Our elderly population, those most vulnerable, in the care of others or isolated own their own, those who we should be thinking most of, are all too easily forgotten.
The Big Issue ran an interesting article in an issue published two weeks ago on the theme of loneliness in our older community written by Age UK’s Caroline Abrahams. As I read it on the train my eyes guiltily wandered around the carriage to at least two individuals that were certainly over sixty and sat on their own. I sat and thought about my own elderly relatives, whom of which I knew certainly one must be very accustomed to travelling on public transport on her own, my head drooped. It was not that I had forgotten that she lived on her own but more that I hadn’t considered the social implications of this. My attention turned shortly after this to more ‘relatives’, further family, our LGBT community in the UK. Of course it’s status as a family or community can be up for debate. I was thinking of our elderly LGBT community. Yes, that’s right, they do actually exist, regardless of whatever Mr Nigel Farage seems to think on the matter as he makes sweeping statements about age and sexuality.
Of course loneliness is an issue for our older community in the UK but I tried for a moment to think of the social problems even beyond this that affected the elderly who also defined as LGBT. The issue of older LGBT individuals returning to the closet once dependent on carers, care homes or even close relatives is not discussed nearly enough. However, what is discussed even less is what is to be done about it. What are the obstacles preventing older LGBT individuals to come out to their carers and in their care homes and what can be done to overcome these? Why are we failing them so much?
The fear of rejection, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are all extremely real issues for older LGBT individuals especially when the environment in which they are living does not allow them to escape it, they are left vulnerable to its effects. Whilst these issues of dependence and discrimination are still very real in the homes of young LGBT individuals it is all too easy to find that mainstream awareness campaigns revolve around tackling discrimination with their effectiveness measured by the improvement in the lives of our young people and particularly centred around school.
Sitting on that train I concluded that our ongoing struggles with LGBT rights seem to look back retrospectively to the younger generation, as we compare their experiences to ours. As we move further down the track of our life we turn our head back and compare, there are also moments that we turn our heads forward and keep a keen eye on our future and the state of the destination we are headed to. We are interested in generally ‘improving’ the younger generation’s experience and we are guilty of being wrapped up looking forward into our futures. I use ‘our’ to refer to what you would call ‘young people’, people in their twenties and thirties. The people typically who seem themselves as, and understand themselves as, the main masses in the drivers for social change. But what if our social change and all our attempts to ‘better’ ourselves and our community’s position isn’t considering, discussing and acting upon the discrimination and isolation felt by others who are also vulnerable in our communities? And this of course is not exclusive to LGBT communities but the implications are more worrying.
It is true, there are schemes out there to support older LGBT people and raise awareness about these issues I have highlighted. TOPAZ at the Birmingham LGBT Centre grants LGBT people over sixty-five a regular social space to come and enjoy themselves at and also Opening Doors London, which is backed by Sir Derek Jacobi, supports older LGBT individuals. Both of these very different organisations, however, are both city based, as were the majority of other schemes or organisations I managed to find. Yet interestingly the general demographic of of the UK shows that the number of individuals aged 65 and over in our cities is low compared to those below the age of thirty.
Perhaps what we are therefore seeing is a mirror in some ways between the provisions for our young LGBT communities and the provisions for older LGBT communities being more easily accessible and funded in our cities rather those isolated in rural areas. This does make us consider not only our older generation but also our young generation and how in different ways still we need to improve the support we give them but it does, however, continue to feel disproportionate in the attention we give our younger LGBT communities. Whilst our duty lies with both ages, teenage and younger and also sixty-five and over we need to strike the balance better.
The older LGBT community then is not on its own in the respect that the city serves it better but if anything these insights are depressing. Are we simply to sit and wait as we age, safe in the knowledge that hopefully by the time we are retiring and thinking of acquiring carers, or making a move to care homes, that what we did today will stand us in good stead for being safe, secure and supported tomorrow? What about those who are not so fortunate? We should think of this every time we have discussions about bullying at school, every time we talk about the ‘future’ of LGBT rights and when we are sitting surrounded by support networks of friends and relatives (for those of us who are lucky enough to have any of these things.) Because, just remember, there are those who are not so lucky to which we owe our focus just as much as our younger generations.