Frank Scott, 78, and Al Nettleton, 88, have been together 26 years, but both men began their adult lives in heterosexual marriages. Between them, they have five children, 10 grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren, although they are only in contact with Al’s family in Idaho. Having come of age in the 1940s and ‘50s, their generation was particularly hard hit by discrimination and family ostracism.
In the beginning
Both Al and Frank are and have been devout Christians. Frank became a Southern Baptist at age 18 and went on to get a master’s in theology and ultimately, ordination at a church in Syracuse, N.Y.
“I didn’t encounter the word homosexual until I was a senior in high school,” recalls Frank. “I found books at the library that said it was a mental illness.” He explains further, “At that time, men got a job, married, and had a family – this other thing would go away. It’s rare to find men of our age who didn’t marry.”
Despite coming out “to myself,” in college, Frank married and had three children. But by 1975, the marriage was sputtering out and ended amicably in 1977. “We discussed my sexuality and she was understanding.” His church was not – he was summoned to a hearing about revoking his ordination. It was then he discovered The Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), a Protestant Christian denomination with a specific outreach to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families. The first church had been founded in 1968 in California.
“After attending my first service, I cried – it was the only place I saw gay people affirmed, and where people could openly hold hands.” Frank would go on to be one of the founding pastors of the first MCC congregation in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Then one day in 1979 when Frank called to make plans to see his children for Easter, his ex-wife told him, “They can’t see you until you change.” This was a time when Anita Bryant, a well-known singer, led a campaign to oppose an anti-discrimination law in Miami protecting gay people. She would help lead a national effort to demonize homosexuals. His wife’s pastor told his children, “Your father is going to hell and you can help him if you won’t see him.” He wouldn’t see his oldest daughter again until she was over 40.
Al’s wife sought a divorce in 1982 after 21 years of marriage. On the one hand, he says “I was devastated; I would have stayed – you marry for life.” On the other hand, he says a load was lifted off his shoulders. He vividly remembers “the first time that I told another human being that I was gay. It’s such a private thing.”
Al had discovered MCC in Boise in the mid-80s. He was very skeptical – “Is it really Christian? But when I went it was like an old-fashioned revival.” And it was at a church convention in Arizona that the two men met in 1993. “I figured I would never be in a relationship,” Al says. When they met, Al was 62 and Frank was 53.
Facing the future together
The two men have traveled the world together and their house is filled with mementos from their many trips. After satisfying careers in education and the ministry, they moved to Athens in 1997.
Al is close to his sons and works to maintain his relationship with his two conservative brothers. Frank is still estranged from most of his family.
They sing in a local choral group, usher at the Performing Arts Center and are active in Our Hope Metropolitan Community church in Athens. At one time, they opened their house as a retreat to gay Christians who were going through troubled times.
They have never married and don’t intend to because “we consider ourselves married after all these years,” says Frank. While they both have wills, until recently they had not thought about the need for other documents. That has changed since Al began having TIAs (transient ischemic attacks). Earlier in the summer, he had one that lasted over four hours.
“That precipitated a lot of discussion,” says Frank, who has diabetes and kidney disease. Now they have downloaded forms for living wills and made lists of contacts.
In an article in The Bay Area Reporter in San Francisco about older LGBTQ adults, a professor of gerontology calls the lack of discussion about palliative care needs such as power of attorney and advance directives for medical care, “the missing conversations” in the LGBTQ world.
There are an estimated 2.7 million Americans who are LGBTQ and 50 or older. Of that group, 1.1 million are 65 and older. Aging experts say talking about the end of life can be especially difficult for LGBTQ elders because of the historic lack of trust in their health care providers or not having close familial or social connections.
If something happens to Frank, Al will be taken care of by his children. Frank says he would depend on his Athens friends “who are my family of choice. We have many friends in the same situation.”
Al and Frank feel they are luckier than many of their contemporaries: “We did find each other and a mutual strength to survive the slings and arrows.”
Two important medical documents to be aware of
The Georgia Advance Directive for Healthcare combines three different healthcare decision making documents that previously existed. The first of these documents is the Healthcare Power of Attorney, which is now embodied in Part One of the Advance Directive. In this Part of the Advance Directive, you (as the “Principal”) delegate health care decision-making authority to your decision-maker of choice (the “Agent”). The power that you delegate is quite broad: you are empowering your Agent to speak for you whenever you are unable to communicate your own healthcare preferences.
Part Two of the Advance Directive for Health Care fulfills the role that a stand-alone Living Will used to play. In Part Two, you state your preferences about what types of end-of-life care you would prefer to receive. Significantly, your Agents are not bound to the preferences that you state. Rather, your Agents are guided by your written preferences and by their knowledge of your values.
Part Three of the Advance Directive empowers you to list your preferred order of guardians, if you should ever need one. For someone to become your Guardian, that person must submit a petition to the Probate Court in the county in which you reside that explains why you are incapable of making or communicating significant and responsible decisions about your health and safety.
Part Four of the Advance Directive is where you (as the Principal) sign the document in the presence of two witnesses, who also sign. Be careful not to have your Agents sign as witnesses, as this renders the document invalid. Significantly, a notary public is not required for the Advance Directive.
Here are the most significant points to remember about an Advance Directive:
- A patient must be a fully competent adult to complete an Advance Directive.
- You don’t need an attorney (or a physician) to complete an Advance Directive.
- The Agent only makes decisions if the Patient is not able to communicate about treatment wishes.
- Advance Directives only cover healthcare decisions and have nothing to do with your financial affairs.
- You can change your mind at any time, by completing a new form.
The Physician Order for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) is designed to be completed by individuals who have a serious illness or condition and are in their last year of life (in the judgment of a physician), or by individuals who have been “diagnosed with dementia or another degenerative disease or condition that attacks the brain and results in impaired thinking, memory, and behavior”. If an individual is unable to complete a POLST, then the form lists the order of individuals who are empowered to complete the document on his or her behalf, starting with that person’s Agent under an Advance Directive for Health Care, followed by a spouse, then a Court-appointed guardian, then an adult son or daughter, then a parent, and then an adult sibling.
Any individual completing the form must choose treatment options “in good faith based upon what the patient would have wanted if the patient understood his or her current treatment options.” Because a POLST is a physician’s order, it is enforceable as such. A healthcare provider who has knowledge of a POLST is bound to follow it. In contrast, the Advance Directive only provides a statement of a patient’s wishes and the agent ultimately chooses the treatments.
Edited blog courtesy of Brannon, Napier Elder Law, LLC
Athens Casuals provides friendship and support for older gay men
It began with a small newspaper ad in 2005 placed by a gay couple in Winterville who wanted to make friends outside the bar community. The ad invited gay men interested in meeting for dinner on a regular basis to respond. From just that small gathering of under ten, Athens Casuals has grown to over 170 members on an email list, and between 20 and 30 who show up for weekly dinners at rotating restaurants each week.
Mike Chadwick has been an informal organizer since 2006. “It’s never been exclusively for older men but it’s turned out that way.” There are no membership regulations; men can join and come to dinners or other events as time permits.
The group serves two purposes, he says. “It’s sort of a security blanket – we’re good about supporting each other in adversity such as moves or hospitalizations.” The other purpose is to make friends to do other things from movies to cards to potlucks to road trips. “The people change but the group stays the same.”
In the early years, they encountered some restaurants or patrons who gave them dirty looks or made snide remarks but they just didn’t go back.
“People are curious when they see us all at one table,” he says, recalling some diners who once asked if they were retired firemen – “We laughed but we’re always honest.”
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to Facebook: athenscasualsgeorgia.