When thousands gather to watch San Francisco’s Pride Parade along Market Street on June 25, they’ll see 70-year-old Dr. Marcy Adelman riding high as a grand marshal.
A psychotherapist and longtime LGBT activist, Adelman was named the Life Achievement Grand Marshal by the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration and Parade board of directors, who called her a “pioneer in the field of lesbian and gay aging.”
Adelman said her recognition of the important roles elders play in the community dates back to her earliest memories of childhood. Until she was 5, she lived in an apartment in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, a largely Jewish enclave in the 1940s and early ‘50s, with her parents, older brother, Russian-Jewish grandmother and an aunt.
Living in a multigenerational household had a profound impact on her, Adelman said. She recognized the richness that comes with many ages under one roof.
The richness she finds in such diversity — and her political and professional commitments to embracing diversity’s ideals — can also be attributed to her family’s strong Jewish identity and its identification with progressive politics, she said.
“Activism comes from my Jewish roots. I listened to my grandmother and parents talking about caring for those who could not care for themselves. I learned early on that freedom from discrimination is hard won — and that it has to be continually won.”
From the time she arrived in San Francisco in the early 1970s, Adelman waged war against homophobia in her capacities as a psychotherapist with a private practice and an activist on the frontlines of LGBT rights.
After earning her bona fides as one of the first interns at the now-defunct Operation Concern-New Leaf — San Francisco’s cutting-edge mental health center for the LGBT community — and as the facilitator of the first gay and bisexual support group at Mills College, Adelman, who received her doctorate in clinical psychology from the Wright Institute in Berkeley, was among a group of clinicians who successfully fought to have the American Psychiatric Association remove homosexuality as a mental disorder from the group’s iconic reference book for mental health professionals, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, commonly referred to as the DSM.
But it has been in the area of rights for LGBT seniors for which Adelman is most widely known. With her late partner, Jeanette Gurevitch, a Jewish social worker and activist, she co-founded Rainbow Adult Community Housing, in 1998. Now Openhouse, the nonprofit provides direct services and programs to LGBT seniors, particularly those at risk of losing their housing or becoming isolated from the community.
This past fall, Openhouse, in partnership with Mercy Housing, opened 55 Laguna, a 40-unit affordable housing development for LGBT seniors and other community members who otherwise may have been forced to leave the Bay Area due to skyrocketing rents. 55 Laguna offers residents supportive services that allow them to remain healthy and independent in their later years.
55 Laguna was always part of the plan for Openhouse, said Adelman, but it took 19 years to fulfill that dream. “They tell you that it always takes 10 to 20 years to build housing,” she said. “We came in just under the wire.”
Sadly, it was not a dream that Gurevitch, who came from Moscow, Idaho, where hers was one of just three Jewish families, lived to see. She died in 2003, at 54, of a heart attack. “She knew before I did that it was going to take over our lives,” said Adelman of her and Gurevitch’s dedication to the betterment of LGBT seniors’ lives.
The thought of starting an organization devoted to LGBT seniors first occurred to Adelman in the 1970s, she said, when she was standing in line to see a movie at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre. It was a week after she had waited in line at another theater with members of the Jewish community to see a Jewish-themed movie, she recounted in a recent San Francisco Bay Times article, and the contrast between the two lines could not have been starker.
I learned early on that freedom from discrimination is hard won — and that it has to be continually won.
The line at the Jewish movie, she said, had “couples of all ages, groups of friends both young and old, parents with children — the whole tapestry of life. It felt deeply gratifying and familiar to be there.”
Meanwhile, the line at the Castro Theatre, she noted, had “only people my age — 20- and 30-something-year-old men and women in T-shirts laughing and enjoying being together. Then it hit me, and took my breath away, really: Where were all the old people? Why weren’t they there with us, and what happened to them? I couldn’t imagine building and creating community without them.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but that moment would stay with me my entire life, and guide my advocacy work for the next four decades.”
Over the years, Adelman has racked up a number of awards for her community efforts, including the 2008 KQED Community Hero Award and the Purpose Prize for entrepreneurs 60 and older.
She also won the Trailblazer Award from Openhouse and learned that new senior housing building at 95 Laguna will be called the Marcy Adelman and Jeanette Gurevitch Openhouse Community Housing. The five-story building will have 79 affordable senior apartments and an LGBT senior activity center for LGBT seniors citywide. Construction is set to begin in the fall. Aside from being deeply honored, Adelman said “it tickles me” that the building will bear two Jewish names.
Adelman currently serves on the advisory council to the Aging and Adult Service Commission for the City and County of San Francisco, among other public service commitments. And as she transitions off the Openhouse board of directors, she is taking on new responsibilities, too, such as advising the national organization Services and Advocacy for LGBT Elders (SAGE), on aging and dementia issues.
Adelman will continue to work as a therapist, but admits that, at this stage of her life, “It’s time for me to go on to new adventures.”
Of the most recent recognition from San Francisco Pride, she said, “It completely took me by surprise. It is stunningly wonderful.”