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Caring for older lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) residents

At a conservative estimate gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people make up ten percent of the population. Why do we not see ten percent of those living in aged care or accessing in home assistance identifying as LGBTI?  Is it because they have friends and family who are coping with their high assistance needs?  Or is it because they have gone “back into the closet” as they have entered this phase of their life?

People who have been labelled “illegal”, “mentally unwell”, “unnatural” and “against God’s will” throughout their life will be very cautious about who they “come out” to at one of their most vulnerable milestones. In a facility near where I live two women who have been partners for 34 years bought adjoining units in a retirement village and installed two of everything, a huge unnecessary cost.  They have subsequently found people they can trust and have let them know the true nature of their relationship, but this is a small circle.

I have been told of gay man who has a mental health support worker asking ‘hypothetical’ questions of new management of his facility (a facility chosen because the previous management were overtly rainbow friendly) to see if they will be accepting of his sexual orientation.  The answers that are coming back mean he is staying in the closet, in a place he had considered home.  His mental health issue has been further impacted because he no longer feels safe.

An older trans woman I have met intends to end her life rather than have to leave her home and be cared for by people who she says will “professionally tolerate her but not really accept her”. This is of grave concern to her children and grandchildren

So how can facilities make people of the rainbow communities feel welcome, safe and appreciated. Firstly the staff need to be specifically trained, yes rainbow communities want to be treated like everyone else but they also have some specific needs to be met.  There needs to be clues to let them know this is a place that knows they exist, values their authentic selves and is ready for any accommodations that need meeting, it is their human right after all.

multi colour groupAffinity Services has a programme called Silver Rainbow which takes care workers thought a three hour workshop which talks frankly about LGBTI issues, rights, terminology and “introduces” you to some people (via DVD) who speak openly about what they are looking for in aged care. There are scenarios to work through and discussions to be had.  There is also a needs analysis available that looks at some of the forms and procedures used by the facility – do you have other or just male and female on your admission form?  Is there a place to let someone know you were not born as you present now and these are the pronouns to use?  Can a person signal that because they were born intersex they will need some particular help with their personal care?  Are all the pictures on the website of heterosexual couples?

Facilities that participate in both the workshop and needs analysis are eligible for the Silver Rainbow seal.

About Julie Watson

Julie Watson
After two decades working at the Human Rights Commission, where her work included working on the trans gender inquiry and intersex round table, Julie Watson is now the programme lead for Silver Rainbow with Affinity Services. She is a mother and in her spare time an improvising actor with Auckland Playback Theatre.

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