The drive for better care for older LGBT people: ‘I won’t put up with prejudice’

Here’s what the care homes of the future should look like | Paul Burstow

“When I reach the time of going into a care home, I need to know that all the staff and residents know about my partner, Ann, and my entire life history,” says the 72-year-old. “I’m not going to put up with any kind of prejudice or discrimination, and I’m not prepared to wait 10 or 20 years [until] the younger generation, which is far more open-minded, is older.”

The first generation to have lived their whole adult lives after the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967 are now reaching their later years. The chances are that every facility is home to someone who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), but as the subject is still taboo among many older people, care staff are not always aware.

“There’s a great deal of silence because LGBT folk tend to go back into the closet when they are in need of care,” says Lister. “They grew up in an era when to be LGBT was either criminal or sinful. If any staff have particular [anti-LGBT] faith or cultural beliefs that might impinge upon their care, they don’t want to risk that – or saying anything to their peers. It’s as if they’re wearing a paper bag over their head that masks their true identity … and it’s oppressive because they’re not being treated as a whole human being.”

To address the lack of diversity awareness in care, Lister and three colleagues have taken a training play into homes and conferences since 2015. In Free to Be Me, Lister and her partner, Ann Murray, Kevin Sell (a gay man in his 50s) and Lisa Kelly (a trans woman in her 40s) explain why a care home must be LGBT-friendly, share their experiences and answer questions from staff.

The training ends with staff being asked how they will put what they’ve learned into practice.

Simple changes often make all the difference, says Roger Jones, executive director of older people’s services at Age Concern Central Lancashire. “Instead of asking a male resident ‘What’s your wife’s name?’, we should ask ‘Who’s the most important person in your life?’ or ‘Do you have a partner?’”

Most people’s care is found by their children or family, but as an estimated 90% of LGBT people do not have children, it is crucial that social care staff can act as their advocates, says Kirsty Woodard, founder of Ageing Without Children.