For many seniors, going into a residential care home can be a difficult adjustment, fraught with feelings of loss of independence and autonomy. Some studies suggest that these feelings are amplified for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) seniors. Surveys conducted in the city of Ottawa and the province of Alberta show that LGBT seniors are concerned about “freedom to be open” and issues of respect and sensitivity in residential homes.
Seniors who identify as LGBT are coming from a less tolerant era regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. Like most seniors, LGBT individuals expressed a desire in these surveys to remain in their own homes as long as they can, but they are apprehensive about retaining their ability to be “out” as they age, potentially facing chronic illness, loss and caregiving. Surveyed individuals identified issues related to bullying and discrimination. There is an underlying sentiment that going into residential care can feel like being forced to go back in the closet, which can create fear and hesitation.
The results of the surveys conducted in Edmonton (Edmonton Seniors Coordinating Counsel through SAGE) and Ottawa (Ottawa Senior Pride Network) reveal concerns within the LGBT seniors’ communities about loneliness and isolation and the fear of being able to be open and honest about their identities. Some are concerned that being out in a residential home setting may affect the standard and level of care they receive.
The Rainbow Resource Centre in Winnipeg envisions offering affordable housing exclusively for the LGBT seniors’ community: a space with 120 units for seniors who have lost their partners. By creating dedicated housing for LGBT seniors, where they can feel safe to be open and out, where they can develop trusting relationships with the professionals working with them, and where they can remain connected to the gay community, the Resource Centre hopes to foster a positive space that “engages and enriches” through “collaboration and self-determination.”
Seniors polled in Ontario and Alberta expressed a desire to be included in a wider community. Some suggested updating professional sensitivity and equity training; including a “gay centre” where LGBT seniors could connect in larger, inclusive long-term care facilities; or providing a dedicated floor, or portion of a building, where those who identify as LGBT could live in close proximity to one another.
These suggestions are variations of the same idea: providing LGBT seniors with a safe space where their needs can be met, without compromising their dignity or identity, and where they can connect with each other for mutual support as well as with the residential community at large. There does not have to be one right answer. Choice is key to autonomy, which is a very important thing for seniors to retain as they age and their needs change. Perhaps the answer lies addressing the common concerns that unite these different solutions and acknowledging the different ways to address them, giving LGBT seniors a choice to pick the environment that they feel most comfortable with.