Monday, November 20, 2006

Marketing to Gay Seniors

Marketers across all disciplines are looking to aging and retiring baby boomers and wondering "how can we reach this market?" The portrayal of older people in advertising has changed from blue-haired grannies to sassy ladies who like to hang ten.

There's also a tremendous marketing opportunity within the aging GLBT community. We've seen a number of GLBT-oriented retirement communities crop up in recent years. Here's one of many stories on the subject:

Gay seniors find a home of their own
By RANDY MYERS/MediaNews GroupVallejo Times Herald

After 25 years of social activism, 59-year-old Brenda Crawford relishes the prospect of handing over the torch to a youthful crusader.

When she and her partner sell their Vallejo home within the next five years, they expect to move to a planned posh retirement community for lesbians and gays. The $85 million Fountaingrove Lodge in Santa Rosa is expected to open in the winter of 2008 or 2009.

The African-American woman said they chose Fountaingrove because of its country setting and commitment to racial diversity. "It doesn't have that elitist attitude of Palm Springs," she said.
Fountaingrove hardly represents an anomaly in senior housing. The booming industry finds itself tailoring housing needs to meet demands of baby boomers, people shaped equally by the "me generation" and the civil rights movement.

For some boomers, that means discovering a community oriented to one's sexuality. For others, it means a complex specializing in a particular ethnicity or activity.

Crawford prefers living in a place where neighbors won't arch an eyebrow when they discover her partner is a woman 16 years her junior.

"I don't think I would consider going into a center that was not (gay-focused) simply because I need to leave that fight to somebody who's younger," she said. "I don't want, at 60, to be worried about walking out of my door and not having people say hello to me."

At Fountaingrove, the people next door would be more likely to invite them over to watch "The L Word."

From the titles lining library shelves to the singers and authors who will be invited to appear, Fountaingrove plans to cater to gay and lesbian interests.

"They want (singer) Holly Near performing," Winter says. "They want Dorothy Allison ('Bastard Out of Carolina') doing a book reading when her next book comes out."

A demand exists for a place such as Fountaingrove. As many as 3 million gays and lesbians are older than 65, a group that's expected to swell to 4 million by 2030, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Expect more individualized communities to pop up as the stampede of baby boomers transform into golden girls and boys, said San Francisco State University gerontology professor Anabel Pelham.

Senior housing covers the gamut, including options such as specialists who direct seniors living on their own to resources they need, co-housing and "affinity" housing in which seniors with similar interests band together.

Pelham said the greatest demand remains for assisted living housing, which allows seniors to live independently while receiving basic services.

Fountaingrove will provide for people going through the stages of aging, from being independent to needing skilled care, said Wes Winter, senior marketing director.

Amenities planned include a wellness center, a pool, three restaurants, a bar, two gyms and a movie theater. Living spaces include cottages, apartments and flats among the 148 units.

Publicity has created buzz around the globe, Winter says. Some who have expressed interest reserved a bigger space than needed because they plan on meeting a partner while there, he adds.

Vallejo residents Thomas Huish and John Mathewson debated about moving to a community in New Mexico until spotting an ad for Fountaingrove in the Advocate, a national gay and lesbian magazine.

"I called right away," said Huish, 63. "We liked the whole package. It's got all the bells and whistles."

The couple have children from previous marriages and a strong network of friends in Vallejo, a city where a large population of gays and lesbians reside in an area of restored homes dubbed "Lavender Hill." Huish and Mathewson live elsewhere in the city.

"We have a fairly large community of friends in Vallejo some older, some younger," Huish said. "That will be hard to leave."

Fountaingrove joins the ranks of other gay-focused retirement communities that have sprung up or are planned in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Palm Springs and Santa Fe, N.M. The nonprofit Openhouse Project in San Francisco aims to create senior housing and services for all income levels of gays and lesbians.

Reasons vary on why gays and lesbians gravitate to gay retirement communities, but often it's because they want to be safe and social, Winter said.

"If you look at someone who is 70 or 80 now, maybe in their 60s I would guess that pretty close up to 100 percent of them went through some sort of physical or emotional violence over the years."

Not everyone can afford or wants to live in a community such as Fountaingrove. The steep entry fee, refundable to residents or heirs, ranges from $350,000 to $1 million. Monthly dues are $3,000 to $4,000. (Twenty percent of units will be set aside for affordable housing, Winter said.)

That's way beyond what 70-year-old Marvin Burrows of Hayward can afford. When his partner of 50-plus years died in 2005, the loss crippled him emotionally and financially.
The high school sweethearts discussed retiring to gay-friendly locales such as the Russian River or Palm Springs.

"We had heard so many horror stories about gay couples moving into facilities and not being able to be together," he said.

Burrows received none of his partner's pension and zero from Social Security because the federal government does not recognize same-sex partnerships.

His partner's life insurance policy wasn't large. At one time, Burrows feared he might wind up on the streets.

Then Frank Howell, another gay man who also had lost his partner, invited Burrows to move in.

Bleak financial outlooks might be more common than many would suspect. According to a survey of more than 1,300 gays and lesbians, income levels for San Francisco gays and lesbians mirror heterosexuals' incomes. The finding debunks perceptions that gays have disposable income to spare.

The Openhouse survey also found that in the 50-59 age group, almost 40 percent earned less than $39,000 annually. Twenty percent made less than $26,000.

Some gays and lesbians already in senior communities create their own groups within the framework of bigger ones. In the Rossmoor retirement community, George Ramas launched a men's group. About 80 belong to the club that calls itself Gaymoor.

A lesbian group called Lezmoor started in October. Four showed up at the first meeting.
Ramas shrugs off the idea of living in a community that primarily identifies as gay. "I like the diversity of everybody," he said. "I feel really comfortable here and have no problems."