3 min

Thinking outside the boomer box

Work for queer-friendly seniors services while you've got the energy

What an impact you’ve had on society, baby boomers! Sheer numbers have guaranteed that your demands were always heard as you crammed your way through various decades. The rest of us have been swept up in your needs, and we’ve all benefited. Well, most of us, anyway.

There’s a group that could benefit a lot right now by having you throw your weight behind them, boomers. I’m referring to those folks who were fighting in the homophobic trenches long before you came on the scene.

Back then, they had all kinds of ways of coping. Those who were closeted paid the price mentally. Those who were out often paid a horrific price in physical violence. Those who were early activists — out, proud and fighting for their rights — did so at the risk of losing friends, family, their jobs and a lot more. They all paid for the benefits we have today.

The problem is, boomers, these same folks are seniors now, seniors who aren’t benefiting from the changes with which you and I are blessed. Except for a few progressive long-term care facilities and community care services here in Toronto, queer seniors are forced to continue dealing with the same homophobia that they’ve always experienced — crap we wouldn’t put up with for one moment.

Those queer seniors living in long-term care facilities are often surrounded by the same homophobes they’ve been dealing with all their lives — their fellow residents. But whereas before they had options for avoiding them, they no longer have the same freedom to choose their companions. In fact, they may even have to share a room with one or two. Can you imagine?

If they’d been out of the closet, many have jumped right back in. Wouldn’t you? If they’ve never been out, chances are that now they never will. Oh, they might see what gay life could be like on TV and dream about what might have been, but that’ll be their limit.

Why don’t seniors do something themselves to improve their lives? Well, many are just too physically or mentally frail. They’re ill and they’re focussing on surviving whatever time they have left as best they can. Second, they’re tired of fighting, especially against a healthcare system that has a huge amount of control over their lives, a system that can make life miserable for “difficult” patients. In short, they’re afraid and they’re burned out.

It seems to me that many queers are in denial about aging but, let me assure you, no amount of anti-aging cream’s going to help when you hit the healthcare wall, and although many progressive researchers and healthcare workers know full well the extent of homophobia in retirement facilities, many seem to have thrown up their hands, hoping that the situation will have changed by the time they’re thrown into a home in their dotage.

This is where you come in, boomers. Queer and trans seniors aren’t a priority right now. But if you start clamouring things will start to change.

Let me put it this way: If the system’s not fixed by the time you get there you’ll be in the same boat. You won’t like it one bit, but, just like our current seniors, you probably won’t be able to do a darned thing about it.

In typical boomer fashion, you’ll want the community and long-term care systems to be well-oiled. Then make improving the system a priority now, while you’ve got the energy. Perhaps you were hoping to retire to some ideal little country hideaway? The situation is even further behind outside of Toronto, and may never change if you don’t start working now.

What’s needed most right now is sensitivity training for staff dealing with queer seniors — from management to maintenance staff — and designated beds for queer seniors in all long-term care facilities. Here’s what you can do to make it happen: Call, write or e-mail Ontario’s Minister Of Health George Smitherman and your local MPPs. They’re the people with the power to make queer seniors a priority, but only if enough of us make the effort to let them know that’s what we want.

Able to do more? Great. Join the Senior Pride Network, a group of seniors and allies advocating for change. Individual members are needed to provide education to healthcare professionals and advise organizations on antihomophobic strategies and queer-friendly appropriate policies and procedures. Don’t wait. Your golden years are depending on it.