Imagine George Pell, Fred Nile, Babette Francis, Bill Muhlenberg and Tony Abbott as residents in an aged-care facility run exclusively by lesbians and gays.

Bizarre? Well, hardly more so than expecting vulnerable aged LGBTI people to be happy accessing residential or community aged care run by religiously-run or affiliated services. They operate approximately 60 percent of Australian aged-care facilities and have explicit legal permission to discriminate against clients on the basis of sexual orientation.

I obtained more recent breakdowns on aged-care ownership, than I quoted in my last column, at the ACON/National LGBTI Health Alliance-sponsored GLBTI Ageing Roundtable held in Sydney on October 18 – 19. Care Connect, in Queensland, has the only LGBTI-specific community care packages in Australia (i.e. 33 out of 46,500 nationally).

One attendee stated that it was absolutely essential to get LGBTI residents’ rights built into the aged care Charter of Residents’ Rights. Another stated that it was crucial to get LGBTI-sensitivity built into the new aged-care standards, because service providers refuse to move unless something is actually legislated in their requirements for accreditation.

The last Ageing Roundtable plenary mooted six major issues which should be covered in a proposed Commonwealth GLBTI Aged Care Strategy Plan, including visibility of LGBTI elders, e.g. ‘nothing about us without us’, and updating of legislation and policies such as accreditation standards.

In response to questions on the timing of aged-care reforms, Ageing Minister Mark Butler estimated a seven-month target. His fingers drummed on his leg, under the table, regarding religious exemptions.

At VEOHRC’s ‘Rights of Older Australians Forum’ on October 28, I asked Commonwealth Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan whether, given the religious exemptions, she would try to ensure that either a) block funding was available for the building of LGBTI-specific aged-care facilities, or b) the religious exemptions would be revoked, at least in relation to aged care.

She suggested that these issues should be addressed in the process of harmonising Australia’s anti-discrimination legislation.

This is most unlikely to happen unless (and maybe even if) many LGBTI organisations make submissions on the Consolidation of Commonwealth Anti-Discrimination Laws Discussion Paper available at due by February 1 2012.

Earlier submissions might allow more thorough canvassing of the issues.

Of course, should an election happen in the meantime, all bets are off.

INFO: Barbary Clarke is convenor of the VGLRL’s Policy Working Group, and is doing a PhD on women and life-threatening illness.

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