Gerontologist Dr Jo Harrison has called for sweeping reforms to the federal approach to the needs of gay and lesbian seniors.

Currently the only recognition of gay and lesbian seniors in federal policy or law are the 2008 changes to the Aged Care Act which recognised same-sex couples for the purpose of assessing fees and charges for residential care.
“What that’s created is a situation where an elderly same-sex couple fronting an aged care assessment team or Centrelink officer would have to come out in order to be eligible for benefits have been provided by this amendment,” Harrison said.

“But what the Commonwealth has not done is provide the sorts of sensitivity awareness training, changes to paperwork, notification of staff that has to go with that. They need to get advocates on the ground who can provide GLBTI advocacy, who can train staff, and who can begin to write the education modules.”

Harrison said gay and lesbian seniors should be designated as an official special needs group.

Groups currently recognised as special needs include indigenous seniors, culturally and linguistically diverse seniors, seniors in rural and remote areas, and seniors with dementia.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd recently announced the ‘Forgotten Australians’ — those abused in orphanages between 1930 and 1970 — would be listed as an aged care special needs group because of their particular fears about institutionalisation.

“In GLBTI seniors we have a group with not just particular fears of institutionalisation, but surrounding all aspects of aged care — who de-gay their homes when carers come, who are terrified of being outed or persecuted, and who’ve lived lives with the stigma of being treated as criminals and sinners,” Harrison said.

Harrison said the response from departmental officials is that current standards covering residents’ rights to their own cultural customs, lifestyle, privacy and dignity should also cover gay and lesbian seniors.

However, she said in the absence of federal anti-discrimination laws or specific guidelines covering gay and lesbian seniors this was unlikely to happen.

Recent reviews of the aged care accreditation scheme by the Department of Health and Ageing, and the aged care complaints investigation scheme by Professor Merilyn Walton of the University of Sydney Faculty of Medicine are yet to be made public.

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