By Yasmin Noone

The Gillard Government has announced plans to develop a national aged care strategy for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI)community to support the implementation of the Living Longer. Living Better aged care reform package.

The news follows on from an April 2012-move by the federal government to include LGBTI people as a special needs group under the Aged Care Act, and an earlier $2.5m Commonwealth cash injection into LGBTI training for the aged care workforce, streamed over five years.

The Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, said the recent LGBTI strategy announcement is the result of consultations with advocacy groups like the ACON Health Ltd, the National LGBTI Health Alliance and the GLBTI Retirement Association; and is based on advice from Productivity Commission’s (PC) Caring for Older Australians inquiry.

“We are predicting a large increase in the demand for aged care by this group,” Mr Butler said.

“And there is a broad community consensus that it is important to recognise people who are LGBTI in the same way as we recognise the needs of other diverse groups such as people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

“Ultimately it’s about recognising difference and ensuring equality.

“…The National LGBTI Aged Care Strategy will provide direction for providers and better articulate and coordinate our aims.”

The National LGBTI Health Alliance has welcomed the announcement, which is believes is also the product of endless campaigning.

“The plan will provide a focus to ensure that older LGBTI Australians are able to participate in aged care services, in the same way as other Australians,” said LGBTI Health Alliance’s acting chair, Susan Ditter.

“..I want to thank the various people in the National LGBTI Health Alliance and our communities, including those within the aged care industry who have advocated for this reform over a long period of time.”

Ms Ditter said that many older LGBTI people had experienced stigma and discrimination, with gay men living through the time when their sexual activities were criminalized.

“To be successful the plan will need to ensure that transgender, intersex and bisexual and gay and lesbian elders are consulted on the main directions for the plan.

“It will also need wider consultation and review mechanisms to ensure that strategies are being effectively implemented.”

The NSW-based GLBT health organisation, ACON, estimates that about 70,000 GLBT people over the age 55 live in NSW with many living in fear of discrimination from aged care providers, staff and residents.

“It’s our experience that service providers, including religious providers, are committed to sensitive and non-discriminatory service provision,” acting ACON CEO, Geoff Honnor, said. 

“However, given the history of some religious organisations’ statements on homosexuality, GLBT seniors are understandably anxious about how they will be treated.

 “Along with a range of other stakeholders, we have been advocating for many years for a national strategy that delivers for GLBT seniors the same rights to privacy, dignity and culturally appropriate services as all other Australians and we congratulate the government and Minister Butler on committing to this important initiative.

“We now look forward to working with the government and our partners in the aged care sector to develop this ground breaking plan.”

National general manager of the Alliance, Warrant Talbot, said the government has also been and will continue to work very close with his group to develop the strategy’s details.

“We are looking for the strategy to contain some overall goals, a statement of guiding principles around LGBTI access and equality, and some specific goals that can be achieved in then next three-year period,” Mr Talbot said.

“We would be expecting the strategy to be a useful document that Department of Health and Ageing [staff] can use, for example, when assessing flexible funding for diversity projects so when it comes to assessing those packages, they have a useful document to assist and guide them.”

A steering committee comprising relevant stakeholder representatives will guide the development of the strategy, which will begin with a broad-ranging community consultation throughout the country. Written submissions will also be accepted by the committee.

Once consultations are complete, the committee (which includes the Alliance and ACON), will provide DoHA with a consultation report by late-November. This document will inform the government’s final aged care strategy. 

Minister Butler’s office has confirmed that they will respond to the consultation report and issue the complete LGBTI aged care strategy by the end of 2012.

“It’s not meant to be a drawn out process,” said Mr Talbot.

“…My feeling is that the minister is taking this matter very seriously. He is quite engaged in the issues – he came to our national roundtable last October and then had meetings with Alliance office bearers and staff in June to talk this through.”

Minister Butler is a “cabinet minister who takes the responsibility to work and consult on LGBTI issues very seriously”.

People can register their interest and be kept informed about the consultation process by emailing ACON at ageing@acon.org.au 
 

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