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MailTribune.com
  • Gay and gray

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  • When Les Krambeal and Gordon Owsley think about aging, their fears are the fears of many ' that they will become frail, and that they won't be treated well in old age.
    The Ashland couple has one other fear as well: homophobia.
    — There's enough elder abuse out there, and it's worse if you're gay, said Owsley, 63, of Ashland.
    A very real concern for seniors in others' care is being discriminated against by neglect until you die ' or outright killing you by withholding meds, said 53-year-old Krambeal. As they age, the nation's estimated — million gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents over 60 face many of the same issues as anyone else. But some issues are theirs alone.
    Gay men and lesbians are less likely than others to have children who will help care for them, for example, and many say they are more likely than the population in general to become isolated as they grow older.
    In Southern Oregon, they represent a small and largely unseen community. The 2000 Census recorded 468 unmarried partners of the same sex in the region, and about a third of gay people locally are over 55, estimated Krambeal, an officer in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Political Caucus of Southern Oregon.
    Many have found a comfortable place in the community.
    Dick Warren, 74, said he's warmly accepted at Rogue Valley Manor in Medford, but that he learned to pass ' present a seemingly heterosexual lifestyle ' early in life, and it's no different now.
    Most people here know my story, said Warren, an art historian. I'm totally accepted and would be very surprised if any discrimination happened here. I find it hard to believe any nursing home people would be prejudiced.
    Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, in fact, is illegal in Ashland but not in Oregon as a whole. No federal law bars such discrimination, either.
    But local retirement communities say homosexuality wouldn't be an issue with them.
    Everyone's welcome here, said Madeline Hill, president of Mountain Meadows senior community in Ashland, and I've never asked anyone about their sexual orientation ' nor would I ever.
    We would never discriminate against anyone, for any reason, except you have to be at least 55 to live here, said Kari Floeck, manager of Horton Plaza. The center is under common ownership with Fountain Plaza and Anna Maria Creekside retirement homes.
    Still, issues of discrimination are not unheard of.
    Krambeal and Owsley said two friends of theirs, a lesbian couple, recently settled a suit against an area hospital after nurses refused to bathe one of them, a patient recovering from a car accident. Secrecy was a condition of the settlement, they said.
    Even without direct discrimination, many gays and lesbians remain wary about the issue, said Kate Geary, 63, a vacation rental owner in Ashland.
    I think it's more anxiety-based, Geary said. However, a whole lot of people are disturbed by fears from how they've been treated in the medical field. I've heard about outright prejudice of doctors who don't feel comfortable even discussing anything about lesbian-gay issues.
    For many aging gays and lesbians, the larger issue is not the medical field but whether they will have support from family members as they grow old.
    My adult children have wanted nothing to do with me since the day I came out in 1970, mainly due to their mother poisoning them against me, said one 66-year-old Ashland man who asked not to be identified. I've seen them but the cold shoulder treatment was too painful, and I've signed off. I was allowed to see my grandchildren but was introduced as an old friend of Grandma's.
    Problems can arise over property when a gay or lesbian partner dies, said Krambeal. Family members often feel free to come and pick up the deceased's belongings, as if the bereaved partner, not being a legal spouse, had no claim to them.
    Surviving homosexuals have been barred by family members from attending a partner's funeral, and they are banned from being buried next to each other in veteran cemeteries, Krambeal noted. They are barred, nationwide, from making a contract giving them the rights of married couples in hospital visitation, taxes and inheritance, he added.
    A lot of people out there still hate us, said Krambeal, who with Owsley soon plans to move to Tucson, where they believe they will be accepted more readily as they grow older.
    We want to be surrounded by the whole mix ' blacks, Hispanics, gays, everyone living together and getting along.
    After all, said Krambeal, we're exactly like everyone else ' except we're not.

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