Today is Older People’s Day and that brings me to consider older people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) community. Many in their 60s, 70s and 80s may have experienced direct discrimination and some have lived in fear of imprisonment, when homosexuality was illegal. They will have lived through the impact of the HIV and aids epidemic in the 1980s and the outrageous backlash the gay community received back then.
In recent years we have seen positive steps forward in gay rights, including gay marriage and changes to the law around equality. So does that mean that older LGBT people are benefiting from living in an age when gay people are more widely accepted than ever before? I do hope so.
I am aware however, that when people grow older and move into retirement living settings, or a care home environment, they may not always feel able to be themselves. Retirement living schemes provide a close knit community that is often supportive, with social and leisure activities on hand to help prevent isolation in old age. Indeed I’m especially proud of the launch of our new retirement living offer here at Riverside with a fresh approach for a generation that wants great homes, with the added support that retirement living brings.
However, it is true that some older people still find it hard to accept their LGBT neighbours and this can in turn can force older people back into hiding their sexuality once again. It cannot be right that people from a generation that fought hard for equality are forced back into the closet in their autumn years. It is estimated that there are 1.2 million older lesbian and gay people in the UK and yet they are a relatively invisible population, rarely acknowledged by commissioners and local service providers.
Some older members of the LGBT community are more likely to be estranged from members of their family, or have fewer offspring to provide the support that their straight neighbours receive. So the type of care and support we provide is of even greater importance to them.
We are committed to equality and diversity and work hard to support all of our customers and staff to stamp out discrimination within our services.
It is important that colleagues make sure they are aware of LGBT issues relating to older people, so they are in a stronger position to challenge inappropriate language or actions to support the diverse communities in which we provide services.
For me as a gay man living in the UK in 2015, the situation has never been so good. But we must mindful that older, more vulnerable people may not be having such a good life as members of the LGBT community. I know there are some big challenges when we are attempting to change historically held beliefs and prejudices, but we must meet them head on and make sure that the people that fought for our freedoms are cared for properly, without the fear of prejudice in older age.