Western Florida is a winter home for snowbirds, a land of a thousand sand traps, manatees, and pink flamingos. Gated communities are common In this tropical land where land and water weave a colorful tapestry that attracts the snow-weary like a magnet.
However, one particular gated community offers a different sort of magnet. Rainbow flamingos grace a refuge offering acceptance for who you are, no matter what you’ve done, no matter where you come from, no matter whom you love. When a visitor enters the entrance code, it triggers an automated voice message that states, “Access granted.”
For most of us, this simple statement is just an acknowledgement that we can proceed. However, for the women who live here or just visit for the winter months, this message says, “Home. Safe. Accepted."
These women come with bags packed with a lifetime of prejudice and pain. When the gate closes behind them, they sigh knowing they are now in the embrace of their tribe, free to be themselves in a way seldom experienced beyond these gates.
Most of the women here are retired, many in their 80s, all of them carry stories, some heartbreaking: a daughter disowned by the mother who gave her birth, lost families and friends, love withheld. One mother, rejected by her child for loving the wrong person for forty years, died recently only a month after finally being able to marry her long time partner. She and her child were never reconciled.
Most stories are less dramatic; tales of a thousand paper cuts: bewildered families, disapproving neighbors, workplace prejudice, isolation, fear, the stress of always being on guard, never completely relaxing.
Home comes in many shapes and forms but it is always the place where we feel safe, where the message we hear when arrive is always, “access granted."