Sprouting up from the charming colorful cottages that make up a large portion of the housing in Gulfport, Florida is the high-rise 55-plus community of Town Shores. It’s a bit of an anomaly in many respects including that it was built 40 years ago before Gulfport put into place zoning that forbid upward development.
Perhaps one of the most interesting anomalies however is that a large number of LGBTQ people, including a high percentage of lesbians, call Town Shores home. One building in particular, the Windsor, boosts nearly a third of its 120 units with residents who are lesbians.
In fact, there are so many lesbians in that building that they jokingly refer to it as the Edie Windsor building (Edie Windsor was the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that ultimately lead to marriage equality).
I sat down with a group of Windsor residents to find out why so many have chosen this as their home and what life is like living surrounded by so much “family”.
Susan Gore, Karen Kotlar, Nancy Heiser, and Ann Jochems all fit the over 55 bill and have lived in Town Shores anywhere from one to more than ten years. All were excited to tell others about their unique living arrangements in a town that prides itself in its funky character.
The unique thread that binds these ladies is a silver one. For many years, there was a national organization for older lesbians called Silver Threads. While there was an active local chapter, it was involved in places as far away as Dallas and Provincetown that brought many of these women to Gulfport and ultimately to Town Shores. Years ago there was also coverage on Gulfport in the publication Lesbian Connections. It is possible that this theory is an urban myth, but it is told that there had been a typo in one story that said 10,000 lesbians had moved to Gulfport when it should have read “1,000”. Needless to say, the PR typo made Gulfport a hotspot for lesbians looking for the perfect retirement spot.
The Women and Their Stories
Each of the women had their own unique story about what brought them to Gulfport and how they ended up living in the Windsor Building in Town Shores.
For Kotlar, it was a fluke. She says she had been coming to Clearwater for years on vacation but didn’t know anything about Gulfport. In the meantime she bought a house in the area as an investment property and had tenants who were lesbians with kids. When she made the decision to relocate from up north she didn’t want to evict the lesbian family and was beginning to look to purchase something else. She and a friend were on their way to Bradenton when they stopped in Gulfport for lunch. She fell in love with the town and found Town Shores and the Windsor building soon after.
Heiser said she came to Florida from Manchester, NH. Since finding Windsor she has started an email distribution list of over 50 women who started in the building, but has since expanded out to more of the community. Her list keeps lesbians updated on happenings and local gatherings. She also spent time in Provincetown but feels P-Town is more dominated by gay men.
Jochems had been living on Long Island and had actually become part of a group named “Aging in Place”. She laughs and says she is still aging in place, just in another place! For her, economics played a big role. She notes that property taxes were becoming unreasonable and when her parents left her an inheritance she made the decision to move south. “It was right after the crash,” said Jochems. “There were a lot of condos that were bank owned. I had put in a bid on one condo that fell through but then the condo I now live in Windsor became available and it was even less money than the original one.”
It was very simple for Gore. She had been living in Dallas and wanted to get out of Texas. She’s blunt. “I didn’t know anything about Gulfport, but when I found out I moved here.” She loves the water and the views from her place are spectacular. From her windows you can see the 4th of July fireworks and the Holiday Boat Parade, which makes its way around Boca Ciega Bay and through the canals around Town Shores.
Pets, Water and Relatability
“I had to live in a building that was pet friendly since I have a dog and two cats,” said Jochems. Heiser jumped right in and said that was true for her too. “I wanted to not only have a pet, I wanted to be around other people who love animals as much as I do,” said Heiser. All the women agreed that it was the fact that the Windsor was a building that took pets that was even more important to them than the large number of lesbians who lived there, as many of the Town Shores buildings do not allow pets. HOA policies differ by building.
“It’s all about the water too,” said Gore, who got nods of agreement from the group. The Windsor building has spectacular water views of Boca Ciega Bay. Gore says she loves being able to see dolphins frolicing outside her window.
“I love living someplace where I see people who look like me, dress like me, and talk like me all of the time,” said Kotlar. Heiser and Kotlar both said that in other places like Provincetown and Key West more “corporate” lesbians dominate, whereas in Gulfport they have found women who are more down to earth, or as they refer to themselves, “land dykes” and the kind of women who used to attend the Michigan women’s festival.
While all of the women said there were many advantages to living among so many other gay women, there are some quirks and as well.
“You may just want to have three or four friends over for drinks or dinner, but inevitably someone’s feelings get hurt because they weren’t included,” said Heiser. Others chimed in and said that while the sense of community is wonderful it can be a little intense at times. They all said that finding alone time can be challenging.
“I do wish we had more racial and economic diversity,” said Kotler. “While the lesbian and gay community of Gulfport has made significant inroads in building diversity, we are still very white.”
The group also agreed that they don’t want Gulfport to become Key West North. “While we share large LGBTQ populations, Key West has become very gentrified and expensive,” said Kotler.
All in all, the group of ladies who call Windsor home are friendly, welcoming and make some of Gulfport’s finest residents. Edie would be proud.
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Written by Greg Stemm
Greg is a 35 year resident of Pinellas County with the past 18 living in Gulfport. He’s worked in festival management, economic development, meeting marketing, training and for an educational division of Apple Computer. He had his own marketing and PR firm throughout the 1990s before becoming the Executive Director of the Gulfport Chamber of Commerce. Today he focuses on freelance writing and as a leading social activist.
Greg is a founding board member of St. Pete Pride and prior 2005 Chairman. He currently serves on the Gulfport Public Library’s LGBTQ Resource Center committee and on Pinellas County’s LGBTQ Marketing Group. He is a 26-year survivor of HIV and often writes about his experiences. He is also an EPIC volunteer.
He is single, but the true love of his life is his year old Chiweenie puppy named Joy.
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