Arthur, Warren. I felt grateful for the residents. Grateful for Mercy Housing’s partnership and how much care they had put into the building. Grateful to be alive and to grow old. Grateful to live in San Francisco and to be part of this amazing community.