In the course of researching 3rd Quarter 2014's cover story, I came across a trailer for a documentary called Gen Silent which you can see above. I highly recommend a viewing. It focuses on the lives of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi and transgender) seniors and the struggles they have faced in the past and those they will have to deal with in long-term care.
At the very heart of these struggles, is the desire to not just feel comfortable in their surroundings but to feel as if they belong. So how do facilities not only accommodate but embrace LGBT seniors?
It’s important to be aware of the variety of situations that LGBT seniors go through. This generation grew up during a time where homosexuality was criminal and you were likened to a pedophile. It wasn't until 1969 that Canadian law was amended to decriminalize homosexuality and as a result many LGBT seniors have an inherent fear of institutions.
LGBT seniors are also more likely to live alone; either they have no family that wants to associate with them or no children to take care of them. These negative family situations can impact their care both within and outside of care facilities.
The most important things a facility administrator can do is provide the right kind of comprehensive training for their staff as well as themselves.
In both Canada and the United States, there have been instances of negativity from caregivers as well as fellow residents and better staff training can go a long ways in addressing many difficulties that LGBT seniors face. Transgender seniors are especially affected.
One of the bigger issues affecting them is around language. What are the right things to say? What the wrong things to say? Are there specific pronouns that should be used?
Oftentimes, people are hesitant to even bring up the topic of sexual preference or gender with an LGBT senior for fear they will say something wrong or appear homophobic. But asking questions is not homophobic or bigoted it’s education and efforts to educate and establish resident preferences will be appreciated by LGBT residents.
Recently, a close friend of mine is transitioning and when the process started, I began to ask questions. Everything from asking how the process worked to to how they felt and their impetus for making the change in the first place. At first I tread carefully and apologized but soon learned that questions were welcomed because it showed I was interested and that I cared.
Taking the time to ask someone what pronoun they prefer for example, is far better than awkwardly dancing around the subject; and if a staff member states they feel uncomfortable, acknowledge that too and work through it together.
Embrace don’t just accommodate. Put a pride flag sticker on your door. Celebrate events like the upcoming World Pride in Toronto. Show that anyone and everyone will get the care they need, have a good time, and feel loved in your facility.
When I spoke with Stu Maddux, the director of Gen Silent, he stated that most LGBT seniors had to leave their families and homes because of volatile situations and oftentimes they come ‘home’ to die.
I think it’s important that we make our facilities that home they are looking for.
How does your facility deal with this? Have you had LGBT staff training? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.
Gen Silent is available to buy or rent at www.gensilent.com You can also sign up for upcoming viewing events.
Rainbow Health Ontario (which features a pamphlet on working with aging LGBT persons)
Back in the Closet A documentary by The Current on CBC, discussing Canada’s aging LGBT population.