Largely overlooked for years and practically invisible, LGBTQ seniors share the same age-related concerns as all others who need special care. They will face all of the difficulties that being dependent on others entails; but they will also struggle with a society that often lacks the knowledge and/or appreciation of their special needs. Long- term care should be dedicated to a culturally responsive and dedicated level of care. The current generation of older LGBTQ people has experienced a lifetime of discrimination and they face very specific challenges as they age.
1. They are less likely to seek health care when they need it. 2. They often do not disclose their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and expression to their care providers for fear of discrimination. 3. They are at higher risk for negative health outcomes later in life, including depression, suicide and substance abuse. 4. They also report more feelings of isolation from their communities. There is another factor we are concerned about, and that has to do with the age of LGBTQ seniors who are presently seeking accommodations in a long-term care facility, or at home.
Even as more older LGBTQ folks are coming out, these are the people in the age bracket who tend to remain in the proverbial closet and therefore are nervous. Some develop severe mental anguish because it may be discovered they are a member of the LGBTQ community. Many feel they must return to the closet and live a secret life after living life as it’s meant to be lived. We have to ask what kind of training is now required for people who work with seniors, who can no longer assume they are all heterosexual.
Verbal and physical abuse is a fear that is of great concern by some resulting in a life of isolation. There have been many cases of abuse in long-term care and are well documented, even as many are not made public.
Marie Robertson, the community developer at Ottawa’s Senior Pride Network, runs diversity training workshops with home care workers and staff at senior facilities on how to be inclusive and considerate of LGBTQ patients. Her approach is simple: “Give them a rundown of LGBTQ history and present them with realistic scenarios”. For instance, “Well why do you think Bob is so closeted?” “He grew up in a time when it was a criminal offense to be gay.”
Another story about an elderly gay couple who felt they had to hold hands in the bathroom so as not to attract attention from staff or other residents. A trans woman who was brutally humiliated by staff who couldn’t contain their laughter when they realized upon changing her that she had a penis. The stories are endless.
Continuing care is a wonderful support and must be administered without abuse, rejection and discrimination. Privacy must be respected and adhered to by staff and other residents. LGBTQ seniors deserve the respect shown all others. I urge competency training for all care workers and administration regarding LGBTQ residents. Abuse by staff or residents, cannot and should not be tolerated.
Gerard Veldhoven is a longtime activist for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. His columns appear Wednesdays in The News. Comments and information: email@example.com.