After I fell, fracturing my pelvis, I spent a couple of days in the hospital, then was packed off to a nursing home for three months while the body repaired the fractures.
I had heard stories about homophobic reactions in senior living centers, so I decided to see if this applied to nursing homes too, many of whose patients are older men and women.
Things did not begin well: My first roommate was a religious nut and something of a self-righteous bully. Within 15 minutes of my arrival, he asked me rather aggressively if I were a Christian. I did not want that conversation at that point, so I hedged: "Sort of." "Well," he persisted, "do you believe the bible is God's written word?" This has to stop right here, I thought.
"No, I don't believe that. The bible has a lot of old myths and folktales and imaginary history." I said. At that point he handed me a religious pamphlet that emphasized the pains of Hell for disbelievers. When he heard me later asking a nurse for my HIV medicine, he decided that I was a reprobate sinner as well as a Hell-bound disbeliever. We both began lobbying for me to be moved to another room and within a week that was accomplished.
From then on things improved markedly. I experienced no more troubles anywhere along the line. No one, staff or patients, expressed hostility to gays. And several indicated they were quite gay accepting.
My next two roommates were extremely quiet and I had little interaction with them, but my last roommate was occasionally visited by Roger Margason, a gay man who writes gay murder mysteries under the pen name Dorien Grey. Roger and I exchanged information and although I am not a big reader of fiction, I resolved to try one of them.
One elderly woman I met in physical therapy told me of her gay son and how proud she was of his accomplishments, which did seem considerable. It also turned out he was a reader of the Free Press and he and I agreed to get coffee some time soon.
Then there was the (male) nurse who dropped by to see how things were going. "I'm sorry but the dancing girls called and canceled," he said. "Well, I think in my case I'd prefer dancing boys, anyway," I said. "Oh," he said without missing a beat, "they called and canceled too." Thereafter he was very friendly, always addressing me by name.
The various therapists, with whom I spent more time, seemed to have no trouble with my being gay. When I mentioned that I wrote for the gay newspaper, one remarked, "Oh, yeah, my picture has been in that paper a couple of times." Then by way of explanation he added, "I have some pretty flamboyant friends." Another remarked almost casually that his best friend was gay.
Yet another therapist mentioned that he had a busy weekend coming up, that he had two or three weddings to attend. I commented that as a gay man I would not go to weddings until gays could marry in the U.S. "It'll happen," he said confidently.
Toward the end of my time in the nursing home, an openly gay therapist came in to help with the work load. It turned out that his area of research and interest was gay and lesbian elders. I hope Howard Brown or the Center on Halsted snaps up this man as a consultant. He and I agreed to get together again after I was released.
Every couple of weeks, usually on Saturday, a priest and a young woman from the local Catholic church came by to offer communion to Catholics. "That's very nice of you," I said, "but no thank you; I am an atheist." Two weeks later the same couple came by again and I declined again, restating that I was an atheist. "Oh, yes, I remember you," the young woman said, not unkindly.
Then there was the Salvation Army lassie, an attractive young woman, passing out small gifts to nursing home residents. When she placed one on my bedside table I said, "I don't know if I can accept this. I'm gay and the Salvation Army is anti-gay." She said she did not know that. I told her about the gay motorcycle clubs that used to collect "Toys for Tots" just prior to Christmas each year. One year in the early 1980s they decided to donate them through the Salvation Army. But when they took the bags of toys to Salvation Army headquarters, the official in charge refused to accept them because they were from a gay organization. The gay men were crushed. "So thank you very much but I don't think I can accept this gift," I said and handed her back the small wrapped gift.
I concluded from all this that in general homophobia is rapidly declining at every age level and that much of the reaction to a gay person self-disclosure depends on the context in which s/he discloses being gay.