Sweden's first LGBT retirement home - a model for rainbow aging?

STOCKHOLM (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - There’s a lengthy waiting list for a place at Sweden’s first retirement home for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, its success highlighting a growing demand for accommodation specifically for elderly LGBT people.

Opened in 2013, Regnbagen, or rainbow house, doesn’t look any different from the other modern apartment blocks in the quiet, leafy Stockholm suburb that overlooks the city’s port.

The residents, the majority of them men, occupy 27 airy apartments on the upper three floors of an eight story retirement home with access to amenities such as a hairdresser, foot therapist, health clinic and a roof terrace.

“We have the same activities, we live the same life and we love in the same way,” Christer Fallman, Regnbagen’s founder, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“The only thing that is different is that a small minority of people who are gay can get together to find security when they are aging.”

Sweden is ranked as one of Europe’s best countries for LGBT rights, according to an index that ranks European countries based on legal benchmarks for LGBT equality.

But many of the residents remember a darker time, when they faced discrimination in society and under Swedish law, and some feared coming out to their families and colleagues.

Sitting in the sun-filled kitchen of Bjorn Lundstedt, one of the first residents to move into Regnbagen, Fallman said he liked the idea of creating a home where elderly gay and bisexual people could peacefully retire.

“We are a group of people that has been harassed and seen as criminals and dismissed by law,” he said. “The whole question started within myself: what will I do, what are my possibilities as a single man if I don’t find anyone to live with, what will my older days look like?” said Fallman, at 57 the home’s youngest resident.

Lundstedt, a 75-year old former flight attendant, was the first person to put his name down when Fallman first advertised the home.

“I thought maybe that’s something for me,” said Lundstedt, sitting at his kitchen table with a traditional wooden horse painted with rainbow colors, little flower pots and bowls of sweets.

“I came here and looked at it from the outside and it appealed very much to me.”

The home has white walls with blown-up photographs of gay couples stepping out of forests, a friendly common room and a lived-in feel. Pinned on the information board is a flyer for an upcoming concert of Swedish dance band Alcazar.

The LGBT pensioners said they hadn’t experienced hostility from residents already living in the retirement block, although some were annoyed that Regnbagen took over the most desirable top floors.

Now a waiting list of more than 100 means the home has a long-term future. “The queue is for our security. We couldn’t afford to pay for an empty flat,” said Fallman.

He is proud of Regnbagen’s popularity and said the home could serve as a model for retirement communities elsewhere.

Such homes already exist in the United States and Canada, but Fallman said he thought they could also help to challenge prejudices in countries such as Uganda and Russia where LGBT people face discrimination at home, at work and under the law.

“If you want to open up a place like this in Uganda it would be a nice way to start because this is such a good way, probably the best one,” he said.

“It’s about older people who need security and somewhere to live, and compassion is the way to break the ice in hard-hearted people.”