Yesterday Tina Wathern from Stonewall Housing gave a really interesting presentation at a group at our partners, the Metro centre, about the housing needs for older LGBT people. What became quickly apparent was that this is an issue that many of us, gay or straight, haven’t considered before. One of the issues raised was that many elderly people are choosing to go into sheltered accommodation and for LGBT people this can mean going back into the closet. There is often uncertainty about whether sexuality or gender identity can be expressed openly and whether gendered and sexualised identities will be treated respectfully. Many elderly LGBT people going into sheltered accommodation worry about how staff and other residents will react if they are open about being L, G, B or T and sometimes hiding this part of our identity can be the easiest option.
What’s odd is that there is virtually no research on the topic and often little recognition of the needs of older LGBT people. One exception is the Older LGBT people’s housing group at Stonewall Housing which aims to allow older LGBT people to share their experiences about housing, care and support services and shape ideas about how these can be improved in the future. The goal is to help influence future policy and services. This work is important as it can empower older LGBT people to express their sexuality and gender identity as they choose and to feel comfortable discussing these issues and knowing that the reaction is going to be non-judgemental and respectful. This helps reduce feelings of isolation, frustration and loneliness that being closeted can bring, especially if the person was ‘out’ before going into sheltered accommodation see (See International Longevity Centre policy brief). One interviewee in a recent article by Inside Housing talked of feeling like she had a ‘split personality’ after moving into sheltered accommodation as she felt she couldn’t disclose her sexuality.
It is clear that some elderly LGBT people do have positive experiences in sheltered accommodation, though. One example given at the presentation was one house in Manchester which placed small Rainbow stickers in the windows. This allowed LGBT people visiting looking for accommodation to identify the accommodation as gay-friendly and, once moved in, often served as an enabler to bring up topics around sexuality and gender identity. Other visible cues that can make a big difference to the lives of older LGBT people in sheltered accommodation are things like posters that explicitly state discrimination of sexuality and gender identity is not tolerated and displaying leaflets for LGBT support services such as counselling and helplines. Another issue is the training of staff to avoid making presumptions about sexuality or gender (such as assuming a frequent same-sex visitor, for example, is a friend rather than a partner), to increase their awareness of LGBT issues and even just making staff aware that it is likely that some of the residents will identity as L, G, B or T. Making these changes can be very liberating for elder LGBT individuals and this was illustrated in a recent Dutch film called ‘Pink Sunset Villa: A Home for Gay and Lesbian Elders’. One of an increasing number of LGBT sheltered accommodation in Europe, the Pink Sunset Villa’ is popular with residents who speak of the importance of being able to be themselves as an elderly LGBT person. In the film one resident exclaims ‘I’m homosexual and I’m going to live my last days that way!’. It’s just a shame that this type of accommodation is few and far between in the UK, maybe housing for the elderly can benefit from learning from this case and going Dutch?
GMI partnership provide free HIV prevention services for gay and bisexual men and the trans community in London. All our services are friendly, non-judgemental and respectful for GBT individuals of all ages. For more info contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
The views above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent GMI Partnership.