If you’re old enough to downsize into a retirement community, you may recognize that times have changed.
Long gone are the days, before 1969, when being lesbian or gay was a criminal offence.
Yet, despite being “out” for years, some LGBTQ+ individuals in retirement or long-term care residences feel the need to go back into the closet.
In a 2017 community consultation, Egale identified the fear of being re-closeted in residential care as the number-one issue for older LGBTQ+ Canadians. U.S. research has found that some senior living communities openly discriminate against LGBTQ+ residents.
Fear of discrimination—in the form of ostracism from fellow residents, inferior care from staff, or other forms of mistreatment—is a common worry, according to Rene Vanderhaeghe. Before joining Chartwell Retirement Residences as a Business Development Manager, Vanderhaeghe served at another retirement community. He remembered a time there when he helped a lesbian couple move in.
“They were constantly saying that they were sisters, or they were best friends,” he recalled. Eventually, they felt comfortable enough to let down their guard. “That’s one of the kinds of stories that’s happened numerous times.”
“A Different Generation at a Different Time”
Retirement communities are meant to be places of support. Yet, for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, sometimes they’re anything but. Other residents’ long-held beliefs are part of the reason why.
“There are biases amongst other baby boomers or individuals that may be the same age as those individuals that are moving into a building,” said Vanderhaeghe.
Though baby boomers don’t universally hold these prejudices, stigma is the product of previous decades—when laws and social values differed, and people felt forced to suppress their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. “It was a different generation growing up at a different time,” reflected Vanderhaeghe.
At present, 7% of LGBTQ+ Canadians are 65 or older, and our aging population will increase that figure. This means retirement communities and long-term care homes need to evolve. Evolving means stepping up to become more welcoming and inclusive.
Becoming More LGBTQ+-Friendly
“I think education is going to be the key,” said Vanderhaeghe. He praised initiatives at Chartwell to promote inclusion and diversity.
“We try to do Pride celebrations or education talks with our residents.” He also cited staff training at Chartwell and a diversity inclusion council.
For many, sexuality is a taboo topic, especially when treading on unfamiliar territory. But talking’s important, said Vanderhaeghe. “The one thing that individuals always say is, ‘What if I say the wrong thing?’ I’m like ‘The only way you’re going to say the wrong thing is not to say anything at all.’ Because curiosity creates conversation.
“When people are curious, and they ask questions, that’s the golden ticket. That’s when the door is open to educate and continue trying to move the dial in the right direction.
“The Titanic didn’t turn on a dime. I’m just happy that conversations are starting.”
Are you looking for an LGBTQ+-friendly retirement community where you’ll feel safe, respected, and free to live and love as your authentic self?