A trans woman in a long-term care facility was being bathed by her nurse. When the nurse discovered the woman had a penis she called all the other nurses in to “see the freak.”
The story, related by a personal care worker, is just one of many that Dick Moore has heard through his work as the coordinator of the Older LGBTT Program at the 519 Community Centre.
“Being forced back in the closet by institutions that provide care, by residents of those institutions and their families, is not acceptable,” says Moore.
Moore is the coordinator of the new project Speaking Out with Pride which will train seniors to share their personal stories in the hopes of offering service providers a direct understanding of the issues faced by those who depend on their services.
“It’s about time queer seniors had a voice,” says Moore.
Moore has been training service providers in long-term care facilities and with agencies that provide home support services to seniors since 2004. The roster of speakers trained through Speaking Out with Pride will accompany him to classrooms and conferences.
“I want the older LGBTT community to have spokespersons from among its own ranks, people willing and able to tell their stories with pride and perhaps able to speak up on other community issues,” says Moore.
“We’re looking to not have them reexperience their oppression in telling the story but to think about the skills and strengths they have developed,” he adds.
The 519 has received $25,000 from the federal New Horizons for Seniors Program to recruit and train a group of 10 to 15 older queers to form Speaking Out with Pride. Moore, who is currently recruiting and screening applicants, says the program will aim to include equal numbers of men and women and be diverse in terms of race and sexual orientation, among other things.
Moore points to studies that indicate older queer adults face discrimination in both housing and healthcare, including a McGill University study released in 2006, titled The Health and Social Service Needs of Gay and Lesbian Seniors and their Families, that interviewed 38 older queers, 21 caregivers and 31 healthcare providers in Montreal, Vancouver and Nova Scotia. The study found that the stories of discrimina-tion were similar all across the country.
“Gay and lesbian people of all ages (but especially those who are now 60 years of age and older and who lived their young adult lives at a time of great hostility toward gay and lesbian people), have expe-rienced a variety of discriminatory attitudes and practices in the healthcare system which have contributed to their reluctance to reveal their identities, voice their concerns to healthcare practitioners and use healthcare services,” the McGill study states. “What results is a lack of recognition of gay and lesbian seniors and their caregivers and a system that is unprepared to their unique needs and realities.”
“A home should be a safe place that is comfortable and congenial,” says Moore. “If you require personal and/or nursing care from the folks who work at the place you call home, you may be even more at more risk of discrimination. If someone experiences or even fears discrimination his or her capacity to adjust to a new environment is compromised, self-esteem suffers and health is negatively affected.”