Un­der­stand­ing the chal­lenges of gay and les­bian se­niors

Sackville Tribune - - COMMUNITY - Pa­tri­cia Har­ring­ton Aging Well Pa­tri­cia Har­ring­ton is ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor at West­ford Nurs­ing Home in Port El­gin. She be­lieves it is im­por­tant to share in­for­ma­tion on ev­ery­day con­cerns as we age and en­joys pro­mot­ing these im­por­tant as­pects that will help

I re­cently read a news story from On­tario about gay and trans­gen­der se­niors be­ing afraid of be­ing ad­mit­ted to long-term care.

Peo­ple shared their sto­ries of be­ing mis­treated through­out their lives and said they were afraid it would start all over again if they went to live in a nurs­ing home - it was a very sad story. One man shared how through his en­tire high school years, grades seven to 12, he ate lunch all alone and was ig­nored, so he was afraid that would hap­pen to him again.

I had the op­por­tu­nity to see the film ‘Gen­si­lent’ a few years ago and although I had al­ready viewed it through a work event, when I saw it for the sec­ond time I got even more out of it. This hour-long video is a doc­u­men­tary that fol­lows the lives of a few peo­ple over a pe­riod of about a year. The sto­ries are filled with de­ter­mi­na­tion, love, com­pas­sion and car­ing; peo­ple share their his­tory, their lives, their loves and how they coped in the face of chal­lenges that made their past bat­tles seem triv­ial.

These peo­ple were aging, some not as well as oth­ers. In one in­stance a cou­ple was very re­luc­tantly sep­a­rated af­ter one had cared for the other for more than 40 years in the home they shared. When more in-depth care was needed he moved into long-term care and he was pro­vided with ex­cel­lent care and love un­til the end, all the while be­ing vis­ited reg­u­larly by his part­ner. The movie shared in­ter­views with how these two peo­ple re­mained a cou­ple, de­spite liv­ing in dif­fer­ent homes. The dif­fi­cul­ties were shared and the raw emo­tions were ex­posed.

An­other cou­ple re­ceived home care twice as one be­came ill af­ter tak­ing care of the other. Again, the chal­lenges and bless­ings were shared with love and com­pas­sion. This story showed just how im­por­tant a care­giver who is truly open and re­spect­ful can make a true dif­fer­ence in the life of a per­son re­quir­ing care.

A third cou­ple shared how they pre­pared their home in or­der to ac­com­mo­date them both as they aged. They were de­ter­mined to never need to move away from their beloved home, pets, neigh­bours and friends and their com­mu­nity was essen­tial to their aging well. These two women had won­der­ful hu­mour and de­ter­mi­na­tion that I hope re­sulted in them liv­ing to the end as they chose.

Along with deal­ing with old age and ill­nesses, each of these cou­ples has some­thing else in com­mon – they are gay. These se­niors had lived through ear­lier times when be­ing gay was against the law. Even though they were law abid­ing, hard work­ing, con­tribut­ing mem­bers of so­ci­ety, their love and devo­tion was not rec­og­nized as be­ing ac­cept­able.

The last in­di­vid­ual whose story was shared was a per­son who was very chal­lenged with a crit­i­cal con­di­tion and a lack of sup­port around her. She was fiercely in­de­pen­dent and re­mained at home while us­ing oxy­gen for as long as she could without help, and then she had vol­un­teers rally around her so she could go back home as her con­di­tion got bet­ter and then wors­ened again. This woman was trans­gen­dered (a per­son who is bi­o­log­i­cally seen as one sex, but feels their true self is the op­po­site sex) and she had lived an un­happy life un­til she fi­nally ac­cepted who she re­ally was. Still, as a par­ent, a friend and a vet­eran she was iso­lated from those who meant the most to her be­cause of who she was.

This film is ac­cu­rately ti­tled as these peo­ple lived dur­ing a time when they were silent about who they were and who they loved, solely be­cause of fear – fear they would be harmed, fear they would be re­jected and fear they would be ar­rested.

As we care for our gay, les­bian, bi­sex­ual, trans­gen­dered and in­ter­sex (GLBTI) se­niors we need to be sure that they know that they are re­spected and cared for. This film is one of the many tools avail­able to help care providers to bet­ter un­der­stand more about their com­mu­nity and the diver­sity within that com­mu­nity. The im­por­tance of openly ad­vo­cat­ing for full and equal in­clu­sion of the gay, les­bian, bi­sex­ual, trans­gen­der and in­ter­sex se­niors is ob­vi­ous to many mem­bers of our so­ci­ety and through ed­u­ca­tion, I can only hope it be­comes un­der­stand­able and ac­cept­able to ev­ery­one.

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