It’s 2022 and it’s never been a worse time to be an older person or indeed, to be getting older!

And it’s a place that we are all going to be, eventually and yet, the level of shrug about the challenges that older Australians face is bewildering to many of us who are facing the prospect of ending up in these places in the next 20, 30, 40 years time.

It’s especially tough for LGBTQI Australians who are already accessing home care or currently living in an aged care facility. Not only do older LGBTQI Australians have to contend with all the challenges that heterosexual older Australians do, they have their own set of unique challenges to overcome.

Older LGBTQI Face Unique Challenges

Nicky Bath, Chief Executive Officer of LGBTIQ+ Health Australia spoke to Star Observer about the distinctive challenges that the older members of our communities are facing.

“LGBTQI older people have particular and unique needs. This is due to historic and continuing experiences of discrimination, criminalisation, stigma, poorer health and wellbeing outcomes, and invisibility within the aged care system. Older people who are trans and gender diverse and intersex people can face difficulty accessing their specific medical needs. Trans and gender diverse older people routinely report failure to use correct pronouns.”

Nicky Bath, Chief Executive Officer of LGBTIQ+ Health Australia

Many face horror of having to constantly relive the coming out experience with their service providers, always on edge, or in some cases even deciding to forgo the danger of confiding their closely-held secret because of the fear of suffering ill consequences and just suffer in silence.

“Many older LGBTQI people do not feel safe to come out to their aged care service provider. The lack of understanding and cultural safety is at the root of the problem. Older people fear continued stigma and discrimination. They are reluctant to draw attention to themselves, fear complaints will be dismissed and worry that they will face retribution.”

Coming Out Later In Life

And because of their age, they may not have had a chance to come out earlier in their lives because, in their prime years, it was even more stigmatised back in the day. After all, they are of an age where they may not have had the opportunity to come out that many of us who might be a bit younger did.

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And there are other obstacles to overcome.

“Compared to the general older population, older LGBTQI people are also more likely to live alone, not be in a long-term relationship, be socially isolated and experience loneliness. Informal systems of care for older LGBTQI people are limited because many older LGBTQI people do not have biological children and are alienated from their families of origin. “

“The family of choice for older LGBTQI people may not be recognised or understood by aged-care service providers. The lack of intergenerational networks can result in LGBTQI older people delaying access to care, especially where they are experiencing dementia.” Nicky said.

Access To Technology

 

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Technology is an area that has great potential to help our vulnerable older LGBTQI community.  Grindr or the hookup apps, which can be a cesspit of ageism, among other -isms, though does happen to have a hilarious series on their YouTube channel called Old Gays. The series features four older gay gentlemen and their reactions to some of the things that have reached the modern zeitgeist – think highly amusing reactions to the likes of Lil Nas X and the foursome playing Cards Against Humanity.

But on the serious side, there are challenges when it comes to older Australians accessing the valuable and helpful resources available online, which Nicky detailed.

“Digital health services have the potential to improve health outcomes for older LGBTQI people. At the core of digital health provision is My Health Record (MHR). Concerns about security breaches of government data and individual breaches of privacy mean that LGBTQI people, particularly in small rural and regional communities, are wary of the possible adverse consequences of disclosing their sexuality, HIV status or gender identity.

ageing old elder man

“Delivering critical services through technology platforms offers older LGBTI people the opportunity to access specialist practitioners who understand their health needs, especially outside major metropolitan areas.

Older and disabled people who require care and support must access services through the My Aged Care and National Disability Insurance Scheme portals. LGBTQI people report difficulties accessing these systems, due to poor network coverage, limited technology skills and the cost of internet access.”

Social Isolation

It seems like an easy way to ease the pressure of loneliness is for more younger people to get on board and volunteer their time to spend with older folks, fostering a sense of family and social connection.

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“Social isolation is a reality for many LGBTI older people. In our Royal Commission consultations, the LGBTI Community Visitor Scheme (CVS) emerged as an important protective factor against loneliness for older LGBTI people. It helped maintain connection to LGBTI identity, culture and community.”

(PHOTO: Ann-Marie Calilhanna; Star Observer)

“The CVS visitor was often the only contact an older LGBTI person has with the outside world. This is most often the case with trans and gender diverse consumers, who face a high risk of elder abuse and neglect in care without visitors who can advocate on their behalf.”

“In its 2022-2023 Federal budget submission, LGBTIQ+ Health Australia again called for an extension of aged care community volunteer visitors schemes to all areas, delivered by LGBTIQ+ health organisations, including a digital component as an effective and low cost way to link LGBTIQ+ visitors with hard to reach older people, especially in rural and remote consumers.”

And it’s a huge relief for these experienced members of our community who have so many stories to tell and so much wisdom to share from their own life experiences because when they’re building these connections with younger people of their ilk, it’s just so much easier.

Royal Commission: Missed Opportunities

“Participants in our consultations expressed that they were able to relax and be their authentic selves without fearing what ‘reaction’ they might receive from their visitor. They believed that their community visitor scheme volunteer understood their life experiences and felt relieved that they did not have to again explain past experiences of discrimination, abuse and exclusion related to their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or sex characteristics.”

Last year the government released the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety and it is a challenging read, to say the least.

It’s even worse for LGBTQI folks, with Nicky explaining the reaction from her sector, saying “Many older members of LGBTQI communities expressed their disappointment and frustration at the lack of specific Royal Commission recommendations related to LGBTQI older people.”

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“The Royal Commission amalgamated the needs and requirements of older LGBTQI people into a broad concept of people from diverse backgrounds. This approach provides opportunities, but risks maintaining the invisibility of older LGBTIQ+ people. The government is still in early stages of implementing recommendations with significant change yet to occur.”

Intergenerational Families Of Choice

switchboard out and about lgbti elder outreach joe ball

Switchboard Out and About LGBTI Elder outreach. Image: Dean Arcuri / supplied.

In response to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, LGBTIQ+ Health Australia has called attention to some pretty basic needs,

Rights, diversity and accessibility in-home care and residential aged care

•             Consistent and reliable data for and about older LGBTIQ+ people

•             Adequate funding and robust governance

•             Quality assurance in aged care for LGBTIQ+ Australians

•             A skilled and knowledgeable aged care workforce

But in there here and now, there are things you can do to lessen the burden of loneliness for our older LGBTIQ+ Australians, starting with, just being there for them. If you already have such a person in your life, reach out to them and check in.

If you aren’t lucky enough to have someone in your life with a lifetime of stories to tell, do yourself a favour and find one and your life will be richer for the experience.

Nicky agrees, saying “Intergenerational families of choice provide benefits for everyone involved. Older LGBTI people have a wealth of information dealing with and often overcoming discrimination and stigma. They can provide encouragement and courage to continue the work for equality.”

 

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