Aging in the gay and lesbian community was a hot topic at two national aging conferences in Sydney this week.

The Emerging Researchers in Aging conference on Tuesday featured a segment on the particular issues faced by gay men aged 60 and up. These included not having a say in the medical treatment of their partners and medical staff not being sensitive to gay issues.

The Australian Association of Gerontology conference, titled Diversity in Aging and held from Wednesday to Friday, was looking at issues including living with HIV/AIDS in aged care facilities, identity needs and the fear of disclosing sexuality.

Charles Lo, a nursing PhD student from the University of NSW, spoke at the Emerging Researchers in Aging conference about his research into Australian gay men aged 60 and over.

The biggest issue coming out of my research is recognition. A lot of them go to hospital and feel their families interfere and their partners have no say, Lo told Sydney Star Observer.

Some older men -“ particularly the pre-baby boomers -“ led very closeted lives and a few had been too scared to take part in Lo’s research for fear of being outed, even though participants remained anonymous.

Lo said he also found it difficult to locate information about older gay people when searching through literature on aging.

He said aging organisations in the US and UK had units devoted to gays and lesbians, and that Australia was far behind in this respect.

Professor Tony Broe, president of the Australian Association of Gerontology, said little attention had been given to aging and HIV/AIDS in Australia. Because the epidemic had changed and treatments advanced, we are beginning to see the emergence of an aging population who are HIV-positive, he said.

Aging HIV-positive people had concerns about being placed in aged care facilities because of a lack of knowledge and experience of staff.

The conference would also look at the silencing, intentional or not, of non-heterosexual identities, Broe said.

While over time this prejudice may dissipate, for the time being it is affecting the health and well being of the current aging GLBT community, he said.

The AAG recommended the aged care industry use more gender-neutral and less hetero-normative language and images in their brochures, and called on social workers to incorporate anti-oppressive and inclusive values in their practice.

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