We now have laws that protect lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) people, rather than persecute them. Something to celebrate. For older people in particular, who lived through criminalisation or being diagnosed as mentally ill, this once seemed unimaginable. But the fact that lots of LGBT people still feel they have to pretend to be straight – at work, at the doctor’s, sometimes even to their family – is indication enough that we need more than legislation to encourage people to feel truly safe to be themselves.
Age UK has been working with the older LGBT charity Opening Doors London and author Sally Knocker to develop a new LGBT guide for health and social care providers.
‘Safe to be me’ offers practical advice on being the kind of service in which older lesbian, gay, bi and trans people can feel safe and accepted for who they are. It has helpful exercises, real life case studies and checklists for good practice, and it’s guided throughout by the voices and experiences of older LGBT people themselves. They tell us, for example, that:
- Homosexuality was illegal till 1967, so many of us lived in fear of being caught, losing our jobs and even our families.
- My father sent me to a psychiatrist for shock treatment to try and cure me of my feelings for other ladies.
- On one occasion, Arthur was taken seriously ill and transferred to hospital without them notifying me. The man I love could have died and I wouldn’t have been there or even known.
- When I visited Jean in the care home, she was always sitting in the main lounge … I felt like I was in a goldfish bowl with all eyes and ears on us.
- It was such a relief when the Age UK befriender enabled me to open up about being a lesbian after so many years of hiding.
- The most civilised manager set the caring tone of the nursing home … It was clear that we were being treated with respect as a gay couple.
We hope ‘Safe to be me’ will help spark discussions and generate practical ideas for putting principles into practice. Please do share it with your networks.
Age UK provides free information and advice to help you or your family. You can find out more on the Age UK website