Gay-friendly aged care: A work in progress

Our industry champions respecting each person and meeting individual needs, but ignorance of the needs and feelings of LGBTI people can cut across our best intentions, writes John Clarke.

Our industry champions respecting each person and meeting individual needs, but ignorance of the needs and feelings of LGBTI people can cut across our best intentions, writes John Clarke.

For most people, considering a move to residential aged care can be difficult enough, but it’s even harder when they may be faced with barriers owing to their sexual orientation or gender status.

John Clarke
John Clarke

Around 11 per cent of the Australian population identifies as lesbian, bay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI). Many of these older people have experienced inequitable treatment throughout their lives, with many suffering or fearing stigma, rejection, persecution or discrimination.

Sadly, a recent La Trobe University study found many older LGBTI people fear discrimination from aged care and health service providers and avoid accessing vital services. Our industry champions respecting each person and “meeting your individual needs”, but ignorance of the needs and feelings of LGBTI people can cut across our best intentions. For example, something as simple as filling out a form with only male or female options can be a challenge for some people.

Uniting AgeWell recognises that LGBTI ageing is a unique and important experience requiring a considered, consultative and systemic approach. We celebrate the contributions LGBTI staff, volunteers and clients have made to our communities over decades. As part of the Uniting Church, we have a long history of providing services for older people irrespective of their faith, cultural background, gender or sexual identity. We share the Church’s spirit of embracing diversity, respecting differences, being open to discuss controversial issues and what it means to be inclusive of all people.

In 2014 we made further steps to ensure members of the LGBTI community find a ready welcome at our organisation – whether they are seeking help to age well at home, looking for respite care, or exploring living in one of our retirement units or aged care communities.

It requires a whole-of-organisation approach and wide consultation. We have established a senior executive LGBTI working group and a number of task groups. We have connected with members and organisations of the LGBTI community, nationally and locally, other groups in the community and in the Uniting Church. This has helped us create an LGBTI policy and practice standard to guide our work. The LGBTI community has been very encouraging and supportive and, as our motivation and intentions have become clear, these relationships are growing.

We have surveyed our staff to assess their attitudes and our own inclusive practices. These have been very affirming but we have needed to unpack the often-selected response – “we treat everyone the same” – because although this reflects our value of fairness, it may not respect peoples’ differences nor acknowledge a sometimes lack of understanding of LGBTI issues.

Ongoing education of all staff and volunteers is vital. We have run introductory staff education sessions in partnership with Transgender Victoria, senior staff have attended courses run by Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria and we are co-convenors of the LGBTI Inclusive Practice Forums in the Southern Region. We are now planning how to include LGBTI training across all our induction training and ongoing education strategy.

Real change is already underway. We are reviewing and updating all our documents to ensure they do not exclude people from the LGBTI community or leave them wondering “how do I answer this question?”. It’s also important to recognise that everyone’s family circumstances are unique. This means offering a wider variety of options people can identify with, or enable honest answers that help promote a more open conversation.

We know we can always do more. But as we continue to follow the core values of our organisation – respect, fairness, partnership, wisdom and stewardship – we can strive to offer open hearts and capable hands to older people from the LGBTI community.

John Clarke is director of mission at Uniting AgeWell.

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Tags: bay, bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria, John Clarke., la-trobe-university, lesbian, lgbti, LGBTI Inclusive Practice Forums, transgender and intersex, Transgender Victoria, Uniting AgeWell, uniting-church,

1 thought on “Gay-friendly aged care: A work in progress

  1. Another group being widely ignored in Aged Care are the men and women who are victims of violence abuse, trauma, who never tell, because they feel ashamed and terrified of what might happen if they did. Maybe it started in babyhood, or childhood or later, or all of those times.

    I am one of these, and have asked that male members of staff – PVAs mostly – to never enter my room alone. Especially at night. There is little change in rostering, and traumatised elders like me continue to relive their trauma. Nurses and managers minimise, toss complaints aside, tell victiims to get over it. You don’t “get over” trauma. You live with it, and expect so-called “carers” to understand, and care.

    What can you do for us – about a third of all people in aged care.

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