Spain begins gay retirement home scheme

Spanish gays and lesbians are uniting to build the country’s first homosexual retirement residence, driven away from traditional homes by prejudices that linger since the decades of dictatorship.

Gays who say they must return to the closet at risk of being isolated and insulted when they enter a care home have secured the right to build their own retirement complex near Madrid.

Spain has championed gay rights in recent years — its former Socialist government legalised gay marriage in 2005 — but activists say that prejudice lingers among people who grew up under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

“The older generation was raised in a culture of hate towards homosexuals. They were taught that homosexuals are queers, that they were depraved sinners,” Federico Armenteros, the leader of the project, said.

“Your companions in the retirement home isolate you. People don’t want to share a room with a homosexual,” said Armenteros, a member of the December 26 Foundation, a gay rights group.

Homosexuality was a crime punishable by jail until the law against it was modified in 1978, three years after Franco’s death.

“The law has changed, but mentalities have not,” said Armenteros, a 53-year-old social worker who has booked his own place in the residence in anticipation of his retirement.

Civil rights
A town on the east outskirts of Madrid, Rivas-Vaciamadrid, has ceded a plot of land to December 26 to build the home, the local mayor Jose Masa said.

“The population of this town is very young and supportive and used to getting involved in all kinds of environmental and progressive issues,” said Masa — a left-wing mayor in a mostly conservative region.

“This can be one more in a series of actions linked to civil rights and recognition of people’s identities,” Masa said.

The foundation aims to equip the home with a library, gym, spa and other facilities.

So far 20 people have signed up to the cooperative to have apartments in the complex when it is built, but another 90 participants are needed, plus other investors to launch the €14-million ($18-million) plan.

The foundation says it hopes to start building this year and complete it by 2014. A place in the home will cost €1 400 a month, compared with €2 400 or more for a regular retirement home in Madrid.

“Right now we are in the hardest bit of the project — seeking funding from banks and other people, to get the work under way as soon as possible,” Armanteros said.

Much to be done
It is a bad time to be looking to build, as Spain suffers from an economic downturn brought on by the collapse of a housing boom in 2008. Unemployment is at 21.5% and economists are warning of a fresh recession.

“The banks are not lending money. We are caught up in the crisis and the banks don’t want to hear about construction projects,” Armenteros said, adding that the foundation is courting various investors.

“I told them not to lose heart and to keep trying,” said Masa the mayor.

“They have to make an effort for this symbol to be made a reality.”

Among others who have signed up for a spot in the residence is Empar Pineda, a retired lesbian activist of 77.

“I know lots of cases of people who have had to go back in the closet because they could not bear the jokes and the humiliation” by fellow pensioners in the rest homes, she said.

“I think the fact that a mayor has welcomed the project so enthusiastically is a sign of the change that has taken place in Spanish society. But there is still much to be done.” — AFP

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