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COLUMN: Equal treatment for senior LGBTQ citizens in continuing care

Regardless of location, size of facility, age of residents, gender identity, the colour of skin, religious belief, or sexual orientation, all who require long-term care must be afforded equal care.

This is not only a reasonable expectation, but a human right.

We are in 2017 and as we continue to fight for equal treatment we must include continuing care in our quest. We also live in a time when more members of the LGBTQ community leave the “closet” and take their rightful place in society. This is indeed challenging and at times unsafe.

LGBTQ members of our society of advanced age, 50 and up, remain cautious and are very aware of circumstances from earlier years when acceptance was not even a thought, especially in religious families. One had to be extremely careful not to upset family members and peers who were ready and willing to expel one from their lives making life intolerable.

By the same token, residing in a closet with no choice but to remain there also had its drawbacks as mentally it was unbearable as well. What to do?

Well, sexual orientation and transgender issues were not so much on people’s minds, especially in the straight community. Folks were leading double lives, so to speak, hiding their true identity and so eventually many committed suicide due to internal homophobia, a denial of true self identity. People were not vocal about their sexual orientation or the fact that many were forced to live in the wrong bodies.

As time passed this generation of older LGBTQ people became rather nervous and indeed apprehensive what would happen if they had to enter a long-term care facility because of failing health. These types of facilities became more common as older folks were in need of care. This presented a dilemma for many in the LGBTQ community. Many elderly LGBTQs who were open about their true identity and proud of who they are, telling stories about their past, have much to worry about. Their tendencies to be more open presented possible negativities that could affect their mental or physical well-being. For many it could mean a return to a hidden existence.

Long-term care facilities may not be as welcoming to LGBTQ people. Some staff members, as well as other residents may be homophobic, biphobic and transphobic and this has been proven the case across the country. This is a terrible existence that is unhealthy, physically and psychologically. In the end it proves that much work remains to be done. Many senior LGBTQ residents may be at the mercy of discrimination.

A few years ago I was invited to participate in the LGBTQ Elders Project, exploring cultural competency training in partnership with Northwood Manor in Halifax, conducting training sessions with care workers and personal care attendants. It is imperative we make inroads, raise awareness in long-term care facilities and provide support for LGBTQ seniors who are destined to spend their remaining years in continuing care. The move from one’s home is traumatic enough, so let’s work on the comfort level for senior LGBTQ citizens. It is a human right.

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Gerard Veldhoven is a longtime activist for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. His column appears Wednesdays in The News.

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