September 6, 2012
When I’m 64: Stonewall publishes guidance on caring for older gay people
Even from a relatively young age, I’ve been painfully aware of getting older. On my 18th birthday, I drank too much vodka and ended up crying at a bus stop about being over the hill. Laugh if you want, but it was a painful experience for me. Each new wrinkle is catalogued and recorded and my hair is examined daily for potential greys appearing.
I know it’s ridiculous, but I can’t help comparing my achievements to those of my peers and wondering if I’m living up to expectation. When my Mum was my age, she had three children, and what do I have to show for my years on this earth? There’s an image in my head of a 26-year-old, and it’s not me. Surely by now I should have a career, a mortgage, a pension plan and a washing machine? I should own an estate car, a dog and have a couple of kids. I should be ticking things off my five-year plan and reading the Financial Times. In short, I should be a grown up.
But I’m not. At least, I don’t feel like one. I like chocolate milk and I like timing how long I can hold my breath for in the bath. I like playing video games in my pants and sleeping until the afternoon. I can’t envisage having a proper job or owning my own home, and when I do it brings on a panic attack. I’m a 17-year-old trapped in the body of a person in their late twenties, and if anything, my Peter Pan complex is growing. It’s not just me though. While we might not talk about it, I think we’re all a little worried about getting older. My hair won’t be this luscious forever. How will I recreate the Bieber fringe when I’m 64? Joking aside though, it might not be a nice thought, but who will take care of us when we can no longer look after ourselves?
Thank goodness for Stonewall, who today (Thursday 6th September) published a fantastic, thought-provoking guide called Working with older lesbian, gay and bisexual people. While organisations like Stonewall have worked tirelessly over the years to make life a little better for us young ‘uns, care homes for the elderly are still predominately heterosexual spaces and getting older when your sexuality falls out of the realms of heteronormative can be a real concern.
Whether I like it or not, there will come a day when I might need to access health and care services, and I want to be treated with the same respect regardless of my sexuality. I don’t want to have to hide who I am. The law might say that same-sex couples must be treated the same way as a mixed-sex couple, but in practice the situation is often very different.
Stonewall’s research shows that older gay people lack confidence in vital social and health support services with three in five believing that services will not understand or meet their specific needs, and 50% are uncomfortable being out to care home staff. As well as statistics, there are moving testimonies from real people. Sheila, 62, says: “I am a gay woman in a very loving and long relationship. We have signed our Civil Partnership but I still worry for the future. My biggest fear is that if we both become ill and need care that we might be separated or be looked after by people who are anti-gay and would treat us badly.”
The guide features advice to organisations that might be struggling to meet the needs of LGB people and guidance on how policy, staff training and awareness can improve services to make sure older people are treated with dignity and respect, whoever they might be attracted to. It covers the current legal situation and engaging with older people as well as tailored recommendations for care and support workers, homecare providers, care homes, housing providers, health services and local authorities. But why is it so important? The report says: “We know from a YouGov polling…commissioned by Stonewall, a significant proportion of older gay people are likely to live alone, have limited family support and rely on formal services for help in the future. This ground breaking research Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People in Later Life demonstrates that many older gay people have experienced, or fear, discrimination because of their sexual orientation and they say this creates a barrier to receiving appropriate care and treatment.”
Getting older and no longer being in control of your own life must be scary enough without the added pressure of hiding your sexuality. Andrew Howarth from Leeds Partnership Trust, says: “The people in the nursing homes are still feeling guilty and ashamed and isolated and dare not come out for fear that they will be judged because they have lived like that all their lives.” I find that incredibly sad.
We’ve been telling the kids in the playground for a while now that it gets better, and it does. For a while at least. But do we really want to tell them that after this, there’s a good chance it will get worse again? There are lessons to be learned in this report for us all, not just for health and support services. We have to take care of those that paved the way for us because it won’t be that long until we’re in the same boat. Then we’ll need someone looking out for us.
Can animals be gay?
Lesbilicious were at the Paws with Pride Pet Show at Newcastle Leazes Park in July 2012. We asked pet owners, can animals be gay? The people we interviewed had some interesting anecdotes about their own pets.
August 1, 2012