We are now only beginning to learn about the needs and life stories of older LGBT people, and more needs to be known about those who are very old. They have grown up in a different world with the experiences of criminality and shock treatment or electrical aversion therapy, for example. They are the first generation that exists where many are out and proud publicly and have fought for the rights that the LGBT communities benefit from today. Yet they face enormous ageism within their own community with a commercial, social and dating scene that is focused on youth, or where they do not feel an attachment to some sections (such as bear or leather groups) which are seen to be more inclusive of older people . More also needs to be learned about older people living with HIV, older LGBT people of colour, and older trans or non-binary people.
The flipside to Pride, fun and rainbow flags is the hate crime, murders and beatings that continue. There are reports of older LGBT people in care homes being prayed over for their deliverance. And while there is more training available for care staff it can take years to embed that knowledge, and homophobia, biphobia and transphobia remain because attitudes are hard to change.
For some people, the culture of silence around LGBT identities or heteronormative attitudes can be just as suppressing as open hatred. The level of isolation and the loss of sense of community as LGBT people grow older (with friends gone and an often-unwelcoming scene) is incredible. When people retire, they no longer have their work connections and if they have no family then they can become isolated so quickly. Social isolation has been shown to have the same negative health impact as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Lack of Choice
It has been assumed that one size will fit all when it comes to housing for older people, with no acceptance of diversity or difference. For older LGBT people in the UK, the only choice is general housing with its heteronormative culture and with people who may have prejudiced views. For many it is scary and leads to further isolation, with people going back into the closet and where partners are mis-identified as friends.
"people are going into institutions and not being their true selves…I can’t think of anything more cruel"
Older LGBT people are still asking "what will become of me?" Some are moving abroad to LGBT-specific accommodation because there is nothing specifically for them in the UK.
But there is growing optimism. There is more awareness and visibility now and more groups for older LGBT people to join. People want to talk about their lives and experiences. They want to celebrate their age. Older LGBT people should be able to look forward and make plans for the future "with our tribe or family". The LGBT-affirmative Extra Care Scheme in Manchester will seek to do just that. This is explored further under theme four.