Concerns over consideration of LGBT people in social care have recently been raised by The Guardian, with the newspaper has describing the 1.2 million elderly lesbian and gay population as ‘the invisible population.’
A new project is highlighting the requirements of the older LGBT community with the objective of discovering the best ways to provide support. The National LGB&T Partnership, The National Care Forum, Sue Ryder and the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group have combined to create the the project.
Given the significance of raising awareness, the initial stage of the project has published a paper, The Dementia Challenge for the LGBT Communities, highlighting the need for commissioners and care service providers to recognise that care recipients are sometimes gay or lesbian. The partnership said: ‘It cannot be right that people from the generation that fought hard for equality are forced back into the closet when they receive social care.’
Detailed attention will be given to dementia patients as currently there is no reference to LGBT issues in the National Dementia Strategy. The very nature of dementia causes confusion which may add to the disability if a gay or lesbian person does not feel comfortable in discussing issues or past experiences. The debilitating condition is an overwhelming experience in itself so perceptions of sexuality within social care must now be given recognition.
Stonewall’s publication Working with older lesbian, gay and bi-sexual people: A guide for care and support services, identifies that the ageing LGBT community have at times faced prejudiced based on sexuality. Legislation, as defined in the Civil Partnership Act 2004, states that: ‘same-sex couples in civil partnerships must be treated the same as married couples’ and The Equality Act 2010: ‘outlaws discrimination when providing any goods, facilities and services on the grounds of someone’s sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation. This means, for example,that it is unlawful to refuse to house a same-sex couple together in a care home if a heterosexual couple in similar circumstances would be housed together.’
Yet reports suggest understanding of gay and lesbian clients remains insufficient. The Guardian reported of care staff noticing an attraction between two elderly male patients in a care home. Their friendship was discouraged by staff and threats of informing relatives of the relationship were voiced by staff on more than one occasion.
John O’Doherty of The Rainbow Project said: ‘The ageing LGBT community needs more awareness. See me, hear me know me is a document for care givers. Two of the biggest issues facing older members of the LGBT community are isolation and invisibility because recognising sexuality is not usually something recognised by care providers and so needs can’t be met.’
Although some care homes, including Bupa Care, provide couples’ rooms for same sex occupants as they do for heterosexual couples, across the sector awareness is still key to progress.