A retirement home for gay people in Spain

Published: October 2, 2011

A short train ride from central Madrid is a scruffy plot of land covered in weeds and surrounded by wire fencing. In just a couple of months work is expected to start to transform the site into Spain’s first ever retirement home for gay and lesbian residents.

Spain has been at the vanguard of Europe in terms of gay rights in recent years, but activists say reforming laws has been easier than changing attitudes.

"Gay old people have to go back in the closet when they enter retirement homes," explains Federico Armenteros, who runs the December 26th Foundation in Madrid.

It is named after the date in 1979 when the law used during Gen Franco’s dictatorship to imprison homosexuals – or to send them for "cure" with electric shocks – was repealed.

"For many years, a lot of people believed that homosexuals were sick and sinners," Mr Armenteros says.

"That is more pronounced among older people, and hard to change,"

So the foundation has been working on a solution.
‘Insulted and alone’

It has formed a co-operative, recruited architects and designed a luxury, landscaped retirement complex – complete with 115 apartments, gym, spa and restaurant.

There is space for yoga, Tai Chi and dance classes – and plans to house archive material for the first research centre on the history of the gay rights movement in Spain.

Designed to be "gay-friendly", the Foundation says the home will be open to anyone regardless of their sexuality.

Jose Maria Herreras describes it as a dream come true.

He looks relaxed, sitting at street cafe in Chueca – the gay heart of Madrid. But Jose is 65 and lives in a retirement home. He says his life has been miserable ever since the other residents discovered he was gay.

"They started to steer clear of me and insult me," he explains.

"They called me ‘queer’ and it made me feel awful. My room has two beds but no-one wants to share with me. So I’m alone and it’s bad.

"I have to make myself as invisible as possible – go back in the closet – so they don’t notice me. And I spend as much time outside the home as possible."

The proposed site of the 26 December home For now the site of the home is just wasteland

Gay rights activists believe that experience is widespread.

Predominantly Catholic Spain was among the first countries to legalise gay marriage and adoption.

Gay pride celebrations in Madrid are among the best-known and most extravagant.

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