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REFOCUS BY GERARD VELDHOVEN
Years ago, long-term care facilities were not concerned about looking after folks of the LGBT community. Indeed, sexual orientation and gender identity were not really an issue to many outside the LGBT community.
Why? Well, sexual orientation was not on people’s minds, that is to say, on those of the so-called straight community. Together with the fact LGBTs were a hidden part of society and not vocal about their orientation, or the fact that some were forced to live in the wrong body, made this a non-issue. Most gays were in the closet and gender identity had not really come to the forefront.
However, over the past few decades it has become a huge issue and one that needs urgent attention. Elderly gays and lesbians who are out of the proverbial closet have much to worry about if they must enter a long-term care facility. The tendency to show more affection, tell stories about their past and generally be proud of who they are and the ability to be contributing citizens, makes them an easy target.
The fact remains that at a point in time some may also be almost forced to go back into that proverbial closet to avoid further anxious moments derived from homophobic staff and residents. Those of us who are hiding in order to not be barraged by others in the facility also face problems as they do not allow themselves to be who they really are in a time when we all deserve equal treatment.
This is a terrible existence that is both unhealthy, physically and psychologically. So, in the end it proves that much work remains to be accomplished. Society has the obligation to embrace everyone and until this takes place many elderly LGBTs will be at the mercy of discrimination and homophobia in many forms.
In 2010, I was invited to participate in the LGBT Elders Project, exploring cultural competency training in partnership with Northwood Manor in Halifax. We held training sessions with nursing staff and personal care attendants. This project will continue with other long-term care facilities in Nova Scotia and is absolutely essential to further education to those who take care of us in our senior years.
It is imperative that we make inroads, raise awareness in long-term care facilities and provide support for LGBT seniors who are obliged to spend their remaining years in care. The move from one’s home is traumatic enough so let’s work on the comfort level for LGBT seniors. Comments and information: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gerard Veldhoven is a longtime activist for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. His column appears Wednesdays in The News.