LGBTQ seniors fear renewed discrimination in long-term care

August 7, 2018
Article Source
The Globe and Mail

When deteriorating health forced David McClure, who is 81, to enter first one Ottawa nursing home, and then another, he felt as though he was going back into the closet, after decades out of it. "I couldn't let my gayness show," he said. "The looks were very askance."

But when a degenerative neuromuscular disease compelled Paul Leroux, 62, to enter a different nursing home, "they welcomed me with open arms." He is organizing the centre's first Pride Day later this month. As the only openly gay resident (though he has his suspicions...), he's stressing that Pride means pride for all.

The contrast is revealing. Improving the quality of life for queer seniors nearing the end of life is the next frontier for LGBTQ activists. In some long-term care facilities, staff are trained and vigilant in protecting the rights of sexual minorities. In others, ignorance can lead to discrimination.

If you are in your mid-60s or older, you remember when it was a crime to be gay in Canada. (Homosexual acts between two consenting adults were decriminalized in 1969.) You remember when being openly gay could keep you from getting a job. Holding hands or kissing in public? You would never think of such a thing.

Now, as an increasing number of LGBTQ seniors require long-term care, some discover that the old days are back. Staff in nursing homes lack training for special needs. Some residents may harbour intolerances from earlier times. Circumstance may place a lesbian in the same room as a fundamentalist Christian. And for some, dementia may unleash prejudices that had long been suppressed.

LeZlie Lee Kam, who self-identifies as a "queer dyke," is part of a new seniors advisory committee formed by Egale, which advocates for sexual minorities in Canada. As the population steadily ages - in less than two decades a quarter of us will be seniors - the needs of older LGBTQ folks are a growing priority.

Too many queer seniors "are going back into the closet because we're afraid of the kind of treatment we're going to receive," she believes. "Across the board there is not the culturally-competent training that's necessary when working with us."

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