Homophobic aged care services, along with ageism within the LGBT community, are two of the biggest problems facing older LGBT people today.

But unlike some other countries, like America, Australia’s gay and lesbian communities have done little to tackle these issues. Until now.

Health organisation ACON is holding its first Healthy Ageing Forum tonight, Thursday 7 July, in a bid to find ways in which it can begin to confront the problems facing elderly LGBT people.

ACON thinks there are questions to be asked about how gays and lesbians age in a way that is healthy and maximises their access to the each other, and the community, and to the broader services that are available, forum organiser Scott Berry told the Star. Berry is director of client services at ACON.

We know aged services across the country are very conservative, and we know residential aged care facilities are largely run by religious organisations and often don’t know what to do when an LGBT person goes along, Berry said.

We’ve been in the middle of some difficult cases where we’ve had to advocate for people in that situation.

There are also major access problems with things like community care services and the way they assess gays and lesbians, Berry said. For example they don’t take into account the fact there may be no access to family, no children and only a very limited social network.

There’s a great deal of isolation and a great deal of discrimination, and these are the reasons we think a forum like this is long overdue.

One of the experts speaking at the forum is Dr Jo Harrison from the University of South Australia. Harrison has studied the history of LGBT ageing activism in the US, where a great deal of progress has been made in the area over the past 25 years.

I looked at the lessons we might be able to draw from that 25-year history of action for Australia, where there’s been almost no attention paid to the issue at all, Harrison said.

She identified three important organisations in the US that have made a significant difference to older LGBT people. One is the National Association of Lesbian and Gay Gerontology, which was set up in the early 80s by a coalition of queer academics and activists.

Another is the national American Society On Ageing, which has a large LGBT wing called the Gay and Lesbian Ageing Issues network. Then there’s Old Lesbians Organising For Change, which is made up of women over 60.

Out of my research came the potential lesson for Australia that we really have to pay attention to addressing ageism within our own ranks. There’s an enormous amount of ageism and a lack of understanding about how to approach the issue within the LGBT community, Harrison said.

Couple that with the discrimination we face in the broader aged care sector and we’re in real trouble.

ACON plans to build an LGBT healthy ageing strategy that will help the organisation determine how to respond in the next five years to ageing in the community.

The Healthy Ageing Forum is on Thursday 7 July from 6pm at ACON, 9 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills. Call 9206 2032.

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