For LGBT seniors in long-term care facilities, Canada offers little in the way of supportAround the World, Online Only, Top Highlights Monday, June 30th, 2014
For the generation born just before the Baby Boomers, life in residential care homes, assisted living facilities and other elderly living arrangements appears to offer no respite from the closet nor the homophobia that so many of those in that cohort grew up with. Despite Canada’s reputation for tolerance and inclusion – the Canadian government decriminalized homosexuality in 1969 – many seniors don’t expect to lead fully complete lives in their lifetimes.
Donna Turner, spokeswoman for Rainbow Health Ontario — an organization that focuses on the health of the LGBT community — said changing the culture in seniors homes is an “uphill battle.” “Long-term care facilities are particularly tough because there are some people who might already have pretty strong convictions, whether it’s residents or staff,” she told CTV News, the news division of the CTV Television Network in Canada. And, she adds, training usually takes place only after an incident has come to light.
Bill Ryan, a social worker and professor at McGill University, said it’s rare to be openly gay in a seniors home. Ryan, who has conducted research on the elderly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community for more than a decade, said stigma persists because residents in seniors homes lived in an era when homosexuality was considered a criminal act or mental illness.
Ryan cited one example of a gay couple, terrified of being found out or outed, would hold hands and hug in the bathroom. “He would visit during non-family visiting hours, and he would take his partner out of bed, help him into the bathroom and close the door behind him. Then they would hold each other for as long as they could and hug, and then he would open the bathroom door, put him back in bed, and not touch him again.”
Marie Robertson, a Canadian LGBT activist and counselor for over 40 years, dismisses the American approach to LGBT senior housing – planned communities specifically designed for member of the gay community – as a “fantasy.” Her solution? Addressing the problem head-on instead of isolating the LGBT senior community. Robertson told CTV News that the elderly LGBT community lived most of their lives facing high risks of personal and professional discrimination. “It was a very frightening time,” she said. “Even in the last years of their lives, these people will die there and stay in the closet. That just breaks my heart.”
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