I’m probably not the only person who wonders what life will be like when I get (even) older, so a package of stories from the Chicago Tribune really got my attention because they took on a story that’s not often told: aging LGBT people.

A picture by Mary Stone illustrating the package in the Chicago Tribune.

A picture by Mary Stone illustrating the package in the Chicago Tribune.

The three stories by Rex W. Huppke look at Chicago’s LGBT community center–Center on Halsted–and how LGBT senior citizens cope with getting older and even coming out.

Windows on the second floor of the Center on Halsted frame an ever-changing portrait of gay life in 2009: Same-sex couples walk hand in hand; cross-dressing young men strut with confidence; rainbow banners herald a neighborhood that embraces gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people of any age.

Behind those windows every Tuesday sit Chicagoans in their 60s, 70s and 80s, many on the tailing arcs of lives spent denying their true sexual identity. Women and men who married opposite-sex partners, had children and only late in life felt comfortable telling the world that they’re lesbian or gay. Men and women who chose solitary lives over the possibility of being outed. 

They’re a population celebrating still relatively newfound openness, while also confronting issues that rarely appear on the radar of a youthful gay-rights movement focused on the right to marry. 

Some have only recently come out and are trying to find their way in a new community. Some have been out for years but are now in nursing homes where their sexuality has again become a stigma.

There are two profiles that provide an interesting bookend of experiences.  One is of a man who came out at 61 and found his first openly gay friends at the community center.  The other is a heartbreaking story of a man who has been out since the 1970s, but feels isolated in his senior living center because he’s gay.

Huppke does a nice job of just letting his subjects talk and paints a nice picture of their lives.  I wondered about some language issues–the use of  “gay lifestyle” and “lifestyle,” as well as  “homosexual” in a picture caption–but overall there seemed to be a lot of sensitivity to the stories which appeared to be pegged to Chicago’s gay pride events.

My one frustration was with how the stories were packaged online.  If it weren’t for a hat tip from Towleroad,  I would never have known this was a package of stories.  I don’t know what it looked like in the print edition, but online producers have an obligation to make it clear that there is a package of stories that go together.  The “related links” just isn’t enough in this case since it included other gay-related stories unrelated to the package.