Gay retirees: the next big untapped target market?

June 20th 2009

Despite their rising ranks and numbers, gay boomers and seniors are still a largely ignored demographic, but a lobby group for older Canadians is hoping to change that with a pink chapter launched this week.

CARP, Canada’s largest association for the 45-plus, introduced the chapter to represent older gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered members. The group says LGBT seniors face unique challenges in housing, health care, the legal system and long-term care.

After years out in the open, gay seniors often slip “back into the closet” in their old age because they fear being alienated if they live in a nursing home or being discriminated against by health-care providers.

The group is “ringing in a new culture of visibility” among the more conservative members of CARP, said Anne Gravel, researcher in policy development for the organization.

For a $20 annual membership fee to CARP, the group has set up a virtual community to help LGBT seniors link to resources. Although the project focuses on advocacy and so far lists only a handful of gay-friendly retirement homes and long-term care facilities, CARP will eventually also post advertisers interested in catering to the community.

In a culture where marketers have been surprisingly slow to recognize gay retirees as a lucrative demographic, it’s another step forward.

Brandon Matheson, publisher and editor in chief of fab Magazine and xtra, said he has witnessed no discernible increase in marketing to gay seniors. Still, Mr. Matheson isn’t convinced gay retirees even want a niche, pointing to several failed gay retirement home concepts in Ottawa and Toronto.

In 2006, developer Vivat Group launched what was to be Canada’s first gay and lesbian condo, the Bohemian, in Toronto. The company also had hopes for gay retirement homes across the country, but went belly up two years ago, and the city bought the site.

Developers had more luck in Montreal, where Maison Urbaine has opened two retirement homes for gay men. President André Saindon said his company is now looking to develop the concept in Vancouver, Toronto and the United States.

Mr. Saindon said he launched the homes for elderly men who feared bigotry at traditional residences.

“The vision of Urban Home is to [integrate] gay people into retirement homes without having to face any type of discrimination.”

Aging members of the LGBT community are twice as likely to live alone, half as likely to have no close relatives to call for help and four times less likely to have children to help them, according to Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders.

Mr. Matheson thinks the large number of gay baby boomers is poised to change that.

“A lot of the people that have lived openly gay and lesbian lives through the seventies and eighties are growing older. … Any time you have growing prominence, [someone] will start to attach messages directed to those markets.

“The only thing that’s going to change a lot of the approaches and the services is time as our community changes.”