No Room at the Inn? Older LGBT individuals’ unmet housing needs

Stonewall Housing, in conjunction with Age UK, Opening Doors London and Rainbow Hamlets, is holding a major Older LGBT Housing conference on 18th June 2014. Entitled ‘Bona Latties’ (Polari for Good Housing) it aims to give voice to older LGBT individuals’ housing wants and needs and create a space to discuss them with providers. Older LGBT unmet housing needs are a problem in the following ways:

  • Mainstream housing provision for older people is perceived as heteronormative, homophobic, biphobic and transphobic(1)(2)(3);
  • There is a lack of specialist housing, i.e. housing run for older LGBT individuals, by LGBT individuals (4)(5)(6);
  • There is a lack of specific housing choices for older LGBT, e.g. those who want gender specific housing (e.g. men/women only), which many older individuals, especially older lesbians, want (7). It’s an outdated ‘one size fits all’ (8) approach;
  • There is a lack of specialist domiciliary care for older LGBT people, with the exception of Pride in Care UK. Many older lesbians and gay men in particular re-closet themselves in their own homes, for fear of prejudice from carers (9);
  • There is a lack of services to support older LGBT in setting up housing cooperatives where they provide one another with reciprocal support and/or buy in care which is respectful of, and meets, their needs.

As a result of these unmet needs, older LGBT individuals are left with a stark choice: ‘the prospect either of living alone without support or having to enter [sheltered housing and] care homes which will not meet their needs.’ (10) We say ‘it gets better’ to younger LGBT people. And for many that may be true. But the sad the truth is that in older age it gets worse. As much as we should address the needs of LGBT youth, we also need to address the needs of older LGBT individuals as well. Schools are a problem for LGBT youth. Sheltered housing and care homes are a problem for LGBT older people. We must tackle both.

References

(1) Ward, R., Pugh, S. and Price, E. (2010) Don’t look back? Improving health and social care service delivery for older LGB users. London: EHRC;
(2) Fredriksen-Goldsen, K. I., et al (2013) ‘Physical and Mental Health of Transgender Older Adults: An At-Risk and Underserved Population.The Gerontologist doi: 10.1093/geront/gnt021First published online: March 27, 2013;
(3) Jones, R. (2010) ‘Troubles with bisexuality in health and social care.’ In Jones, Rebecca L. and Ward, Richard (eds) LGBT Issues: Looking beyond Categories. Policy and Practice in Health and Social Care, pp 42-55, Edinburgh: Dunedin Academic Press.
(4) Musingarimi, Primrose (2008). Housing Issues Affecting Older Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual People in the UK: A policy brief. London: The International Longevity Centre – UK (ILCUK)
(5) Carr, S. and Ross, P. (2013) Assessing current and future housing and support options for older LGB people. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
(6) LGBT Movement Advancement Project (MAP) and Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders (SAGE) (2012) Improving the Lives of Transgender Older Adults: Recommendations for Policy and Practice. New York: Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders and National Center for Transgender Equality.
(7) Westwood, S. (submitted): ‘“We see it as being Heterosexualised, being put into a Care Home”: Residential care concerns and preferences of ageing sexual minorities.’ Ageing and Society.
(8) Eaglesham, Phil (2010) ‘The Policy Maze and LGBT Issues: Does One Size Fit All?’, in R. Jones & R. Ward (eds) LGBT Issues: Looking Beyond Categories, pp 1-15. Edinburgh: Dunedin.
(9) Knocker, S. (2012) Perspectives on ageing lesbians, gay men and bisexuals. London: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
(10) Guasp, A. (2011) Lesbian, gay and bisexual people in later life. London: Stonewall.

 

‘Counting the Costs? Resources, Austerity and Older LGBT People’

The ‘Minding the Knowledge Gap’ ESRC funded seminar series held its fourth seminar at the University of Surrey last week. This seminar, called ‘Counting the Costs? Resources, Austerity and Older LGBT People’ addressed the material, financial and social resource implications of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) ageing, particularly in times of austerity. It was well-attended by participants from a range of backgrounds: LGBT individuals (in all their diversity, including some in older age); advocates and activists; academics; social policy makers; and the police. There were two speakers. Dr Noah Uhrig, from the Institute for Social & Economic Research, University of Essex, gave a fascinating talk on ‘Poverty and Material Well-being of LGBT elders’, somehow managing to make some very complicated statistic not only accessible but also enjoyable. Audience members gazed in avid fascinating and still wanted more at the end. The second speaker, Dr Martin Mitchell, NatCen Social Research presented on ‘Not just “a nice thing to do”: Marginalisation and hardship for LGBT older people in the context of austerity cuts.’

Noah spoke of recent research project on poverty and sexual orientation (constrained by the usual problems with representative sampling of a ‘hidden population’) which suggested significant material differences in later life for LGB individuals compared with heterosexual individuals, and between one another. A key feature was the suggestion that older lesbians were materially advantaged compared with both older heterosexual individuals and older gay men. Noah’s data – which he bravely presented, anticipating the response it would meet – were, not surprisingly, hotly contested by many of the lesbian members of the audience. They found the idea of older lesbian material advantage counter-intuitive. Discussions raised issues of: women’s relative lower earnings to men; women’s greater representation in (lower paid) public services work, especially care work; women (including lesbians!) taking time out of work to have children, and to perform other informal unpaid care work (including for parents and grandchildren); women being much more likely to be in part-time paid work (rather than full-time work) while also performing unpaid informal care work (1). Noah acknowledged the tensions provoked by the data, and plans on conducting further analyses. We look forward to hearing more!

Martin then spoke of the double-edged sword of austerity cuts. Older LGBT individuals are more likely to need support from those public and voluntary sector services (health and social care, informal and formal social support) which are currently subjected to drastic cuts in funding (2). Those cuts in services impose increased pressures on an already pressured cluster of minoritised individuals, meaning they have a greater need for services, at the very time when there are fewer services available. Lack of material and social resources have profound implications for the well-being of older LGBT individuals (3) (4).

Afternoon discussions returned to the issue of gender (again unsurprisingly) and to the need to continuously unpack the ‘LGBT’ acronym (5), to appreciate how older lesbians, gay men, bisexual women and men, and trans individuals are particularly affected by the material and social resource implications of later life. The plight of the Opening Doors London project, supporting 1,000 older LGBT individuals in the London area, and which has lost all of its funding, highlighted the lived realities of the implications of austerity cuts. Towards the end of the day two distinct responses to resourcing projects for older LGBT in later life: the neoliberal model of private and national state engagement; a more localist, communitarian approach involving local LGBT groups and local government. It was mentioned that in Australia and some parts of the USA, older LGBT have been designated a ‘special needs group’ (with all the complications of such a categorization) and as such are eligible for state funding for local projects.

Much food for thought, and much work to be done, but all-in-all, it was a stimulating and thought-provoking day, made so by the contributions of all who attended.

(1)    Arber, Sara (2006) ‘Gender and Later Life: Change, Choice and Constraints’. In J. Vincent, C. Phillipson and M. Downs (eds) The Futures of Old Age, pp. 54-61,London: Sage.

(2)     King, Andrew (2013) ‘Prepare for Impact? Reflecting on Knowledge Exchange Work to Improve Services for Older LGBT People in Times of Austerity.’ Social Policy and Society / FirstView Article / November 2013, pp 1 – 13 DOI: 10.1017/S1474746413000523, Published online: 19 November 2013

(3)    Fredriksen-Goldsen, et al (2013a) ‘Physical and Mental Health of Transgender Older Adults: An At-Risk and Underserved Population.’ The Gerontologist doi: 10.1093/geront/gnt021First published online: March 27, 2013

(4)    Fredriksen-Goldsen, Karen I., et al. (2013b). ‘The physical and mental health of lesbian, gay male, and bisexual (LGB) older adults: the role of key health indicators and risk and protective factors.’  The Gerontologist, 53(4):664-675.

(5)    Ward, Richard, Rivers, Ian. and Sutherland, Mike (eds) (2012). Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Ageing: Biographical Approaches for Inclusive Care and Support.  London: Jessica Kingsley

 

 

 

Empowering the Voices of LGBT Individuals with Dementia

A seminar in London organised by the Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project (DEEP) and facilitated by myself, was attended by over 40 people this week, to discuss how we can give greater individual and collective voice to lesbians, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people with dementia. Attendees included dementia service providers and advocates, older LGBT service providers and advocates, older LGBT people themselves, and academics working in the field of LGBT ageing and/or dementia. There were three excellent speakers: Rachael Litherland from DEEP; Sally Knocker (trainer, consultant and writer) and Dr Elizabeth Price (Senior Lecturer, University of Hull). Two short films were shown: one from Opening Doors London (which includes a gay men with memory problems in need of befriending and extra support) and a training clip from GenSilent (which features, among others, a gay couple dealing with one partner’s dementia; a lesbian couple pondering their future care needs; and a trans women who is dying, is estranged from her family, and lacks support). One of the most amazing things about the seminar was that it started without us! Many people arrived early, some by almost an hour, and struck up vibrant and deeply engaged conversations. These continued even after we introduced the planned bits of the seminar, and went on over the tea break, and into the group discussions which then followed.

LGBT individuals with dementia are not one homogenous group (1). As dementia is age-related and women outlive men, then older lesbians and bisexual women are likely to be disproportionately affected by dementia (women outnumber men with dementia 2:1) (2). This, together with relatively diminished social support in later life, means that older lesbians are likely to also be disproportionately represented in care homes for people with dementia. By contrast, gay and bisexual men who do find themselves in those spaces will be a minority in a minority due to both gender and sexuality. Many LGB people are impacted by the lack of recognition of LGB carers of someone with dementia (3) and of LGB health and social care service users, including in dementia provision (4). This is nuanced by gender: older women are particularly concerned about being around potentially sexually disinhibited behaviour of heterosexual men with dementia; and many older lesbians and gay men want integrated provision, but many also want gender and/or sexuality specific care. This is also nuanced by sexuality: many bisexual individuals suffer from the disappearing ‘B’ in LGBT (5), being assumed to be heterosexual if single or in a relationship with a person of another gender and being assumed to be lesbian or gay if in a relationship with someone of the same gender.

Trans individuals (who may or may not identify as LGB) are concerned with both shared and particular issues (6). Those particularities include: concerns about transphobia; being worried about not being able to cross-dress; being very concerned about receiving personal care if their physical bodies are not congruent with their gender performance; and, among those who have transitioned, being concerned that if they have dementia, as it progresses, they may no longer remember that they have transitioned, and may revert to performing according to the gender which they were assigned at birth.

A wide ranging number of themes emerged across the seminar. These included: the issue of how to ‘find’ LGBT people with dementia who may be hidden both by their dementia and by their sexualities and/or gender identities; the importance of making sure any project which aims to empower LGBT people with dementia is driven by LGBT people with dementia; concerns about heteronormativity, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia among dementia service providers and dementia service users; the importance of training and practice development among service providers (7); the importance of both mainstream providers and the LGBT ‘community’ taking responsibility for addressing these concerns; and the need to take into account the needs of queer/polyamorous/non-labelling individuals with dementia who can often be hidden in generic LGBT discourse.

All attending the seminar were agreed that it was a very successful and stimulating event, and hopefully would lead on to the development of a number of different projects which will give greater voice to LGBT individuals with dementia in the future. A range of possibilities were discussed, including making mainstream dementia advocacy more inclusive of LGBT individuals with dementia, and LGBT intergenerational projects, which would involve LGBT befrienders supporting LGBT individuals with dementia. DEEP will be keeping all those who attended informed in future developments. Anyone wishing to know more, should contact the Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project (DEEP)

(1) Newman, R. and Price, E. (2012) ‘Meeting the Needs of LGBT People Affected by Dementia,’ in R. Ward, I. Rivers & M. Sutherland Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Ageing: Biographical Approaches for Inclusive Care and Support, pp183- 195, London: Jessica Kingsley. [Accessible via: http://bit.ly/1dGiQCb]

(2) Knapp, Martin, et al. (2007) Dementia UK: a Report to the Alzheimer’s Society. London: Alzheimer‘s Society.

(3) Price, E. (2012) ‘Gay and lesbian carers: ageing in the shadow of dementia’, Ageing & Society, 32: 516-532.

(4) Ward, R., River, I. & Sutherland, M. (eds) (2012) Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Ageing: Biographical Approaches for Inclusive Care and Support, London: Jessica Kingsley

(5) Jones, R. (2010) ‘Troubles with bisexuality in health and social care.’, in: Jones, Rebecca L. and Ward, Richard (eds) LGBT Issues: Looking beyond Categories. Policy and Practice in Health and Social Care (10), pp 42-55, Edinburgh: Dunedin Academic Press, pp. 42–55.

(6) Auldridge, A., et al (2012) Improving the Lives of Transgender Older Adults: Recommendations for Policy and Practice. New York: Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders and National Center for Transgender Equality

(7) Suffolk Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Network (2012) Providing Quality Care to LGBT Clients with Dementia in Suffolk: A Guide for Practitioners; Alzheimer’s Society (2013) Supporting lesbian, gay and bisexual people with dementia. Alzheimer’s Society Factsheet 480. London: Alzheimer’s Society: