As we reflect upon LGBT History Month, we honor all of the brave individuals whose efforts contributed to the fight for equality within the LGBT community. We remember the courageous pioneers who began the movement during the Stonewall Uprising, as well as the countless individuals who have dedicated their lives to creating a world that is welcoming and fosters justice for all.

Watermark Retirement Communities is proud to be a strong ally of the LGBT community. We take great honor in our partnership with the Services & Advocacy for LGBT Elders (SAGE), the largest national nonprofit providing services and support to LGBT seniors. Watermark is the first senior living provider nationwide to pursue SAGE Platinum credentials for all communities, and we’re dedicated to creating inclusive environments encouraging everyone to thrive and find joy and personal fulfillment, regardless of sexual orientation.

Although society has come a long way in its acceptance and support of the gay rights movement and related civil rights movements, the LGBT community continues to confront adversity. LGBT older adults often aren’t given a voice in the mainstream media. Astonishingly, more than half of older people in same-sex relationships experience at least one form of discrimination when searching for senior housing. LGBT seniors are twice as likely to age alone and almost four times less likely to have children. For those without next of kin, the role of a primary caregiver often falls on a friend or partner: 54% of LGBT seniors receive care from a partner while 24% receive care from a friend. The majority of health care laws favor biological families and may not recognize one’s partner as the primary caregiver, which highlights the unique challenges associated with caring for LGBT seniors.

Watermark’s efforts to create inclusive communities goes much deeper than simply providing sensitivity training to associates. We are actively rewriting policies, procedures and handbooks to make revisions necessary for inclusion. One notable update identifies friends of LGBT residents as primary caregivers, a policy that doesn’t exist in many other care settings. These changes go beyond just recognition and acceptance, as they ultimately strengthen our ability to care for the growing population.

While Watermark’s partnership with SAGE is attractive to LGBT seniors seeking housing, it also has impacted many of Watermark’s current residents. Jerry Fritz, a resident at The Watermark by the Bay, shared a firsthand account of how moving into a SAGE Platinum-credentialed Watermark community has provided him with a refreshing outlook and peace of mind. Throughout his life, Jerry often felt the need to withhold his true identity to avoid stigma and discrimination. At age 74, he joined The Watermark and finally felt as though he could be himself. “Every person — straight, gay, bisexual — should have a place to live where they feel as relaxed and comfortable as I do. It’s a feeling I never thought I’d live to see,” Jerry expressed.

Another Watermark resident, Paul Wilson of The Fountains at Greenbriar, shared how helping a close friend cope during the coming-out process later inspired his career with the LGBT community. Paul offered support and acceptance to his lifelong friend, Alan, who was overcome with emotion while he shared his fears as he came to terms with his true self. “Knowing and respecting great individuals like Alan helped shape my deepest wish, that we can accept each person as they accept themselves,” Paul said. He offers a unique insight, as he owned and operated facilities for senior adults in long-term care and specialized rehabilitative medical care. “I have worked with the LGBT community closely since the 1980s, facilitating the first dedicated health care services for the LGBT community in the Midwest,” Paul explained. His personal account serves as a prime example of how becoming a trusted ally creates a ripple effect that evokes positive, lasting change.

Watermark’s efforts toward inclusivity in its communities nationwide has also made an impact on associates who identify as LGBT. Watermark associate Diana Demers shared how participating in the SAGECare training was an eye-opening experience that later inspired her to become involved with the organization. “I openly identify as gay and am comfortable talking about it, but I’ve always struggled with knowing when it was the right time to disclose that in a workplace setting,” she expressed. “I realized that by sharing my experiences with the group during the SAGE training, I would essentially provide a firsthand perspective of the challenges that LGBT people face every day.”

After learning more about the support and resources provided by the organization, Diana developed a more optimistic outlook for the future. “Despite how open I am, I probably wouldn’t be comfortable sharing my sexual orientation upon introduction during a tour, but knowing that a prospective community offered such competent, compassionate care in a welcoming environment would be a great sigh of relief — and I believe it would be easy for me to confidently choose that community to call home,” she added.

In addition to creating positive sentiment among residents and associates alike, the partnership with SAGE has inspired many Watermark communities to develop specialized programs and educational offerings that celebrate diversity. For example, The Watermark at Beverly Hills has incorporated a class into their Watermark University curriculum titled LGBTQA+ Figures Throughout History. Taught by Community Life Director Benny Medina, the class covers the history and struggles of LGBTQA+ individuals and highlights various topics, including Reggie to Rocketman: The Influence of Sir Elton John, Stonewall: Our History, and Frida Kahlo: The Artist of the People. “Everyone has a better view of the past when everyone is included,” Benny reflected.

Watermark Retirement Communities continues to push the boundaries of what retirement living can be as we tirelessly pursue our mission to create extraordinary and innovative communities where people thrive. With several LGBT-related projects on the horizon, Watermark is dedicated to serving as a catalyst for changing the way people view aging. “We’re going to offend some, and we’re going to appeal to some, but this is the stand we’re taking,” explained Watermark Managing Director Shannon Ruedlinger.

With more than 7 million LGBT people projected to be 65 or older within the next decade, Watermark is taking the extra steps to provide the utmost inclusive and quality care that is essential in creating accepting communities where everyone thrives, regardless of their orientation. Through these efforts to celebrate diversity in a constantly evolving society, Watermark Retirement Communities is proud to help lead the conversation on LGBT aging and advocacy.

Be sure to visit our Inform & Inspire page for more thought-provoking content.

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