24 Jun Diversity and acceptance in aged care
When people in the LGBTI community reach an age where they might need some support in their day-to-day lives and are thinking about making the move into aged care, it can bring up deep fears about acceptance and discrimination. Because people coming into care are of a certain age, they have come from a time when homosexuality was illegal, and fear of rejection from their families and communities was huge.
The discrimination they have experienced means they may not have ever come out. So moving into an unfamiliar environment, away from families who may have come to understand and accept them, can open up fears of experiencing that discrimination again.
For me it’s easy to understand how they might feel. I’m gay and I was a teenager in the 70s. I became aware I was gay when I was 14 or 15. I realised I had feelings for girls, and I just thought, ‘That’s wrong. I’m not allowed to be this way.’ I wanted to be normal and have a family, so I married someone I didn’t love at 24. I was going to church and hearing services about why homosexuality was terrible. I tried for years to ‘pray the gay away’.
For people of my age and older who are gay, there is nothing unusual about this experience.
I didn’t come out until a few years ago when I was 49 – after 25 of years of ‘marriage’ where I pretended to be someone I wasn’t. I was working in aged care with another Christian organisation where I met a couple who were gay. I saw them together and I thought, ‘I want that too’. So I made the decision to leave my husband.
A couple of months after the separation I came out to my family. When I told my parents, my brother came with me. They said they could accept it, but they didn’t want me to have a partner – so they were okay but not okay with it. I had three children too, aged between 14 and 21, and they were dealing with the separation as well – it was difficult couple of years before they really adjusted and accepted me. It was during that time I met my current partner and fell in love. I’m going to spend the rest of my life with her, and the rest of my life being happy.
She was working at the same aged care facility as me, and was also a nurse. She was openly out at work, but once we started dating the organisation had problems with the situation and she was asked to leave. Officially the issues were because I was a manager – and more senior than her – but a precedent had been set by straight couples in the same situation. I do think being a gay couple hugely impacted the way it was dealt with. When she was asked to leave, I decided I wasn’t going to stay somewhere like that, and I left too.
I started work with Uniting aged care services two months later. Uniting promotes a safe place for LGBTI people – both staff and residents – and has always been welcoming and nurturing to me. It gained Rainbow Tick accreditation, which shows we’re serious about being a safe and inclusive organisation for LGBTI people. We’re walking the walk, not just talking the talk.
There has been a lot of staff training across the board over the past years, and this year Uniting was named by ACON as one of Australia’s Top LGBTI-friendly employers, and the best Not-For-Profit employer of LGBTI people in Australia. It makes me very proud to be part of Uniting.
This doesn’t mean it will be easy for LGBTI people to leave their own home that has been their safe space for a lifetime and put their trust in strangers – it’s hard to shrug off a lifetime of discrimination. In fact, there is one Uniting resident who has talked about still having concerns if other residents find out she is gay, although she has spoken to staff.
But everyone can be sure that I – and all my colleagues at Uniting – will do everything we can to make them feel welcome and accepted for exactly who they are. I hope that by promoting inclusiveness, Uniting will continue to lead the way for change in the sector.
By Dianne Latter, Deputy Service Manager, Uniting Elizabeth Gates Singleton
Watch Diane in conversation with Lunette