Why gay aged care matters
With an ageing population, more and more out GLBTI people will be accessing aged care services. Daniel G Taylor explores the issues affecting rainbow seniors.
According to Aged Care INsite, Australia may have as many as 228,000 gay seniors. This num-ber is set to rise as the 'Baby Boomers' – the generation that will never grow old – grows old. In-home and residential aged care services will have to deal with something they've never faced before: out gay seniors in large numbers.
"Older gay men hide their sexuality because they're afraid they'll lose their carers," says Dr Ca-therine Barrett, a research fellow at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, and Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria at La Trobe University.
"They test out their carers, saying, 'Have you heard that Elton John's adopted a baby?' When the carer responds, 'That's disgusting', they know it's not safe to come out to that person."
Gay men who need to access aged care services face an unpleasant plethora of problems: services not recognising their relationships or their sexual needs, having to de-gay their homes when carers visit, carers taking inappropriate health precautions (like wearing latex gloves to shower someone), having staff restrict visitors, fear that their confidentiality will be breached and that they'll face discrimination, and staff lacking the training to deal with people who are HIV-positive.
"I think the most pressing issue for Baby Boomers who find they need support from aged care services will be being able to remain open and out of the closet about their sexual orientations and sex and gender identities," says Dr Jo Harrison, an Adelaide-based gerontologist whose PhD focused on GLBTI aged care.
John, 64, from Ovingham in South Australia says: "I don't go telling the world".
"There's a gap here that in an ideal world would be filled. But now we just have to accept it and move into the general mainstream. You need someone with pots of money who'd make more pots of money out of building [a gay-specific residential aged care service]."
Around the country, businesses and community organisations are working toward addressing the needs of gay seniors.
One such project is the Linton Estate, a gay retirement village under construction at Ballan in Victoria.
Another is Val's Cafe, also in Victoria, co-founded by Dr Catherine Barrett, which educates mainstream services on being sensitive to the needs of rainbow seniors.
Meanwhile, gay and lesbian health and wellbeing organisations such as ACON have incorporated GLBTI ageing into their strategic plans and operating frameworks.
The Federal Government has started to assign aged care packages – so far in Queensland and NSW – to provide funding for services to meet the specific needs of rainbow seniors.
"I think that all professionals in aged care have a duty to ensure that the voices of GLBTI elders are heard and that older GLBTI are visible, making decisions, setting the agenda, and 'sitting in the driver's seat' – not 'riding in the back' – as much as possible," says Dr Harrison.
Paul Marsh, 65, a psychologist who teaches aged care, is optimistic about his own needs being met. "I assume that when I come into an aged-care service in 20 years, these things will no longer be an issue." Blaze