Text last updated 19 January 2017
Links last updated 19 January 2017
James Estrin | New York Times | Undated | 14053
What this is about
Gay men, lesbians and trans people face additional discrimination and problems in retirement and old age.
Pick up any gay magazine and you would be forgiven for thinking that older gay men and lesbians did not exist. The commercial “gay scene” is focused on young and financially active people. There are many gay men and lesbians of all age groups in the gay community. Gay men and lesbians face additional discrimination and problems in retirement and old age, compared to heterosexual citizens. The focus on youth in mainstream gay society is so powerful that the main work in this field has been done by the charity Age UK which operates in the wider community and is trying to attract gay men and lesbians into its work and forums.
For many years the Gay Bereavement Project was the only project that helped bereaved gay and lesbian partners. It was founded by the late Dudley Cave to assist the many members of the gay community who met their partner during World War II, but who now had been bereaved, had never experienced the gay scene or gay community, and found themselves suddenly alone and unable to cope, back into society. The GBP’s concept of assigning a friend to each client was the model used by early HIV services who assigned a “buddy” to help clients cope with the many changes to their life.
The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing by the University College of London, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, NatCen Social Research and the University of Manchester, has followed the fortunes of 10,000 older people from all sections of the community for the last ten years. In October 2012 they reported that one in six people in England over the age of 50 is socially isolated, plays little part in cultural or civic life, and has abandoned socially oriented hobbies.
Single men were found to be the group most likely to live a solitary and cut-off life after the age of 50. The poorer someone is, the more likely they are to lose touch with their social network in older age. Social isolation among older people is more common in rural areas and poor access to transport was a major factor in cutting off older people from their friends and families. There are also concerns that the majority of older people may have nobody to quickly contact who they can trust in the case of a domestic or other emergency.
What are the additional problems faced by older gay men and lesbians?
They are more isolated in old age than heterosexual people of the same age. They meet more discrimination in housing, welfare, healthcare. They often have no relatives or friends to visit, support and help them, and are often not known to social services and other organizations.
Many gay and lesbian senior citizens did not take the risk of coming out to their families and friends and remain in the closet.
Gay men and lesbians who have been living in a committed relationship for many years and who are now ageing have not enjoyed the same rights given to heterosexual couples during the same time. Until recently their relationship was not recognized or valued legally, so they may have problems with pensions, life insurance, benefits and housing unless they have been able to register their partnership. If they have registered their partnership they will need to make new wills.
Even if there are family and friends, they may have difficulty accepting the relationship and lack awareness or a sense of knowing intuitively when and how to intrude and offer help. The total lack of acknowledgement of the relationship’s importance leads to problems at death and bereavement, and severe loneliness leading to depression for the surviving, isolated partner.
Living as a couple for many years without the benefits of marriage has left many older gay men and lesbians in financial difficulties, or dependent on their pension and any additional benefit. Many are struggling with household bills, household repairs, lack of access to transport and recreation facilities. Many are reluctant to approach organizations such as Meals on Wheels or attend day centres because they will feel out of place. They are more likely to be living in poverty or deprivation than other old people of the same age.
Stonewall conducted research amongst its supporters to discover what services and provision they required in old age. Unsurprisingly many replied that they would prefer to live somewhere safe among other gay men and lesbians so that they could enjoy their retirement without worry. There are currently few such facilities. Organisations have not begun to understand the needs let alone provide the services that older gay men and lesbians already need.
Further research by Stonewall and YouGov published in September 2011 revealed that there are a million lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Britain over the age of 55. Older gay and bisexual men are three times more likely to be single than heterosexual men.
Just over a quarter of gay and bisexual men and half of lesbian and bisexual women have children compared with almost nine in every ten straight men and women. They were less likely to see biological family members regularly; less than a quarter of LGB people see their biological family members at least once a week, compared with more than half of straight people.
LGBT people are consistently more anxious about growing older than straight people, are more likely to rely on formal support services as they get older, nearly twice as likely to rely on external services such as GPs and social services as heterosexual people. But many worried that the services would not meet their needs. Three in five are not confident that support services will meet their needs.
72% of LGB people said they were worried about the prospect of needing care later in life, compared with 62% of heterosexual people. Half said they were worried about housing compared with 39% of heterosexual people while 69% were worried about their health compared with 59% of heterosexual people. Their fears are compounded by their lifestyles. Gay people are far more likely to drink alcohol regularly, take drugs and have a history of mental health problems than heterosexual people.
In 2017 the Terrence Higgins Trust reported that six out of ten older people with HIV are living in poverty – double that seen in the general population; eight out of ten experienced moderate to high levels of loneliness – three times more than the general population; one in four respondents said they would have no one to help them if they ever needed support with daily tasks, and eight out of ten are concerned about whether they will be able to access adequate social care in the future.
Zoe Ryan | Guardian | undated | 14054
Recently there has been considerable research into older citizens generally in which they were asked themselves how they could avoid being abused or finding their rights compromised in care as they aged. Generally speaking as people get older they find that many of the important decisions about their lives and care are made for them by younger people who do not see the older people as being capable of making decisions, having their own plans and priorities, and needs. Researchers found that staying in their own homes, being mobile, with good access to public transport, and remaining in control of their money, enabled older people to continue to function fully in society as citizens in charge of their own affairs and making their own decisions.
The problems outlined above may be widespread. In December 2012 the Independent, quoting provisional figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, reported: “The number of reported cases of abuse against vulnerable adults has risen by 23 per cent in just one year… data from 99 councils in England show that the number of reported cases rose by 21,000 from 2010-11 and 2011-12. … Councils received 31,000 allegations about social care workers and 24,000 about family members … 60 per cent concerned (alleged abuse of) people aged 65 and over … vulnerable adults, described in the report as people who receive or may be in need of community care services because they are elderly or suffer mental illness, a disability or another illness were more likely to be abused in their own home…”
Further research published in September 2013 reveals that gay men and lesbians entering care homes are afraid to display photographs of their friends and partners of the same sex. The care sector’s increased reliance on foreign labour, including staff from strongly religious backgrounds, where homosexuality is taboo, is adding to difficulties for gay and lesbian people in care.
Horror stories are also being reported: one lesbian had to face carers praying for her because she is a lesbian, and another carer who refused to care for her. Gay men still face discrimination from medical professionals attending to them with religious views who pray for them or hand out religious leaflets.
Surviving gay partners also face discrimination after the death of their partner or husband. A joint report by campaign group Stonewall and the UK’s largest funeral director says it has uncovered poor treatment towards grieving members of the gay community, with family members and religious leaders most likely to discriminate against them in this situation. One in four of the 522 adults surveyed by YouGov said they expect to face barriers when planning a funeral, with almost a quarter worried about being treated poorly by a funeral director when arranging a funeral. Two out of five feared the reaction they would get from religious leaders or officials while one in five worried about discrimination from family members.
George Tinning, managing director of Co-operative Funeralcare, said: “… The death of a loved one can be deeply distressing but at a time when people should expect sympathy and understanding, many gay people have faced poor treatment which is simply unacceptable.”
Gay couples are strongly recommended to have Wills and Advance Directives drawn up with the aid of a solicitor. It is not as expensive as you might imagine, since many Solicitors do this work for a reasonable fee. On 1 October 2014, the laws surrounding intestacy (who gets what when a person dies without a Will) were changed. The only way to make sure the people you love get the things you want them to when you die, is to make a Will.
Billy Jones-Hennin and his partner Christopher Hennin | Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post, undated | 14055
The way forward
Age UK and Stonewall Housing are working on a joint piece of work – developing a national LGBT charter mark for housing providers and other service providers.
Meanwhile, we can all help to end the discrimination and isolation of senior citizens in our community. We can do this by:
valuing the partners contribution to the relationship;
not making assumptions that the person has lost only one life partner;
fighting isolation and prejudice;
providing the couple with information and help as needed;
ensuring the couple are receiving their full entitlement of rights and benefits of society;
including older gay people in groups within wider society;
being aware of older LGBTI people within our communities, accepting them as neighbours, with their consent befriending them and looking out for their safety and security;
involving the gay community in the design, redesign and modernisation of care facilities and services;
having a greater understanding of the needs of all older members of society, gay and straight, so that their care is relevant, appropriate and affirming;
helping older gay men and lesbians re-integrate into the wider society as they wish to enable better understanding of their needs and improve appropriate services and facilities;
building community relationships between care facilities and services and the older LGBTI community;
ensuring staff working in gay businesses are aware of the needs of older customers and provide appropriate levels of supervision and care of them while they are on the premises.
This charity has published advice for those experiencing problems caused by the lack of legal recognition of relationships. The charity provides a number of valuable guides online for those in later life and those keen to plan, as well as those providing support and advisory services.
Alzheimers LGBT Support Group
The Alzheimers Society’s LGBT Support Group provides help and information to gay and lesbian persons who find themselves carers, and for other persons to have to care for gay men and lesbians. You can speak to a gay or lesbian person for advice.
Ageing Issues Network, US
The Lesbian and Gay Aging Issues Network of the American Society on Aging has good articles.
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, US
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (USA) began their initiative of research and education on gay and lesbian aging issues in 2000.
The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 came into effect in Autumn 2006.
Acts of Parliament
The Guardian, 11 Sep 2011:Gay people ‘at risk of a lonelier old age’
Psychology Today, 2 April 2012: Gay Men and Aging: Finding Your Purpose
Guardian, 16 Sept 2013: Older gay people still experience prejudice from care staff
Washington Post, 5 Oct 2013: Gay men, lesbians struggle to find caregivers and old-age facilities that don’t discriminate
BBC, 19 Mar 2014: The growth of gay retirement homes
Guardian, 19 July 2014: Gay people face discrimination when arranging funerals
Slate, 11 December 2015: Yet Another Problem for Older Gay Men: “Internalized Gay Ageism”
Metro, 19 January 2017: What does the future hold for people growing old and living with HIV?