Aging queerly

Picture of two hands, one with a gold ring on the ring finger.

The common understanding used to be that people’s life experience wasn’t terribly important in providing them with residential and non residential care later in life. The assumption was that treating people the same equated with treating people equally. Its an interesting assumption, and its one that a lot of people make. The problem is that it is deeply flawed. Treating people the same overlooks their differences, and those differences can have affected a person their whole lives. It is exciting to see that assumption changing in light of recent research. Manchester city council has announced that it is to build the UK’s first LGBT retirement home.

Older people that are lesbian, gay or bisexual have lived through decades of institutional oppression. In Ireland the law condemned male same sex relationships and ignored women. Society was structured to exclude and stigmatise LGB people. The legacy of this level of institutionalised homophobia endures, and may be particularly problematic for older people who can still be carrying with them levels of internalised homophobia today.

There are, of course, differences between those older people that are out and proud about their LGB identity and those who have chosen to remain in the closet. Either way people will have developed strategies to cope with the effect of their orientation, and societies perception of it, on their life. Difficulties may emerge as people get older and possibly infirm, requiring sometimes daily support from social care and medical professionals. Age Concern in the UK highlighted that LGB older people may have continuing anxieties when interacting with health and social welfare services and workers. Their research identified that there was a need to review the extent that practices are organised around hetero-normative assumptions that can create barriers to LGB people talking about their life experiences and needs. The University of Nottingham identified that older people may even need to go back into the closet as they age.

Identifying that LGBT people can have complex needs because of the prejudice and assumptions of others is a step towards providing services for older LGB people that acknowledge the importance of their identity on the provision of care for them and their experience of that care. Like race and gender, sexual orientation can matter when it comes to care provision. It is exciting to see that the UK is joining other places like Canada and the US in creating intentional communities for LGBT older people.

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