Back in the Closet. Is it the Best Option for Queer Seniors?

As the first “out” generation reaches the “elder care” years we’re seeing how important it is for them to be in gay friendly environments. I’ve read a couple of articles about older gay men going back into the closet as they face the less than queer friendly care environments. We’ll be exploring that for this month’s post.

Systemic Homophobia

While systemic homophobia is something that isn’t as bad as it used to be, gay seniors face discrimination by medical professionals, and nursing home staff because of their sexuality. It isn’t always overt judgment. Sometimes the difficulties are simply that people assume. that everyone is straight.

Queer elders are often asked questions about opposite sex spouses or children and feel that they are forced into an uncomfortable position of having to come out to complete strangers. Given what many of our elders have faced it isn’t surprising that many aren’t ready to be as open as they may be with people in their circle. The closet seems like a safe and familiar place to retreat to.

Dealing with Peers

Dealing with their peers is these environments can also be challenging. I’m not so sure how open and accepting my elderly parents would be of gay people if they didn’t have a gay son. Many queer seniors report being dealt with harshly by other residents at nursing homes and care facilities. One man explained his fear of coming out to a new room mate. He was concerned that the man would judge him and news of his orientation would be gossiped about.

What About Couples?

Despite marriage equality gay couples also face discrimination when moving into care facilities together. Intake staff may assume that they are fiends so set up separate sleeping arrangements, forcing them to to come out or put themselves back in the closet and pretend to be roommates. It’s important to remember that some of these partnerships have lasted decades.

In a survey conducted by The National Resource Center on LGBT Aging it was reported that only 22% of respondents felt they could be open, 90% predicted issues, and 43% had experienced discrimination. A sad reminder of how far our society has to go until we are truly equal.

Gay Seniors' Concerns

In addition, queer elders have concerns about how they will manage as their health declines. Huffington Post lists the following six common concerns:

No kids to help with care.

Even less money for retirement that their straight counterparts.

A higher likelihood of being alone.

Peer to peer and systemic discrimination

Housing discrimination that could force them into the closet

Lack of HIV care and mental health care.

Dealing with the impact of HIV is of particular concern care, as well as help dealing with trauma of so much loss is challenging. We are being pushed into a system that has few resources to help us cope.

Hope for the Future

There are some hopeful things happening. There are LGBTQI retirement communities and nursing homes in major urban centers. Another, lovely, example is the “Coming Back Out Ball” organized by Tristan Meecham in Melbourne Australia. It is deigned to give elder queer people an opportunity to gather and shine in a safe environment.

Many of us may not be there yet but it’s time for us to honor our elders as well as secure a brighter future for ourselves. It’s time to support more queer positive and inclusive spaces for older people. as well as educating the professionals who serve our aging community.

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