There was a time when Wayne Clark thought he’d be dead at fourty. But now, as the Canadian fashion designer approaches sixty, he admits he’s not embracing getting older.
Neither are most of his LGBT peers.
“Nobody wants to think about getting old,” he says in a promotional video for CARP’s Pink Chapter. “I don’t think anybody wants to be around anyone getting old. You’re doing everything you possibly can to somehow hang on to whatever bit of youth you still have.”
Although the number of LGBT older adults is unknown, it’s clear that many have experienced a lifetime of marginalization, hostility, prejudice, and discrimination that will continue as they age, especially in the areas of housing, health care, the legal system, and long term care.
Elderly LGBT people living in nursing homes or assisted-living centers or receiving home care, increasingly report that they have been disrespected, shunned or mistreated in ways that range from hurtful to deadly, even leading some to commit suicide.
Unfortunately, the New York Times reported, “the most common reaction, in a generation accustomed to being in the closet, is a retreat back to the invisibility that was necessary for most of their lives, when homosexuality was considered both a crime and a mental illness. A partner is identified as a brother. No pictures or gay-themed books are left around.”
LGBT seniors face other challenges too.
They are twice as likely to live alone; half as likely to have life partners or significant others; half as likely to have no close relatives to call for help; and four times less likely to have children to help them.
“The needs and challenges facing the current generation of LGBT seniors differ from their heterosexual counterparts in profound ways,” says Lois Aronstein, AARP New York State Director. In response, a number of LGBT aging projects have been created.
In Toronto, The 519 Community Centre is a place with a special focus on LGBT programming. The centre hosts a variety of programming and works to include programming designed to meet the needs of the older LGBT community.
The Sherbourne Health Centre offers a wide range of primary health care programs and services to LBGT individuals, with a goal of providing services in a dignified, non-judgmental way. Fudger House is a long-term care home in Toronto that focuses on providing an environment that is gay-positive.
The City of Toronto, in an attempt to remove the barriers to accessing the healthcare system faced by LGBT seniors, created a “toolkit” in order to assist staff in long-term care homes in order to “…enhance, understanding, sensitivity and responsiveness about LGBT issues, educate staff and provide advice in care and service design in order to be LGBT-positive, inclusive and welcoming to all residents”
CARP, Canada’s largest national advocacy group for older Canadians, announced the formation of a Pink Chapter for LGBT seniors at a press conference Tuesday at the 519 Community Centre. “To date, the issues, needs and aspirations of the aging LGBT generation have been under-served and under-addressed,” says CARP. “CARP is a pioneer in acknowledging this community and raising awareness of the distinctive challenges they encounter as they age.”
One of those unique challenges is living with HIV/AIDS.
Persons who are HIV positive are living longer but along with a host of unexpected medical conditions which challenge the prevailing view of AIDS as a manageable, chronic disease. Last year, the New York Times reported that John Holloway, 59, who lives in a housing complex designed for the frail elderly, suffers from complex health problems usually associated with advanced age: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, kidney failure, a bleeding ulcer, severe depression, rectal cancer and the lingering effects of a broken hip.
For the first time in modern history, a generation of openly LGBT people is becoming seniors. Yet the size, needs and goals of this cohort are unclear; aging has never been discussed openly.
“Nobody wants to get old or think about getting old,” says PinkCARP chair John Thornton. “But as a community we have to start thinking about it and we have to start talking about it.”
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