One less thing for gay seniors to worry about

Brian Hodder
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Next year I will be turning 50, and like many others in this age group, I am beginning to think about what awaits me down the road as I get older.

While looking forward to enjoying my retirement, the time will eventually come when I or both of us will need the services of a retirement home as our health declines.

I am hoping that by the time this comes, services will have advanced so that my sexual orientation or the gender of my spouse will have no impact on what services will be available to me.

This is not necessarily the case for same-sex couples and individuals who are needing these types of services now, and much depends upon where in the country one lives.

While there is a great level of acceptance generally in Canadian society for gay and lesbian equality, those who are present in retirement homes today grew up in a time when such things were not necessarily accepted.

Consequently, they are less likely to be supportive of open acceptance for gay and lesbian seniors who may be sharing the same facilities with them.

This can be especially devastating for gay and lesbian seniors who spent years fighting for their rights, have been living their lives openly in their own homes and are then forced back into the closet when they are forced into the need for advanced care due to failing health or the inability to maintain their homes physically.

Even in larger urban centres such as Toronto, there are struggles accommodating the needs of aging gay and lesbian citizens.

There are a number of facilities within the city that have been designated as gay and lesbian friendly and have developed training for staff around these needs and have policies that ensure inclusiveness.

In some of these, a certain number of beds have been designated for gay or lesbian couples or individuals and this is a positive sign. However, this is only a drop in the bucket.

The fact remains that a very large number of gays and lesbians do not live in large urban areas and must rely on facilities nearer to their homes.

This is especially true here in Newfoundland, where we have an aging population overall, especially in the rural areas of the province. On top of the aging demographic in this province, there is a tradition of senior or retirement homes being run by religious groups which can further complicate how gay and lesbian seniors are accepted.

While I am not saying that religious-run homes are automatically going to be discriminatory, there is a clear lack of acceptance for gays and lesbians inherent in the beliefs of some of them — something of which gay and lesbian seniors are all too aware.

This is a very vulnerable group, and they often do not have any say into which facility they are placed, even assuming that there is more than one choice available for them in the first place.

While this is true for all seniors, heterosexual seniors do not have to be concerned about being treated in a discriminatory manner, nor is it usually a worry for a straight couple to share a room — and bed — in said retirement home.

There is no simple answer to this problem and it appears that there has not been a great deal of thought given to it by government planners and funders.

While I don’t have all the answers, I do believe that a good beginning would be to require all facilities that deal with seniors to develop written policies that ensure that gay and lesbian seniors and same-sex couples are treated equally and have equal access to services.

This policy needs to be communicated clearly to all staff working there, and it would also be helpful if it is made clear — to all present residents and all who then apply — that the facility welcomes all people regardless of sexual orientation.

Any facility that receives public funding should be required to have these policies in place now, instead of waiting for the influx of same-sex married couples who will be needing these services in the future.

I will be one of them, and I should not have to worry about any type of discrimination when it comes time for me to go to “a home.”

Brian Hodder is a past-chairman of Newfoundland Gays and Lesbians for Equality.

Organizations: Newfoundland Gays

Geographic location: Toronto, Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Red Herring
    May 24, 2014 - 07:24

    This is not an issue of regulations or policies. It is more of how fellow residents view each other, and like any large group setting there are going to be cliques. If anything, the sytem's rules favour same-sex couples as nursing home units are segregated with men in one and women in another. In the current system it would be easy to accodomate a same-sex couple while an opposite-sex couple looking to share a room would be a harder request to fill.