I’m working on a project for Egale about raising awareness about the need for LGBTQ safer spaces in seniors’ long term care facilities.
It’s easy to think that because LGBTQ laws have changed, that all people who identify as LGBTQ are living an open, out and discrimination-free life. In general, this is a flawed assumption, but when it comes to seniors, it’s even more tragically flawed.
Considering when legislation changed, someone who is over 65 has spent a good portion of their life without them.
For example, in Canada (not a complete list):
1969: Sexual acts between consenting adults of the same sex is no longer a criminal offence (a 65 year old would have been 19, a 75 year old would have been 29, an 85 year old would have been 39). Considering that individuals discover and explore their sexuality long before 19, even now 65 year olds would have grown up under a cloud of fear and shame.
1973: Being gay, lesbian or bisexual is no longer considered a mental illness and people can no longer be forced to submit to psychiatric treatment (a 65 year old would have been 23 in 1973).
1977: Quebec is the first province in Canada to include sexual orientation in its Human Rights Code (a 65 year old in Quebec would have been 27. Too bad if you lived elsewhere in Canada).
1996: BillC-33 is passed, adding sexual orientation to the Canadian Human Rights Act (a 65 year old would have been 46).
As of March 2015 (and only in the last few years) only 7 provinces and territories in Canada explicitly include Gender Identity in their Human Rights Codes (more info: www.tesaonline.org)
While we are fortunate to have these new laws and rights like marriage equality in Canada (and recently in the USA), LGBTQ seniors have spent much (for some, most) of their lives without these protections and human rights. The result is a mistrust of health care and social services, making them less likely to seek assistance. And the long term effects of a life dealing with discrimination, harassment, and loss of family and connections include (but are not limited to) higher rates of: poverty, depression, issues with substance abuse, chronic disease, poor nutrition, premature mortality.
So when you combine a life lived in fear and having to hide who you are, with less family support and resources, and consider the need for care as one ages…it can be quite scary to access any type of care but particularly to live in a long term care facility where you aren’t sure if you can be who you are.
Baby Boomers who have been out and proud will be more likely to be vocal and to demand changes within senior care.
Because of their age and history, older seniors are more likely to keep quiet.
And so we have LGBT seniors in long term care facilities who are forced back into the closet, separated from their partners, treated disrespectfully, forced to conform to society’s expectations of gender identity and expression, and who have partners who aren’t acknowledged and about whom they therefore can’t talk, or share memories.
I imagine it’s difficult enough to be a senior in a society that doesn’t value aging.
But to live in fear on top of that?
We need to do more.
Hopefully San Francisco is on it’s way as of today.
Let’s get going!
Copyright 2015 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, facilitator, consultant, author on issues of Diversity & Inclusion
Radio Show host