Historical sensitivity, understanding, and inclusive strategies are all a part of welcoming residents that identify as LGBTI.
83 year old Dorothy McRae-McMahon identifies “openly and strongly” as a lesbian. Though that strength is only been a recent thing. Dorothy, a retired Uniting Church Minister, only realised she was gay aged 50. In Dorothy’s day, largely due to the social climate, it wasn’t really an option to be “openly and strongly” gay, or anything for that matter, other than heterosexual.
“We just didn’t talk about things like that,” Dorothy explains in a 2017 educational film released by the Department of Health specifically for the Aged Care sector. Dorothy is just one individual from an entire ageing generation with similar stories.
1 in 10 Australian residents over the age of 65 identify as LGBTI, according to Roy Starkey, client service executive for Nothern Rivers AIDS Council Of NSW (ACON) – and those large numbers will be heading into care in the very near future. It’s hard to get exact figures of how many are currently in aged care. Questions around sexual orientation or gender identity are not often asked of residents because “it seems intrusive,” Roy says.
Most LGBTI residents that go into Aged Care facilities are not there by choice, but by circumstance – many without family support, partners or community support to look after them in old age. For some, the thought of losing their independence coupled with not being understood in their new environment instills a lot of fear.
It’s no wonder why; in Australia homosexuality wasn’t decriminilised in the first state government until 1984 (NSW). Up until 1949, the penalty for anal sex was death, and only then was it ‘downgraded’ to 20 years in prison. Horrific.
The older generations of the LGBTI community didn’t have policies on their side, nor did they have society looking out for them. A lot of them didn’t even have support from their families and friends and many were even afraid to identify at all as LGBTI. It was a traumatic realisation.
To provide a deeper understanding of the sort of trauma they’ve faced, you must first understand the history behind the discrimination they have become used to as a generation. For instance, treatments such as ‘gay conversion therapy’ were widely practiced in the sixties and seventies in Australia. Gay conversion therapy was performed in psychiatric asylums and often involved electric shocks to the genitals while ‘dirty pictures’ were placed in front of them. Such archaic treatments have shaped health, wellbeing and fears in the LGBTI community. This just intensifies their fears of aged care.
Thankfully the government have recognised this and in 2012 released ‘The National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Strategy’ to:
“Inform the way the Government supports the aged care sector to deliver care that is sensitive to and inclusive of the needs of LGBTI people, their families and carers; with a view for it to be implemented over five years.”
In June 2017 the strategy was reviewed and is now easily accessible for Aged Care providers to implement within their companies and train staff in appropriate sensitivity and inclusivity of LGBTI residents. The accredited program promotes the responsibility of providers to ensure discrimination doesn’t occur in their environment.
Many Australian centres have already implemented the strategy. Uniting Aged Care is one provider actively including the strategy in its marketing and training. Uniting’s key message regarding LGBTI inclusivity is, “Welcoming you exactly as you are.”
As part of Uniting’s strategy to make their LGBTI clients feel safe and welcomed, they have focused on the following:
- Symbols; using symbols of inclusion like the rainbow tick on websites, marketing material and in their reception areas.
- Induction; tailoring forms so that they’re sensitive to sexual orientation, gender identity, relationships, and pro-nouns; asking the right questions of their clients and instilling confidence from the moment they arrive
- Environment; understanding privacy, offering private rooms and treating visiting partners with respect
Lifeview, another provider strongly accepting the strategy, have implemented LGBTI ‘inclusive training’ since 2015. Lifeview train their staff on a yearly basis to understand diversity and they inform all job applicants that they are an inclusive and diverse company.
Given the numbers of residents coming into care in the future that will openly identify as empowered LGBTI, and deserve inclusive and respectful care, will dictate that providers be accountable. It’s vital for everyone – residents, staff and providers, there are strategies for inclusivity in place and well communicated in all parts of the service funnel.