How can we support older members of the LGBTQ community?
In 2017, it was estimated that between 871,000 and 1.2 million people within the UK’s LGBTQ population were aged sixty five or over. Many care providers have noted that these individuals face unique challenges.
LGBT advocates have, in recent years, documented the numerous unique concerns that older members of the LGBTQ community face by virtue of both their age, and their sexuality or gender identity.
The Sexual Offenses Act decriminalised homosexual activity between men over the age of twenty one in England and Wales in 1967 – this means that for many of the older members of the British LGBTQ community, the times when one could be arrested and imprisoned for simply being oneself are within living memory. As a result, many of these individuals – on top of all of the usual challenges that arise with sourcing the appropriate care for ourselves as we age – are fearful of prejudicial treatment by care staff as a result of their sexual or gender identity, and some have even reported ‘re-entering the closet’, and once more pretending to be heterosexual, or cisgender, in order to avoid homophobic and/or transphobic abuse within care homes or day centres. Even those confident enough to express their sexuality within such environments have reported encountering further issues when trying to gain next-of-kin status for their partners.
As a result, there is a growing demand for carers to take part in mandatory LGBTQ awareness training. Captain Cat Burton, who came out as transgender at the age of fifty eight, recently shared her worries about the treatment of transgender individuals in care environments:
‘The dignity issues are enormous. We have specific needs which most care homes would not appreciate until they've got transgender patients in large numbers.’
For those older members of the LGBTQ community living outside of care home settings, isolation can be a real issue. Some individuals may have ‘come out’ later in life, for example, and as such are unaware of, or feel disconnected from, their local LGBTQ community, since there is a tendency to view so-called ‘gay scenes’ as environments designed for younger people. Maria Hughes, a network enabler for Birmingham LGBT’s Ageing Better LGBTQ Hub, explained:
“The LGBTQ ‘scene’ tends to be for younger people: older people feel pushed out and they don’t want to take part in the same activities… fears about ageing in the LGBTQ community [include]: emphasis on youth as being central to participation in LGBTQ+ communities; LGBTQ places tend to be aimed at young and able-bodied people; fears about being seen as ‘past it’ or not interesting to the community; pressure to look young/thin/perfect; and feeling too old for pubs or clubbing.”
Others might experience familial abandonment as a result of coming out – when LGBTQ rights charity Stonewall surveyed older LGBTQ individuals, one respondent stated:
“I would like to think that my daughter will speak to me again. My two grandchildren (eight and four) don’t know me.”
As a result, older LGBTQ individuals are reliant on developing social and support systems outside of the more traditional realms of family and friends, but these can be hard to come by. Here at Age UK North Tyneside we are proud to be able to offer information on two social groups in North Tyneside for the over 50's LGBTQ community, organised by our Volunteer and Community Coordinator, Emily Houlder;
“Our LGBTQ groups are run primarily as social groups where people can come together in a safe and friendly environment to have chat, watch films, take part in activities, have talks from guest speakers and sometimes go out on trips. Members also offer peer support to one another where needed, sharing their experiences and stories to help and support new members to the group and welcome and encourage friends and family to attend. We have recently secured funding to set up 3 new LGBTQ groups in North Tyneside, which will follow the same model as our existing groups. We are looking for suggestions of locations, days and times and will also be starting to take expression of interest to inform people when a new group begins.”
Additionally, our social enterprise, EveryDay Care, works with award-winning care staff to offer care services both at home, and in our fantastic day centres across North Tyneside, whatever your gender and/or sexual identity.
Article by Summer Dolan (when Age UK North Tyneside Marketing Intern)