Recent legislation acknowledges the unique needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.
It is timely to comment on the place of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans/transgender, intersex) people within the aged care agenda.
We have seen LGBTI elders moving from an invisible population within the aged care area to one where important recent legislative advances are starting to acknowledge the unique needs of this group. This has occurred under both the aged care reform Living Longer. Living Better agenda and also to changes relating to religious exemption under anti-discrimination legislation. Achieving LGBTI inclusive aged care will not happen overnight across the sector, but there is now a clear direction for the way forward which will benefit everybody, not just LGBTI clients.
So why does LGBTI-inclusive aged care matter?
It matters because this is best practice. It matters because for too long this marginalised group has been invisible. It matters because social change around LGBTI issues has been rapid and aged care providers need to keep up with this and changing societal values. It matters because we are talking about how people experience service delivery in older age. And it matters because many older LGBTI people anticipate aged care means losing connection to their LGBTI community and friends and a loss of being valued for who they are.
It is easy in 2013 to think that we as a nation have come a long way in acceptance of sexuality and gender diversity. While there have been gains, there is still much to be done. Anecdotally, we still hear of both overt and covert homophobia in the treatment of LGBTI people. Older people who are seeking support as they age are reaching a potentially vulnerable time in their life. We know that some feel they may need to go back in the closet at this time. The experience of an LGBTI person born in the 1920s or 1930s is very different from someone born today. In short, they have had a life of discrimination where they were treated by the church as sinners, by the law as criminals and by the medical profession as having a mental illness.
Aged care providers need to put into practice inclusive approaches. They need to ensure that upper management actively supports such an approach. Such approaches will benefit all – LGBTI clients, family carers and staff and the agency itself. This will hopefully see many more agencies moving to a point of celebration and the assumption that you will have LGBTI clients and staff – even if they do not openly.
Many aged care providers are actively reviewing their policy and practice to ensure that they are an inclusive practice. For example, the innovative and comprehensive LGBTI policy and practice changes of UnitingCare Ageing ACT/NSW was recently recognised by winning a Pride in Difference award.
The outcome of such advances will be older LGBTI clients will begin to feel that they are understood and valued as part of an aging Australia and that any pretence of having to fit into a hetero-normative aged care environment – usually at the expense of their own mental health – will disappear. Aged care providers by the very nature of their business are in the business of providing the very best care they can. Most aged care providers are ready for the challenge of moving into this area.
Dr Jude Comfort is the Chair of GRAI (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Retirement Association Inc.). She is also a leading researcher at the School of Public Health at Curtin University in Perth with a special interest in LGBTI health issues. These views are her own and are not necessarily those of the university.
To stay informed and be an ally there are several things aged care agencies can do:
• Read the National LGBTI Aged Care Strategy www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/44E7132570CB0438CA257AD9001432CD/$File/lgbti-strategy.pdf
• Influence senior management to get on board and remind them that it is not a choice but a requirement to provide LGBTI inclusive practice
• Join GRAI via the website www.grai.org.au
• Join the National LGBTI Health Alliance at www.lgbthealth.org.auDo you have an idea for a story?
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