Melissa Harris-Perry: Welcome back to The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. As we come to the end of today's show, we're going to shift gears a bit and bring you another installment of our aging while queer series. Now, according to a 2014 study by the Equal Rights Center, nearly half of all older same-sex couples have experienced discrimination when seeking housing. Many LGBTQ+ elders report experiencing discrimination and even harassment while searching for senior housing. Let's be clear, this discrimination can be deadly.
Decades of research show that social isolation leads to negative mental and physical health outcomes among the elderly. This is something Dr. Imani Woody understands well. Dr. Woody is herself an advocate for people of color, women, and the LGBTQ+ community and was unable to find quality elder care for her father. She became passionate about helping those who are aging in marginalized communities. That's when she decided to open Mary's House. We spoke to Dr. Woody who started by explaining just what Mary's House is.
Dr. Imani Woody: It's Mary's House for older adults. We started with my dad taking ill and we having to put him in a facility. It occurred to me if he had been an out gay man, what would the treatment have been? Had he been an out trans person, what would the treatment have been when as an older adult cis-gendered male, we put them in this facility continent and we pulled him out and he was incontinent.
I wondered, in old age, it's so hard to be old and gay. Really, those two, the intersectionality of aging and LGBTQ-SGL, same-gender-loving can be horrific. It shouldn't be in your golden years. Right, Melissa? We should be able to enjoy ourselves, not worrying about how we are being perceived because of one of our intersectionality. Mary's House, the thought of it was born, I had my kitchen cabinet around, my pop died, left me the house.
I said, "What should we do with the house?" The house is in Washington, DC. We thought and thought and came up with the idea, let's create housing because across the nation, there's a dearth of housing, affordable housing. If you're rich, you can live anywhere. If you're wealthy, you can live pretty much where you want. What do you do when you're just a regular Joe, Jane, Markita? Where do you go? We said, let's build this housing. That was the vision and we're close.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I got to say, as I'm listening to you talk, I realize how much 10 or 15 years ago, this would have felt so abstract to me. At that time, my parents were in their 60s and working and I certainly knew that they were aging but I never thought much about it but now I find myself fully in the middle of the sandwich with young kids on one hand and truly aging elderly parents on the other.
I'm beginning to face all of those questions and realizing that when we talk about housing discrimination, when we talk about poverty, so often, even though we don't say it, we're actually talking about young people or we're talking about relatively young families. As much as we think about many different intersections of invisibility, I'm realizing how much I haven't bothered to see how all of these questions are perhaps even more crucial for our seniors and for our older population.
Dr. Imani Woody: Yes. I think that's true for many of us. I am older now and I'm feeling the impact of aging and ageism. I'm female. It's hard. I understand when you say you feel it. It really comes to fruition when it comes in your backyard or becomes you. You really feel it. I understand that.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm also interested in the point that you make here about, on the one hand, when we do think about any of these questions, maybe we think about them in the context of poverty. For older Americans, it's not necessarily about being poor. Ordinary folk, folks who have been working-class, middle class their whole lives but once they are on fixed incomes and we see the cost of housing skyrocketing, for example, as it has in the post-COVID era, where we experience the realities of gentrification, having truly safe and supportive housing for those with marginal identities gets harder and harder.
Talk to me about what it means at least to you and to Mary's House when you say safe and supportive LGBTQ+ elder housing.
Dr. Imani Woody: When I say safe and affordable housing for LGBTQ same-gender-loving folks, I mean that you can put the key in the door and you're welcome. You can bring your whole self, W-H-O-L-E self into the frame. That's your old self. No one's going to be condescending. We do a lot of that with our elders. No one's going to talk down to you. You can bring your old self. You can bring your ethnic self. Your Black self, your Jewish self.
It means that you can bring all layers of you to a place and you won't feel any way. Melissa, there's some kind of way folks can make other folks feel and you can't put your finger on it. You're trying to figure out, "Well, is that because I'm old? Is that because I'm lesbian? Is that because I'm trans? Is that because I'm poor?" You're trying to figure out where affordable housing, in my opinion, your castle, where you lay your head and sleep and shout out the rest of the world embraces you, envelops you, affirms you.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Which I suppose is what we all want from home. From the place that we call home. That when you walk in, you can bring your whole self. It doesn't have to be cute. It can be all the things that it is.
Dr. Imani Woody: Often it's not.
Melissa Harris-Perry: It is often not. Your feet are allowed to stink in your own house.
Dr. Imani Woody: On your house, right? You can do those things. That's correct. Yes.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Talk to me a little bit about the education and training that goes into creating affirming housing.
Dr. Imani Woody: My PhD is in Human Services Nonprofit Management and I'm building housing. That's first. I didn't know what I didn't know until I was in the belly of the beast. It's not for the faint of heart. It's for if you have a passion because, in many instances, affordable housing doesn't make a lot of money. With Mary's House for older adults, we're not going to get rich with this. It's going to sustain itself but we're not going to get rich.
We had to figure out how that sustainability would happen in terms of having, when we say affordable, which can run the gamut of 30% of your income to let's say $2,000 a month or $3,000 a month for a studio. The education, I would think a passion. It would be great to have. But what we do have, we have an incredible board of advisors, consultants, people in the community, experts in construction, experts in program management, experts in fundraising, experts in development. The organization needs the education to develop it as the individual needs a passion and a persistence to move forward and get to the finish line.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Tell me about the Golden Girls bill.
Dr. Imani Woody: Awesome. The Golden Girls bill is being proposed in Washington DC City Council by council member Robert White. The Golden Girls bill is a bill that will allow elders to take in other elders in their home, to rent a space in their home. It will be a process wherein the homeowner can receive some funds and resources and the renter will receive funds and or resources.
The bottom line is that they're going to be together. We're going to nip social isolation in the bud. We're going to create families. Mary's House for older adults really loves this bill because we are creating families. Our vision like you may know that there are maybe eight to 12 of these units for affirming LGBTQ-SGL folks but ours is the only, Mary's House is the only one that is offering communal living. Building of families. The Golden Girls bill will build on that. It will build family and community.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Nothing could make more clear how important that is than COVID-19. My own mother lives half a mile, not even from me, walking, walkable, bike riding distance. During COVID-19, especially during those early months before we were really clear how it was passed and how effective masking would be or any of that, I just didn't see my mother for months and she lives alone. Never was it clear that there's a reason why for most of human history, we have lived together in community because something like that happens and suddenly you need to be in your pod together in your Golden Girl's house.
Dr. Imani Woody: Yes, exactly. You need to be in your pod together. The pandemic was really an eye-opener, really did open our eyes to how our elders are perceived. Do you remember, Melissa, when some politicians were saying, "Old folks, take one for the team." There are still ethical concerns out there. If it's me, and it's a 25-year-old who needs the ventilator, somebody got to make that decision if there's only one.
There's ethics who decides who lives, who dies. There's a lot of things going on when we talk about elders and they being perceived as throwaway people. If you add the LGBTQ-SGL on top of that and add old on top of that, it's pretty sad.
Melissa Harris-Perry: What would it take to get a Mary's House in every community, in every neighborhood?
Dr. Imani Woody: That question warms my heart, Melissa, because that's what we're thinking. Mary's House in Washington, DC is our first one, and it's our first independent living residence. Our vision is to have independent living, assisted living, and hospice so that we have a continuum of care for this population. We want it in every city and it won't cost as much as the one we're building now, because we want to have donated homes. If it's a four-bedroom home, then it can be a four-bedroom Mary's House with a little upgrading so that it's communal friendly.
We want to have one in every city and country. Actually, Melissa, we were interviewed by some Russian folks who came over and wanted to hear about Mary's House. A French reporter came to us and wanted to know about it. Some folks in Germany wanted to learn about Mary's House. We see this communal living project for LGBTQ elders in particular all over the world.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Look at how your love for your father, your reflection on the realities of these intersectional identities. This might change the way that seniors live all around the world. Dr. Imani Woody, thank you for joining us on The Takeaway.
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