Diversity and inclusion are on centre stage this week at Sydney WorldPride and the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, but advocates want to see the same level of support and visibility for older LGBTI people.
While a lot has changed in the 45 years since the first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, – including the introduction of Marriage Equality – there is the occasional sense of negativity towards ageing and aged care for members of the LGBTI community.
But for Andrew Rogers, Lead Educator at Val’s LGBTI Ageing & Aged Care and passionate LGBTI activist, it’s time to put a positive spin on the narrative.
“We often see headlines that older LGBTI people are terrified about going into aged care,” said Mr Rogers.
“That’s wrong on so many accounts because it actually makes people even more afraid and so they don’t access the services they need.
“We need much more positive language and to change the narrative to say get help earlier, get the supports you need earlier, make sure that you remain connected to the community and that you remain active.
“Aged care is the end of the journey and there’s so much that can be done before then to make sure people remain healthy and active as they age.”
Mr Rogers, whose own life experiences as a gay man continue to inspire his advocacy – or agitation as he likes to say – said it’s essential that aged care service providers continue to recognise the needs of a diverse ageing population.
“In-home care, and participation in activities and programs, those things have to be supportive and inclusive for older LGBTI people,” said Mr Rogers.
“So many older people in the LGBTI community live alone and become disconnected from the community. There is a bit of a battle within the community to get people to understand that everybody needs to step up to support older people in our community.
“It shouldn’t be left to the older people themselves to be the ones agitating for change with service providers or councils.”
Mr Rogers added that genuine inclusion benefits everyone, regardless of their preferences or how they identify.
Those benefits also need to be easily accessible, according to Val’s LGBTI Ageing & Aged Care Co-ordinator, Pauline Crameri. She said that while it’s always beneficial to have special events like Mardi Gras or Pride Week that raise awareness, it’s an ongoing process to remove barriers for the public.
“Older LGBTI people need activities and safe services all year round,” said Ms Crameri.
“The focus is on now but we need to ensure there are ongoing actions.
“There is a multitude of different LGBTI experiences, histories and needs. We’re not talking about a community of people and identities that have the exact same needs, it does require a level of understanding and knowledge.”
Diversity in aged care has been under the spotlight for the better part of a decade thanks to the Aged Care (Living Longer Living Better) Act 2013 which saw LGBTI people included as a “special needs” group in the Aged Care Act.
Meanwhile, the Sex Discrimination Amendment ensured that Government-funded aged care providers had to provide non-discriminatory services.
Many providers do offer inclusive services for the LGBTI community and if you are someone looking for one, they can easily be found through the Rainbow Tick program.
Organisations such as Val’s are also continuously building the capacity of aged care service providers to deliver LGBTI-inclusive services that visibly support diversity.
As visibility remains an essential part of providing inclusive care, Mr Rogers hopes to see providers being proactive rather than reactive to a potential LGBTI resident or care recipient.
He said many older LGBTI people have past experiences that have impacted their willingness to come out, and entering a setting where other people may hold homophobic views could put them in an uncomfortable position.
“One of the challenges for us is that many older LGBTI people, with their history, do a risk assessment of service providers. Is it safe for me to come out or will I hide because that’s safe,” he said.
“You create the inclusive environment because people will recognise that you are inclusive and that will make them feel safe even if they don’t tell you.”
Ms Crameri also said that creating demand is one way to inspire organisations to change how they operate.
“It’s really important for people to look for service providers that are doing amazing [inclusive] work because there are some fantastic service providers who are leading the way,” she said.
“Change doesn’t happen overnight but for older LGBTI plus people, ask what service providers are doing to support their needs.”