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True Colours: Elderly LGBTI People Fear Coming out Again in Aged Care

Arrest, imprisonment, attempted “cure” treatments and psychiatric incarceration are just some of the possibilities our older lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community members (LGBTI) faced if they would dare come out some 40 years ago. Many still carry the emotional scars from such traumatic times and fear they will have to “re-enter the closet” if moved into aged care.

Today, “coming out” is still a painful issue for many, but decades ago, attitudes were far different to what they are today.

In a recent interview with ABC TV News, former High Court Judge Michael Kirby, also a prominent campaigner for the LGBTI community, said the issue of acceptance in aged care is an important one.

“The horrible thing is that some people who go into aged care have to revisit the whole process of coming out. They thought they’d been there and done that, but it still is a journey they’ve got to make again. Somehow we’ve got to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

Justice Michael Kirby

“The horrible thing is that some people who go into aged care have to revisit the whole process of coming out,” Kirby said. “They thought they’d been there and done that, but it still is a journey they’ve got to make again. Somehow we’ve got to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

Fortunately, some organisations have been making serious progress in addressing the issue. Uniting, Australia’s largest faith-based aged care provider has become the first large operator to receive the Rainbow Tick accreditation for its true commitment to serving the LGBTI community.

The Rainbow Tick accreditation program was devised by Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria in conjunction with the health charity Quality Innovation Performance to recognise inclusive and safe service delivery for LGBTI people. Uniting, having received the Rainbow Tick for its LGBTI policies, ensures that residents and members belonging to its community will be embraced and accepted, as well as the reassurance that their rights will be protected.

Qualifying for such a program was no easy feat. This project took some four years of hard work by the staff at Uniting to complete. Uniting has 6500 employees that required training along with extensive surveying and assessment of 30 Uniting sites under the strict Rainbow Tick review process.

LGBTI elderly people - Sage Institute of Aged CareThere are other agencies offering support too. New South Wales based Silver Rainbow delivers LGBTI inclusive ageing and aged care awareness training to a wide variety of staff working in ageing services, along with aged care students and aged care assessment teams nationally. Funded by the Australian government, this organisation educates and informs (nationwide) policymakers, service providers and general members of the community about changes to inclusive practice in the Australian aged care sector.

The ABC reported that providing specific aged care and support for the LGBTI community in ageing services has always been a challenge, but having policies in place is a good start.

Diane Latter, a gay nurse working in a nursing home, commented that some LGBTI individuals of this generation haven’t come out yet. For understandable reasons, they have had issues around disclosure. Other residents have been openly gay for decades before entering aged care.

However, these individuals are disinclined to reveal their sexuality for fear of hostility or rejection from other residents.

“It is also true that some of the other residents grow up with all kinds of prejudices and attitudes and hostility, and even hatred towards gay people,” Mr Kirby said. “There’s a lot to be done, and it’s not easy.”

It is hoped that this current baby boomer generation entering aged care will be the last of those with such prejudicial attitudes and that over time it will fade out.

“You’ve just got to get over your demons. That is, I think, the challenge in aged care. Help older people who have prejudice get over their demons.”

Justice Michael Kirby

Sage Institute of Aged Care – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan is the Academic Director at Sage Institute of Education. She oversees learning processes, teaching outcomes, resources and course development. A passionate advocate for bettering standards of training in Australia, she is currently writing her PhD thesis on defining quality training in the Australian vocational education sector.
Vicki Tuchtan

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