THE challenges faced by LGBTI people are typically approached in the media with a focus on one end of the life span. We pay attention to initiatives to make things better for young people who are still discovering their LGBT or I status, we want to end bullying in the school setting and the workplace, and we are comfortable talking about marriage equality for people in adulthood.

However, perhaps less easy to think about as LGBTI people — or to make glamourous and accessible for the broader Australian community — is the truth that for older people, many challenges remain in the areas of adequately responding to sex, gender and sexualities that do not fit into the mainstream idea of how we grow older.

Many older LGBTI people have faced prejudice and discrimination throughout their lives, often in overt and shocking ways that we no longer deem acceptable as a society — it’s easy to forget that having same gender sex was still illegal right up until 1997 in Tasmania. Overt and more subtle expressions of homophobia and transphobia have in many cases resulted in older people bringing these experiences of fear, harassment and distrust into later life, in which reliance on services can be necessary but difficult to accept while this trust remains broken.

Given this historical background, many older LGBTI people do not disclose their sexual orientation, their gender identity, history or experience or their intersex status, which effectively makes them invisible as LGBTI people. This, combined with a general ignorance around LGBTI issues from mainstream aged service providers, results in a lack of awareness of the needs and concerns of older LGBTI people. Many service providers are unaware that there is an issue, with a common refrain being that “we don’t have any of those people here” or “but we treat everyone the same”.

This invisibility that borders on prejudice leads to a severe lack of understanding about older LGBTI issues generally as well as how to appropriately include LGBTI people in ageing and aged care services. But the legal landscape has recently shifted, meaning exclusion through ignorance is no longer good enough.

LGBTI people are now recognised as a special needs group under the Commonwealth Aged Care Act and from 1 July 2012 the needs of LGBTI people should be specifically considered by community and residential aged care providers as part of non-discrimination law. In December 2012, the National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Strategy was developed to help facilitate this process. The strategy is underpinned by a set of five key principles of inclusion, empowerment, access and equity, quality, and capacity building.

To support this reform, the government announced funding to deliver program support and cultural inclusivity training for people who work in aged care. This training has been a long time coming and builds on the work of many organisations and activists over many years. The National LGBTI Health Alliance has brought together a team of partners, formed from its membership, to deliver this training across the aged care sector in every state and territory. Feedback on the training has been great, with participants saying that it has been enormously impactful.

By celebrating and embracing diverse genders, bodies, sexualities, and relationships, this combination of training and education will foster better health and wellbeing outcomes for older LGBTI Australians. But of course, this does not mean that all issues have been solved.

LGBTI training clearly needs to be an ongoing part of all mainstream aged care education, training and setting of standards. It’s no longer an optional extra for the aged care sector. There also needs to be increased awareness of individual rights as older people within our own LGBTI populations, and what needs older people have that relate to all aspects of LGBTI life in Australia. We need to change the way we talk about and treat older people within our own communities and organisations. We also need to keep government, and by that I mean all governments — local, state/territory and federal — open and transparent in their implementation of the national strategy.

We must also reflect on our own assumptions about ageing. We can stop thinking about older people as if they are asexual and unchanging. They are people with a diversity of bodies, relationships, sexualities and genders and gender histories, as are we all. Ageing and aged care should and must reflect this diversity.

The opportunity is ours to ensure that older LGBTI people, no less than all older Australians, can live longer and live better.

Samantha Edmonds is the National LGBTI Health Alliance’s ageing and aged care projects manager.

**This article was first published in the November edition of the Star ObserverClick here to find out where you can grab your free copy in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional areas. 


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