A report into aged care services indicates health providers are neglecting issues facing the ageing GLBTI population.
The report, ‘My People: A Project Exploring the Experiences of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex Seniors in Aged Care Services,’ indicates some elderly people stay closeted for fear of different treatment in aged care facilities.
The research was conducted by Dr Catherine Barrett from LaTrobe University, who interviewed a number of GLBTI seniors and was coordinated by Matrix Guild and Vintage Men and funded by the Reichstein Foundation.
One of the key findings was the impact of past homophobic experiences, some saying they “have never” experienced a time when they feel safe disclosing their sexuality or gender identity.
Many reported closeting their sexuality when in aged care services, having received previous discrimination, heard reports of discrimination, witnessed negative responses from aged care staff in relation to GLBTI people profiled in the media and fear a double standard of care if they come out.
Barrett says it was difficult to find people to be involved in the study because older GLBTI people are often quite accustom to being closeted to keep themselves safe.
“I think there are some wounds there and I don’t know that health practitioners really understand that,” she says.
The report also found that family structures often varied, with older GLBTI’s having a network of ‘chosen’ family or friends, rather than generic family ties.
Barrett says the research raises a lot of questions in relation to the way society deals with the aging population.
“As a whole community, how do we value older people, how do we see older people as sexual, because they’re often not considered to be sexual, so therefore they’re not considered to be sexually diverse, so how are we respectful to older GLBTI people.”
The report found the major impacts on senior GLBTI people were depression, feeling devalued and stressed in maintaining a facade. The report found sexual and cultural expression in a safe environment, such as contact with partners and respecting private time, improved mental health.
One man, 84-year-old Keith said in the report he wouldn’t tell the people at the hostel he lived in he was gay.
“It would be a surprise for people to know I was gay. Disappointed would be a better word. They would be disappointed; they would think less of me.”
Barrett say creating GLBTI-friendly environments for seniors is important but not a simple task.
“When it comes to sexuality our own values and beliefs are taken into the interaction with older people and that creates a huge complexity,” she says.