LGBT+ Later Living – Building Communities

Sue Rugg
Our industry is beginning to consider the needs of people within the LGBT+ community when designing and delivering services.

The later living demographic has traditionally all too often been treated as a single homogenous group. Historically the services provided to people within the later stages of their life, has largely focused on different levels of care needs, with no consideration given to protected characteristics, i.e. sex or sexual orientation. However, there is growing awareness that provision must reflect today’s communities and cater for the fullest expression of diversity, encompassing minority and marginalised groups who may be subject to discrimination.

To date there has been a lack of provision for, or even research into, the housing and care wants and needs of elderly people within the LGBT+ community. LGBT+ is an initialism for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. This acronym is often used as a blanket term to refer to the queer community. It has since grown to LGBTTQQIAAP, to encompass numerous other sexual and gender identities. Stonewall Housing set out to change this with their national older LGBT housing group. Stonewall is a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights charity in the United Kingdom, named after the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City's Greenwich Village.

Research conducted by Stonewall found that over half of all LGB people over 55 felt that their sexual orientation has, or will have, a negative impact on getting older[1]. It should be noted here that at the time of the research the same question was not posed to the trans community, hence the omission of the 'T'. The findings further highlighted that over half of the elderly LGB people feel isolated or lonely because of their sexuality, and many were fearful of discrimination.

Successive studies have shown that people who identify as LGB often have poor experiences of health care, experiencing health inequalities, discrimination, and the assumption they are heterosexual. Assuming sexual orientation can be very damaging, with Stonewall research finding that three in five older people within the LGB community were not confident that social care and support services, such as paid carers or housing services, would be able to understand and meet their needs[2].

Subsequent research carried out by LGBT Foundation found that very few trans people surveyed had made plans for their care in times of serious illness or old age, and there were common concerns about not being able to access appropriate trans-friendly care[3]. Trans is an umbrella term to describe people whose gender is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth. Participants stated their housing priorities were safety, location, privacy, affordability and whether the area was trans-friendly. A quality assurance scheme for housing services was suggested, which would give service users confidence that the service was trans-inclusive.

The needs of these communities can often be hidden. Elderly people within the LGBT+ community have grown up in a world hostile to their identities, and the impact of discrimination can lead to an increased reliance on services, isolation from family and society, and a need to renegotiate their identities within the wider (often youth-oriented) LGBT+ community as they age. Many have built strong social bonds within their communities, often forming families of choice, and would appreciate later living housing arrangements that encourage this support to continue at a time in their lives of increased vulnerability.

Individuals may or may not be living as their authentic selves, as they seek to use care homes. It is estimated there are approximately one million LGBT+ people in Britain over the age of 55 and research has shown that many people living in care homes feel they have to return ‘to the closet’ after being ‘out’ most of their lives due to fear of prejudice and discrimination. Forty-five per cent of older LGBT+ people have experienced discrimination when accessing social services and 73 per cent are uncomfortable disclosing their sexuality to care staff[4].

Encouragingly this is a topic we are starting to hear more about, from industry bodies. It also forms part of the social inclusion agenda, where there is again more research appearing. The University of Bristol is spearheading Project Dice, which explores the social inclusion of older people from socially diverse backgrounds in housing with care and support (HCS) schemes in England and Wales. As well as LGBT identities, this study will focus on people with physical and learning disabilities, black and ethnic minority people, and people who are members of different religions. 

Hopefully we will see commissioners increase their support, and look to invest in new and innovative solutions to meeting the specific needs of these communities. It should be remembered that this is not a ‘nice to have’—the Equality Act 2010 and the public sector equality duty requires all public sector bodies to pay due regard to the needs of all protected identities, inclusive of sex and sexual orientation in designing and delivering services.

Faithful+Gould has over 20 years’ experience in the extra care/independent living sphere, delivering both public and private sector projects. We have learned how important it is to engage with the relevant community, to understand the ethos behind an individual scheme, and to collaborate with all stakeholders to deliver the aims. We have worked with different communities on schemes in the pre-contract phase, to develop the right scheme for the right location, and we are working alongside Housing LIN to ensure that the latest research into diverse housing needs is embodied in every project.

[1] Guasp, April. ‘Lesbian, Gay & Bisexual People in Later Life’. Stonewall, 2011. (This early research did not include the trans community).

[2] Guasp, April. ‘Lesbian, Gay & Bisexual People in Later Life’. Stonewall, 2011.

[3] 2016, Research Study into the Trans Population of Manchester, Manchester City Council, & LGBT Foundation.

[4] Care Home News, April 2018.

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