During the past three decades, Louis Hughes has demonstrated for gay rights in Annapolis, Md., and Washington, helped set up community and medical services for gays and lesbians and received awards for his efforts to prevent suicide in sexual-minority youths.
Although Hughes is proud of his history as an activist, he worries how his sexual identity may affect his old age. If he must one day enter a nursing home, for instance, the retired Baltimorean worries that being openly gay could put him in jeopardy when he's too weak to protest.
How would staff react when his same-sex friends visit? Would there be a payback if they were "too over the top"?
"What if I have a homophobic roommate and I ask to be moved? How would that be perceived?" says Hughes, 63.
"I already pretend that I'm a relative of a friend I'm taking for cancer treatments. But if I'm sick in a nursing home, what if I don't feel up to that battle of working the system? Instead, I may think, 'Gee, this person is taking good care of me, I better watch what I say and what I do. I think I'd better hide my award plaques from working with gay pride.'"
This is a concern shared by many baby boomers who fought for the right to be openly gay in mainstream America. They now face a new challenge: remaining openly gay in old age.
The post-World War II generation was the first to be so honest about its sexual identity, and to take strength and power from it. Now, gay activists are determined to protect the rights, dignity and quality of life for their elders.
Estimates of the number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender men and women in the United States, often referred to as "LGBTs," suggest that 1 million to 3 million are aged 65 and older. Another 2 million to 6 million are baby boomers.
In a 2006 study of gay and lesbian boomers by Metlife Mature Market Institute, more than a quarter of those surveyed were concerned about discrimination as they age.
Baltimore lawyer Lynda Dee, 54, who specializes in the legal issues of gay and lesbian people, has helped clients take measures to protect their right to be informed during a crisis.
"I recently had a couple where one woman was very sick and the other one adopted her, to be sure that she would be the person the doctors go to. You can have all the powers of attorney and so forth in place, but the reality is that some doctors don't want to get involved in family arguments and still may not call you."
Rather than risk facing such situations, some gays and lesbians are relocating to upscale LGBT retirement communities.
But few can afford to live in such communities. However, the gay community offers social networking and support through such groups as Prime Timers and Senior Pride in Baltimore.
Prime Timers is a group for gay men over 40. During the past three years, the Baltimore chapter has grown from six to 40 members who gather to hear lectures, go to movies, museums and plays and enjoy potlucks.