Anyone growing old may face the dilemma of having to access and depend on caregivers or specialized seniors services or housing communities. For Lesbians, Gay men, Bisexuals and Transgender (LGBT) there are some unique challenges. This month, Elder Voice focuses on older LGBT people as they access care and services.
One of the primary problems for senior LGBT people approaching care is that they have no choice in the caregivers, personnel, services, or organizations which will provide that care. It is very possible that they will encounter people who are neither familiar or comfortable with them, nor sympathetic or knowledgeable about the issues they face. So not only will they encounter discrimination, the uncertainty of what they may experience can make them feel anxious, vulnerable, and powerless. The result is that they may hesitate to use seniors centres, engage with the public health care system, or access other services or supports that are available. Even people they have known for a long time such as financial advisors and lawyers may need to become more involved in their lives, becoming a potential source of discomfort.
A similar challenge can arise when LGBT people move into seniors’ communities. These generally do not make an effort to be inclusive of them in programmes, literature, or outreach. Moreover, and similar to the larger community, staff and co-residents may not accept or feel comfortable with them and may subtly or overtly shun or discriminate against them. For lesbian or gay male couples either living in a senior’s community together or separated with only one being a resident, normal displays of affection can elicit disapproval from other residents or staff.
To handle the issues of acceptance when they do access support or housing, LGBT people often go back in the closet. That frightening journey of coming out that they took often decades ago they are making in reverse, with all the sadness, resentment, anger and fear that they were able to leave behind.
Because of the difficulties LGBT people face when considering services or communities, their health is at risk as they may decide not to pursue the care they need. They are also at risk for isolation and for the many problems that arise because of that–problems with medication, falls, depression, cognitive decline, nutritional deficits, and more. As many of them do not have children, the risk for isolation is still greater, and at the same time makes them more dependent on service providers then are people who have children on whom they can depend.
Support for the aging LGBT community must come from three angles. The first is through awareness and acceptance of LGBT people and the issues in aging they face. If Canada follows US statistics, almost 4% of our population is LGBT – almost the same size as Canada’s First Nation’s population. As a nation, we have a duty to look after the needs of all Canadians. The second angle is a multi-pronged approach from the LGBT community itself. They must continue to demand culturally sensitive services and providers; LGBT organizations and individuals need to reach out and support older aging LGBT people; and they need to develop and provide services where they are missing.
The third angle is from both public and private service providers. Their programs, services and housing must be welcoming, LGBT positive, and inclusive. Our next article provides tips on how service providers can do that.
11 Tips for Making Your Business or Service LGBT Friendly
You may believe that your business or service is open and accepting of LGBT people. The question is, how do they perceive and experience what you offer? Here are eleven tips to help you meet the needs of this community:
- Make sure that your literature, website, and other communications display acceptance and inclusion of LGBT clients, residents, or customers.
- Hiring policies and interviews should reflect the need for staff to interact with LGBT people.
- Train your staff in LGBT issues and let them know that they are expected not only to provide care or service in a respectful manner, but that they are expected to display an attitude which makes the service receiver feel comfortable.
- Residential communities and seniors centres should engage in dialogue with residents and members about LGBT issues. LGBT content should be included in the schedule of activities and events, for example there could be movie nights, speakers, or courses. Use those to dialogue about issues pertaining to LGBT people. Work with your informal community leaders to develop attitudes of acceptance.
- Engage and support your staff who are LGBT to take leadership roles in working with other staff and LGBT clients.
- Celebrate Gay pride with the same enthusiasm as you celebrate other holidays on the calendar, both secular and religious.
- Be aware that although we use the term LGBT community, lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgendered people have faced many issues unique to them. Training should also reflect those.
- If you subscribe to literature such as newspapers and magazines or have a library, include literature that focuses on LGBT people.
- All outside service providers who come to your organization, both professionals and volunteers, should demonstrate willingness to act according to your LGBT positive guidelines, and be inclusive in the services they provide.
- Make a concerted effort to do outreach to LGBT people and community organizations.
- Refine your view of family so that you welcome and include the people who are close to your LGBT customers or clients.
Diamond Geriatrics can help your community, business, or service develop LGBT friendly policies and training. Our professional counsellors can provide help to your clients, customers, and families and friends to help in their aging and caregiving. Call us today for more information.