Proud Swedes move into Europe's first LGBT retirement home
Europe's first retirement home for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people - the Rainbow House - has opened in Stockholm, with a ceremony attended by bishop Eva Brunne and Commissioner for the Elderly Joakim Larsson of the conservative Moderate party.
The Rainbow House takes up the top three floors of an eight-storey apartment building in central Stockholm, just a stone's throw from a harbour where cruise liners ferry passengers to Finland and the Baltics.
There are 40 residents living in the Rainbow House's 27 apartments. About 30 percent of the residents are women and there is a mix of singles and couples. There are plenty of dogs and cats, too.
The retirement home includes a common area for parties and meetings as well as a large roof terrace. Residents are 55 and above. There is a focus on active lifestyles, so it is not a nursing home.
One resident, Lars Monone, worked at Volvo outside Gothenburg before entering retirement. He told Radio Sweden that people have moved to the Rainbow House from all over Sweden, and he thinks similar housing projects may soon pop up in other cities. There are 95 people queuing to get into the Stockholm Rainbow House. So what are the criteria for being accepted?
"To show that you're interested in this kind of profile living," says Lars. "Of course we don't know much about the history of the people queuing for a place here, but most of us have a similar background of living in the closet and not talking about your lifestyle. My feeling is that when you reduce your working hours, you easily walk back into the closet and shut yourself off."
The Rainbow House is a so-called profile housing project. Profile houses are residences for elderly people that have specific orientations based on, for instance, religion, culture, language or, in this case, sexuality. And there is a growing demand for this kind of senior housing arrangement in Sweden. Lars said he has had inquiries from Swedish policemen who are interested in establishing a profile house for retired cops.
Another resident, retired art teacher Björn Gate, told Radio Sweden that it is not easy to connect with other people once you have passed the age of 65 and that people who have similar backgrounds can benefit from living together.
"Take cultural minorities, for example," says Gate. "It was discovered long ago that they cope much better with old age when living with people they have something in common with. It matters a lot that you are among kindred spirits."
Sweden's National Board of Health and Welfare published a report in November 2013 showing that very few same-sex couples live together in elderly homes in Sweden. There were no reports of complaints about the treatment of LGBT individuals within elderly care in the big cities, but the report said that does not necessarily mean all their needs are met. It could also be that they are not open about their sexualities, a warning echoed by many residents at the Rainbow House.
But all the residents that Radio Sweden spoke to said it was the sense of community with like-minded people that motivated them to apply for an apartment at the Rainbow House, rather than experiences of discrimination.
"I think this is the best way to live," said Agnetha Sparre. "I never want to move out. It's really lovely. You are different when you have this sort of life. I'm really glad to be gay!"