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Without a voice – being elderly and LGBT

Without a voice - lgbt elderly

The preoccupation of youth in our culture has left a whole generation either forgotten or invisible.

In the last 80 years or so, sex was never talked about openly, much less homosexuality. People grew up in an era where marriage was the only socially and practically viable option, despite knowing that they were lesbian or gay.

It was an era of different roles and expectations. A time of bias towards heterosexuality when identifying as a LGB or T was perceived on a scale from deviant to abhorrent, or they were simply rendered out of sight.

Staying ‘hidden’ may have, of course, been voluntary in addition to being imposed – forced in to living a lie and enduring painful brushes with bigotry, when homosexuality was considered both a crime and mental illness.

It is no wonder many older LGBT people are both resilient and survivors. They have earned their right to respect and advocacy, a proud and uncomplaining peer group. But what about today?

Older people are all too often assumed to have no gender or seen as sexless. A class ignored by society. The mere existence of elderly non-heterosexuals is rarely, if ever acknowledged by the media, a taboo subject in mainstream culture.

For some, age has brought more burden, for others it has brought increased freedom and happiness. The most common reaction, in a generation accustomed to being in the closet, is a retreat back to the shelter that was necessary for most of their lives.

In the UK alone there are over one million people who identify as being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. An increasing population who are becoming more and more unprotected.

A major barrier is the lack of research. As the 2010 Equality and Human Rights Commission report Don’t Look Back states: “Older LGB people have been overlooked in health and social care legislation, policy, research, guidance and practice, which assume service users are heterosexual.”

And a pioneering study by Stonewall in 2011 confirmed our worst fears – countless pensioners feel unable to be open about their sexual orientation. The implication is that they don’t receive the care and support that they so desperately need.

Miss Blake, 84, explained to me: “I went in to a care home where I confided to my carer that I was a lesbian. From that moment on, I was ostracised by the others living there and felt like a social pariah.

“Every time I went to bed I prayed that I would never wake-up.”

Thankfully she has moved homes and is now settled but this is not a solitary case. Ageism and homophobia are alive and well and it hurts.

The elderly are often depressed and lonely especially within minority groups. Loneliness can be fatal – it is a fact.

There is a need to educate care providers so that we all receive the same level of care and support. It seems that those who are not visible will be treated as if they don’t exist.

For further information:
Opening Doors London

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