Legal experiments on the pathway to free, safe and legal abortion care?

As some of you will have seen, several Network members were involved in a project this past year, which culminated in the publication of draft abortion legislation for Ireland, see here and here. 10 academic lawyers acted as legal experts to a commission appointed by Labour Women to look into options for #Repealthe8th, repeal of the constitutional amendment which makes the right to life of the ‘unborn’ equal to the right to life of the pregnant woman in Ireland.  The draft legislation which we produced, under the leadership of Mairead Enright and Vicky Conway, is legally compliant with international human rights norms, but is not our ideal legislation.  Rather it was the result of the consultation process in which we were involved and was published as the results of a legal experiment, for others to repeat, modify, evaluate and criticise.  Labour Women did not accept this draft and went onto publish their own version, see here.

For other short comments on this process see here, here and here

ReValuing Care in Theory, Policy and Practice: Cycles and Connections

Link

Rosie, Ruth and Chris are currently putting the final touches to the edited collection developed from some of network’s activities.  Many thanks to all our fantastic contributors.  You can find out more about the book here. It will be published in Routledge’s Social Justice series in 2016.

Here’s the summary from the Routledge website: In light of contemporary debates and challenges, this book introduces a new framework for articulating the value of care. Existing work on care has cohered around three key themes: the need to value caring and domestic labour in law and society; the utility of a feminist ethics of care; and latterly, the limitations of care as a normative and conceptual framework. The proposed collection expands these themes: both theoretically, and in a movement beyond the usual focus on familial interconnection, to also include professional care contexts, care by strangers, and care for and about animals. Containing sixteen original analyses of care practices across a range of interdisciplinary and international contexts, it formulates a more nuanced ‘cycles’ approach to care that captures how subjects move between instances of care-receiving and care-giving. In this respect, the book proposes an approach to care that centralises embodied experiences of responsiveness and affect – both in relation to caring for and caring about different people, practices and places.

Caring about P in the Court of Protection: the Re X scenario

by Jaime Lindsey, PhD Candidate and Teaching Associate at the University of Birmingham ( j.t.lindsey@bham.ac.uk)

In the recent Court of Appeal case, Re X [1], the judges’ obiter comments were certainly timely. The case concerned Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DOLS) cases under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (MCA). The case itself turned on the question of whether P (the subject of the court proceedings) had to be a party to the proceedings in which they would potentially be deprived of their liberty. Whilst the Court of Appeal held that they did not have jurisdiction to hear the appeal, they made their feelings clear that P should always be a party to DOLS proceedings.[2]

Under the MCA, individuals can, in certain circumstances, be deprived of their liberty in a care home or hospital for the purpose of being given care or treatment.[3] Further, a person who may be deprived of their liberty outside of a hospital or care home, but still with sufficient degree of State involvement, would also require Court authorisation for the deprivation of liberty.[4] Many of us would expect that depriving a person of something so fundamental as their liberty should, at the very least, require them to have some input into the discussion. In fact, the ECtHR jurisprudence requires that a person who is to be deprived of their liberty should have access to a court and the opportunity to be heard.[5] This is not only important on an academic level; if a person who does not wish to be deprived of their liberty forcefully resists it, then the measures which need to be taken against them are surely an important factor for any court to consider before making an authorisation.

Yet this should not only be the case for removing somebody’s liberty. In my view, a more compassionate and inclusive approach should apply more broadly to the Court of Protection’s entire jurisdiction. In fact, new Court of Protection rules require the court to, at the very least, consider whether P should be required to participate in the proceedings and this is certainly a step in the right direction.

Involving P in the capacity question

As of 1st July 2015, the new Court of Protection (Amendment) Rules 2015 came into force. They require, amongst other things, that the Court considers whether it should make one of a number of directions relating to P’s participation in the proceedings (new Rule 3A Court of Protection Rules 2007). The possible directions it can make include: (1) joining P as a party (2) appointing a legal (or otherwise) representative for P (3) requiring P to address the judge (4) any alternative direction meeting the overriding objective. Whilst these rules certainly could have gone further, they show the Court’s increasing awareness of the greater need for P’s involvement.

Rule 3A is certainly an important step forward. It should ensure that judges and the parties are alive to the question of P’s involvement. Actually, involving P should be seen as a positive way to assist the Court in deciding whether he or she has capacity; a large part of the Court’s jurisdiction in health and welfare cases is about determining whether or not a person has the capacity to make a decision in the first place and this should not be forgotten. Clearly there will be cases where the capacity question is clear from the outset, for example consider the brain damaged adult on life support, but many more cases will be borderline and sometimes will involve adults who have no mental or learning disability at all.[6] Either way, to the extent that it is possible to do so and for capacity determinations at least, P should always be involved with proceedings.

A more inclusive approach?

The new rules should certainly go some way in achieving a more inclusive approach to decision making in the Court of Protection and are to be welcomed. However, the extent to which, and in what way, the options open to the Court will be used will need to be examined following implementation. A major factor in the increased involvement of P in proceedings will be the lawyers, social workers and carers who are involved in the case; if they see the benefit of involving P and argue in favour of this in court then is a judge really likely to refuse? Particularly in light of the obiter comments of the Court of Appeal in Re X, albeit that was in a slightly different context. In fact, the onus is not only on the judge in the case to consider this but it is also on the parties who can make an application to request such a direction. Those who know and work with P, and the lawyers on all sides, should be encouraged and feel empowered by recent developments to request P’s involvement.

The power of the Court of Protection in affecting the lives of individuals who fall under the MCA regime, both for the positive and negative, is enormous. In some ways, whether or not the outcome of the cases is any different as a result of the involvement of P is not the measure of success; what is vital is that people feel that their voice is heard, particularly in relation to decisions affecting their own lives. This empowers people to “buy in” to the ultimate decision that might be made on their behalf. That said, involving P in the decision making process will hopefully lead to better and more context sensitive decisions being made and the new rule 3A is a first step in achieving this.

[1] Re X [2015] EWCA Civ 599

[2]Ibid per Black LJ at para 108

[3] Pt1 s.1(2) MCA

[4]Under s.16(2)(a) MCA

[5]Winterwerp v The Netherlands [1979] 2 EHRR 387

[6] See for example IM v LM and AB [2014] EWCA Civ 37

Inheritance System and Care – Part 2

by Dr Antu Sorainen, Title of Docent, Academy of Finland Research Fellow, University of Helsinki, Gender Studies (antu.sorainen@helsinki.fi)

“It’s almost more important for a gay person to write a will than almost any other group in society. When writing a will, an LGBT person will have been able to give consideration to people and organisations that have had a positive effect on their life: they are not simply choosing their blood relatives to inherit with no regard to whether they deserve it”, responded the UK lawyer Siôn Hudson – who regularly drafts wills for people from all around Cambridge – to my first blog from 31 May.[1]

In this second blog I am discussing why it matters for queer people how governments seek to reform inheritance tax laws. In my view, sexuality is deeply implicated in the distribution of wealth through inheritance system. Inheritance taxation is under scrutiny in Europe: and an urgent matter when we think about inheritance from the point of view of queer relationships. The trend to abolish inheritance taxes has direct bearings on the organization of queer care, both structurally and at personal level, as the decline of public welfare puts more ideological, political and managerial stress on private care.

If queers do not write wills to support financially their friends, lovers and community (a fact derived from by my research data and practicing lawyers’ experiences), the queer community will depend more than before on the co-incidences of blood ties and will be exposed to familial and social homophobia.

***

My case study is the Nordic welfare countries where finance economics and political populism are currently feeding on social injustice in terms of inheritance taxation. Sweden abolished inheritance tax in 2005 in favour of capital gains tax, meaning that property is taxed not when inherited but only when realized.[2] Norway abolished inheritance tax in 2014, though it remains in Denmark and Finland. The latter country, however, seeks to follow the lead of Sweden and Norway; a new government has declared that intergenerational transmission in family firms will be advanced through reducing inheritance tax, and that capital gains tax and “other options” will be evaluated.

Finland risks a lot. Even in the equality “paradise” of Sweden, family background (status, education level, surname) correlates with the individual’s wealth path in society. This social factor arguably only heightened when capital gains tax was introduced. As one consequence of the cutting of inheritance tax, flats now circulate within families even for generations because the capital gains tax is rather high (30%) in Sweden. Rich families do not sell their flats but pass them on as tax-free legacies. This influences on the gentrification process in the biggest cities, and also the continuing difficulty of class travel in society.

As an example of how capital gains tax leads to socio-economic stagnation and creates a class glass ceiling for queers, we might take the example of Finnish immigrants to Sweden. Many Finns moved to Stockholm, Gothenburg or Norrköping suburbs in the 1960s to live on factory jobs. This mass migration was one consequence of the rapid urbanization of the Finnish society, which left small farmers without a future in their own country. These rural migrants were accompanied by a significant number of Finnish lesbians and gays who moved to Sweden in the 1970s as the sexual atmosphere was much more liberal there.[3] These immigration generational cohorts are now getting elderly, and if they had children these are now properly ‘swedizised’. Even if some of them are economically well-off, they are often without any hope of ever buying a flat in city centres since valuable flats are circulated through the inheritance system in a number of wealthy Swedish families.

Marriage would open a route to this circle of inherited flats – but marriage was not a legal option when Finnish queer immigrants were younger. These flats are not on the open market for other immigrants or Sweden’s own nouveau rich, either. It is clear that this does not help to overcome social inequalities or to maintain big Swedish cities as a buzz of trade and liberal life supported by mobility and difference.

***

Capital gains tax thus impacts on social minorities in negative ways. It will lead to increasing accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few. This “weather forecast” could be given to all societies with a big ratio of social inequalities, such as the UK.

John Stuart Mill advocated, for one, high inheritance taxes. For Keynes, inheritance was inherently unequal and not to be defended albeit he valued the right for economic gain – but the conservative agenda thrives and we lack critical voices based on proper socio-legal impact analysis. A shift in the direction of capital gains tax would result in an increase in socio-economic homogamy, the effects of which would impact the stability of minorities in society – those whose intimate relations, reproductive choices and support relations do not accord with the law’s categorizations. Queer sexualities have relevance for the inheritance institution’s categories in that the inheritance system distributes wealth mainly in small heterosexual family circles and potentially neglects “other” relationship categories than those based on blood and heterosexual marriage.

Adopting the capital gains tax may benefit some lucky queers born in wealthy and liberal families but keeping the inheritance tax and adjusting the system of inheritance taxation could benefit many if not all. What I would suggest is to have a better look at inheritance tax categories to make them sensitive to difference outside of conjugal norm and to better hinder tax avoidance of the rich through family firms.

[1] http://www.millersands.com/the-importance-of-having-a-will-the-lgbt-perspective/

[2] Magnus Henrekson and Daniel Waldenström. 2014. ”Inheritance Taxation in Sweden, 1885–2004: The Role of Ideology, Family Firms and Tax Avoidance.” http://www.ifn.se/wfiles/wp/wp1032.pdf

[3]Sorainen, Antu. 2014. “Two Cities of Helsinki: One Practically Queer and One Liberally Gay.” In Matt Cook and Jennifer Evans (eds.) Queer Cities, Queer Cultures: Europe Post 1945. London: Bloomsbury, 211-239.

Inheritance System and Care: Queer will-writing

by Dr Antu Sorainen, Title of Docent, Academy of Finland Research Fellow, University of Helsinki, Gender Studies (antu.sorainen@helsinki.fi)

Laurie Anderson, in a recent interview with the Guardian, was asked: “What song would you like played at your funeral?”
Answer:
“Not my problem.” [1] [2]

Even though it is a witty remark, I beg to disagree. Arranging one’s after-life could be of a great benefit for those one cares about. Kinship, care and inheritance belong to the same package. The wealthy always knew this and took care of their economic interests through marriage and bloodline based inheritance arrangements. Not many of those at the margins of the society think that they need to write wills, seek to arrange their financial aftermaths, or indeed, funeral rituals to make sure that their kinship tradition lives. However, those few queer funerals that I have attended, carefully following the wishes of the deceased person, have been really important for the queer community, including at a symbolic and performative level, building and passing on the tradition, history, encouragement and memories of many important aspects of the past and present queer struggles.

In my view, we should actively advocate will-writing among those social groups who traditionally have not “owned” this tradition as theirs, especially under the current neoliberal and conservative political and economic currencies targeting the inheritance system that I will discuss in my next blog post. Activists in the legal field should encourage people to take care of their inheritance arrangements as far as they can, as an important and oft-neglected form of care; in particular, queer care. By this, I mean that inheritance could be conceptualised and re-imagined as not only transformation of property but also as taking care of those who actually matter in one’s life: directed towards friends, lovers, and community. Will-writing offers a pathway to new identifications: we could re-imagine new concepts for care practices that the society tries to hide from the people who do not follow its dominant norms.

Daniel Monk (2013) [3] argues that will-writing potentially offers a site for queer acts. He suggested that they as well as being the scene for an ultimate declaration of one’s final will, provide possibilities for not only to pass on property but also for passing of other kinds of “goods” such as coming-outs, supporting the queer community and/or the chosen family, friends or lovers, disinheriting the possibly homophobic blood relatives, or publicly recognising the “real” care and support relations in one’s life.

Will-writing is a reflection of an ideal of autonomity of the modern individual. If sexually or otherwise marginalised people would look at will-writing as their right to define the posthumous destiny of not only their wealth but also of the well-being of people who they really care for, also outside of the blood relatives circle, they might more often come to think to write wills for supporting their lovers, friends, community, and other real life-carers. In this way, as a mechanism for transmitting property from one person to another, and from one generation to another over time, lesbian and gay wills could have a considerable social and economic significance.

There is a particular purchase to bringing in legal thinking in the study on inheritance and socially marginalised groups since as a discipline and practice it has to deal with different kinds of relationships. The law is the classic locus for situations where categorical and interpersonal relations confront each other: the law deals with persons in relation to categories [4] . When it comes to inheritance, often even a small inheritance has made it possible for many ordinary as well as many famous people to create uncommon, radical, world-changing lives outside the pressure of the normative legal and social understanding of parenting and relationships (Sorainen 2015). [5]

Coming up  in my second blog post:
“I worry about putting my friends in a difficult economic position if I’ll add them into my will”, one of my lesbian interviewees told me. This is a legitimate concern because, in her country, Finland, her queer care and support network members would be subjected for a much higher inheritance tax than her emotionally distant siblings would be.

My next blog-post will consider how, in this way, legal categorizations privileging bloodline and/or marriage often fail to recognize the actualities of non-normative personal lives and the ”chosen heirs”. This is especially prudent as on 27 May 2015, Finland decided to seek to change its inheritance laws. At the moment, if a close blood relative or a friend inherits property in Finland, the inheritance tax is from 8- 36%. But in case of inter-generational family business inheritance, the tax is, on average, only 2,8% of the market value of the company. I discuss the effect of this on the queer community and on the dissemination of wealth throughout society.

References:

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/may/16/laurie-anderson-interview

[2] When I told the anecdote at the opening of this blog to one of my gay male interviewees, he said: “In my funeral, they should play Laurie Anderson’s song Same Time Tomorrow.” The song goes like this: “And so when they say things like “We’re gonna do this by the book”, you have to ask “What book?”, because it would make a big difference if it was Dostoyevsky or just, you know, Ivanhoe.” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePMwwa436ug

[3] Monk, Daniel. 2013. “EM Forster’s will: an overlooked posthumous publication.” Legal Studies, Volume 33, Issue 4 December 2013, 572–597.

[4] Strathern, Marilyn (2005). Kinship, law and the unexpected: Relatives are always a surprise. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

[5] Sorainen, Antu. 2015. “Queer Personal Lives, Inheritance Perspectives, and Small Places.” Nordic Journal for Queer Studies – Lambda Nordica, a special volume on Kinship and Reproduction, 3-4/2015 vol. 19.

Making Law Liveable? Bringing feminist knowledge of care into the curriculum

Note: These comments were originally written for a talk I gave at ‘Liberation through Law’, an event organized by SOAS Feminist Society and SOAS Law Society, on the 25th February. I am grateful to them, particularly Aleksandra Wolek and Sabeehah Motala, and to my co-panelists, Diamond Ashiagbor, Samia Bano and Linda Mulcahy, for generating such a great space to discuss the role of feminist legal theory in the university curriculum.

My comments arise from wanting to think more about how I draw on feminist activisms and organisations as sources of legal knowledge when I teach. This has been inspired in part by the recent successful campaign against Fiona Bruce’s efforts to outlaw sex selective abortion, which involved a wide range of feminist, health and pro-choice civil society organisations, including the End Violence Against Women Campaign, the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO), Southall Black Sisters, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (pdf), Antenatal Results and Choices (pdf), the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (pdf) and Voice for Choice.  As we consider and evaluate the ways in which law regulates reproductive lives, what can we learn from the experience and expertise of feminist civil society?

Typically a key feminist topic like abortion rights is taught in a medical or health law course. And the typical things we talk about are the fact that the Abortion Act, 1967, makes abortion a matter of medical discretion rather than a woman’s decision (Sheldon, 1997). Black letter medical law treats abortion differently from most other kinds of healthcare in that women’s views are not legally relevant. What matters according to the law is whether two doctors believe that a particular pregnancy is more likely to put a woman’s health at risk if continued rather than terminated. This takes abortion out of ordinary health care, which is governed by the doctrine of consent for those who are capacitated to make healthcare decisions, and the doctrine of best interests for those who are not so capacitated. Abortion becomes exceptional and women have to negotiate the discipling effects of that regulation when they need to access abortion care. So teaching about abortion law is a great way to consider how legal paternalism makes reproductive decisions on women’s behalf and uses medical authority to distance women from their own lives.

But abortion law also mobilises old-fashioned coercive power against women and their health professionals. Women who find themselves needing an abortion on terms which fall outside of the Abortion Act, 1967, are criminalized and stigmatized. Sarah Catt, who procured her own abortion by taking the abortion pill after the 24 week time limit, was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison, reduced on appeal from an original 8 year sentence by the trial judge (Prochaska, 2012). The full force of the criminal law was brought to bear on this woman as she tried to control her reproductive life. In criticizing and contextualizing that law I, in common with lots of other teachers of health law, use a variety of strategies. One such strategy is the familiar critical doctrinal strategy of flagging up the inconsistencies in black letter law, and looking to general principles of patient autonomy in other areas of health law. I look to critical engagement with human rights norms as a tool for tackling the inadequacies of abortion regulation. And I look to theoretical arguments about voluntary reproduction as an aspect of women’s equality.

But the point I want to focus on here is that often students are surprised to learn these two things about British abortion law: that doctors’ approval is necessary for non-criminal abortions and that some abortions are still criminal. And their surprise presents teachers like me with an opportunity to raise another important aspect of feminist approaches to law and that is the significance of the gap between law and practice. In practice, in the law of everyday life, the way people experience something like legal access to abortion care can be quite different from the way it’s represented on the books (Lee, 2004). And as scholars of legal consciousness have long argued, that everyday experience of law matters. It matters because actual access has immediate impact on people’s lives. But it also matters because those everyday understandings provide important resources for challenging official accounts in their violent, coercive forms and in their disciplining and governmental forms.

One important reason why there is a gap between law on the books and law in practice in the context of abortion in contemporary Britain is due to the presence and effect of pro-choice abortion providers. The presence of a pro-choice provider like BPAS, which has been providing woman-centred abortion care since 1968, makes a profound difference to women’s experience of abortion law. Their willingness to interpret and implement the Abortion Act in light of women’s life concerns has meant that sometimes at least women experience abortion care as if law is listening to them and taking their concerns seriously. But these vital aspects of women’s experience of law, the presence of feminist civil society organisations who work hard to make law a little more liveable, often don’t make it on to the legal curriculum. Or at least they make it on the curriculum in particular kinds of ways: as initiators of judicial review actions, collaborators in clinical education and providers of legal internships.

So how might I address this when I teach about abortion and law? I’ve been thinking about this anew in light of the recent campaign by a wide range of feminist, health and pro-choice civil society organisations against Fiona Bruce’s effort to criminalise sex selective abortion.  The successful and collaborative nature of the campaign mark it out for attention in the first place; but I’m particularly curious about the ways in which it mobilised feminist knowledge of care practice.  Conservative MP Fiona Bruce, together with Jeena International, Stop Gendercide and Karma Nirvana, was initially relatively successful in mobilising concerns about abortion of female fetuses towards support for an amendment to the Abortion Act, 1967. On 4 November 2014, a majority of 181 to 1 voted in favour of debating an amendment to prohibit sex selective abortion at its first reading. But on Monday 23 February 2015, 292 MPs voted against Bruce’s amendment while 201 voted for, defeating the amendment by a 91 vote majority. Why did the momentum change and what does this change have to tell us about the role of feminist civil society in making law a little more liveable (Cruz 2013: 467 citing Butler, 2010: 31)?

In making the case for the amendment, Fiona Bruce made two arguments which looked like they addressed feminist concerns. The first was that sex selective abortion was harmful and worth prohibiting because it was discriminatory in suggesting that girl fetuses are less valuable. The second was that a prohibition of sex selective abortion would help pregnant women who were being abused and pressured into abortion for reasons of son preference. In response, a number of civil society organisations drew on their collective experience of working with women who seek access to abortion care and with women who have lived with violence. In one important intervention in a letter on 19th February, a wide range of people argued that the amendment would have the effect of criminalizing women and their doctors for sex selective abortion, that criminalisation does not help women who are experiencing sexist abuse and pressure, and that funding of support services would be a preferable alternative.

Their arguments reminded us that criminal law itself can be harmful, rather than a means of protecting people from harm, in stigmatising women and preventing them from seeking out help. Others such as Hashmat argued that taking reproductive choice away from a woman in a desperate situation does not tackle the causes of that situation and denies her options in responding to her actually existing reality. These interventions were really good examples of feminist critiques of the carceral state in action and of engagements with a critical harm reduction approach (see further Erdman, 2012; Todd-Gher, 2014; Lamble, 2013; Fletcher, 2014). These kinds of reforms can be dangerous even if they may look to have gendered concerns, because they encourage the punitive state to intervene in women’s sexual and reproductive lives, and are likely to expose women to more rather than less risk.

A second important point was that sex selective abortion is not that prevalent in the UK and is not necessarily a discriminatory decision if and when it does happen. The Department of Health has not identified any evidence of difference in sex ratios and the clinics tell us that women do not report sex of the fetus as a reason for abortion (BPAS, 2015). Fetal sex may be one part of a more complex story as when bringing a girl child into the world at a particular moment may be a threat to a woman’s mental health because she is under significant pressure to have a boy.  In making this kind of argument organisations like BPAS and Voice for Choice remind us of the important of evidence and personal stories in feminist evaluation of legal reform. Concerns about sex selective abortion practices sometimes mobilise a kind of feminist ‘common sense’ that selection must be sexist.  But any such ‘common sense’ needs to be challenged in light of contesting evidence and narrative. We can’t be in a position to decide whether a given practice is actually discriminatory and harmful until we have heard from those experiencing that practice themselves.

Feminist advocacy and care organisations are important legal actors and we could make more of them, with all their imperfections, in the legal curriculum. They provide great examples of legal ideas in practice, as they argue for sexual and reproductive autonomy in a way that is sensitive to diversity and vulnerability. They challenge the reason/affect dichotomy that permeates public debate as they mobilise affective knowledge of women’s experiences towards rational ends. And they show us how to make legal interventions by drawing on feminist experience and expertise while speaking to non-feminist audiences.

‘Who cares?’ By Dr Andrew King

It’s been National Carers Week in the UK recently. It’s been well publicised in mainstream and social media, even receiving its own twitter hashtag #carersweek. I’ve read some heart-wrenching and indeed heart-warming stories and learned some useful facts, such as those provided by ONS from Census data. There has rightly been a discussion of hidden carers.  Yet despite this, I have seen very little, indeed next to nothing, about informal caring relationships that take place between lesbian, gay and/or bisexual people (LGB). Unfortunately, this sort of invisibility and implicit heterosexism is nothing new. There is a growing body of literature, including academic, third sector and activist generated studies that points to the invisibility of older LGB people in general and older LGB carers in particular. There are some on-going and important projects which have tried to increase the visibility of older LGB people and their needs, such as Age UKs excellent ‘Opening Doors’ and work in public sector organisations, and projects about specific issues like end-of-life care.

Yet research, including my own, demonstrates that caring relationships amongst older LGB people, what we might refer to as informal care relationships within chosen networks, or ‘families of choice’ (Weeks et al., 2001; Weston, 1991) are both very important and diverse, more so than heterosexual people’s. Research shows that older LGB people rely more on friends and partners for support in later life. But it’s important not to simplify and to capture the levels of complexity that are apparent in older LGB people’s lived experiences of informal care. It’s why I think a relational approach is needed because it shows that roles and identities such as carer and care recipient are rather too simplistic. I discuss this approach further in a chapter I’ve written in a forthcoming book ‘Mapping Intimacies’. To give you an idea of what I mean, here is the story of two older gay men, Alec and Peter.

Alec and Peter first met in the late 1970s. Peter supported Alec physically, emotionally and financially. For instance Peter helped Alec visit various private doctors and specialists, obtaining better care for him, until his underlying medical condition was stabilised; he nursed him when he was particularly ill; he helped him cope with the psychological stress of his chronic illness; and when Alec had to retire early on health grounds, Peter continued to support him financially. Hence, it would appear that Peter has for many years taken the role and identity of being Alec’s carer. However, when they first met Peter was struggling to come to terms with his sexuality. He felt that his family, particularly his father, did not understand his sexuality and would not accept it. Dealing with this led him to a local lesbian and gay support network where he met Alec. He helped Peter to accept his sexuality and viewed in this way, he can be seen as caring for Peter psychologically, whilst Peter tried to support Alec with his chronic illness. Recently, Alec has suffered from further ill health and Peter, although continuing to work, has also suffered periods of illness. Peter is learning to cope with Alec’s increasing infirmity, whilst Alec faces coping with Peter’s growing depressions and frustrations.

So, let’s see much more of presence of carers who are not heterosexual in the next Carers Week, but let’s not forget that the distinction between carer and cared for is also complex, especially when we look at the experiences of communities who have traditionally (and still are) invisible and marginalised!

Weeks J, Heaphy B and Donovan C. (2001) Same-Sex Intimacies: Families of Choice and Other Life Experiments, London: Routledge.

Weston K. (1991) Families We Chose: Lesbians, Gays, Kinship, New York: Columbia University Press.