In the first of Age Scotland’s guest blogs, Garry McGregor from LGBT Age asks you to live your life in the shoes of an older LGBT person.
Imagine you woke up one morning and found yourself magically transported to a world where the majority of people were attracted to the same gender, with some being attracted to both, though they were often viewed with suspicion by the majority.
You, on the other hand, belonged to a minority of people attracted to the opposite gender. You realised there was a lot of prejudice and discrimination towards you. As an older person, this meant you would have to choose between living openly, risking both conviction and discrimination from the majority, or living your life without being able to be true to yourself.
The idea of needing care services as you aged filled you with dread. If care was provided in your home, you would be allowing someone into your most private space who would probably only be attracted to their own gender and expect you to be. Any photographs of you with a special person of the opposite gender could be misinterpreted or be a cause for idle curiosity. You would need to explain yourself each time you came into contact with a new worker or choose to pretend to be part of the majority.
If you needed residential care, not only would you have to consider pretending to staff, but also to residents. Would you withdraw from other residents, lie or be true to yourself and risk being the object of their prejudice?
You could be very pleasantly surprised and find yourself welcomed into the community and treated with the same dignity as anyone else, but after a lifetime of facing prejudice, would you be brave enough to risk it? Wouldn’t hiding who you are cause you stress?
Welcome to what may be the reality for older lesbian and gay people living in our society. If you are an older bisexual, you could face mistrust and suspicion from heterosexual, gay and lesbian people. For older transgender people the levels of acceptance may be even less and in some cases they may not have the option of trying to hide their differences from the world.
LGBT Age supports older lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people by matching them with volunteer befrienders so that they can spend time in non-judgemental company. We also try to raise awareness of the community so LGBT people get the choices and dignity they, like all older people, deserve. Our oldest client is 89 and was part of the Russian Convoys in World War II, a far cry from the stereotypical image of someone from this community.
We currently operate the befriending service across the Lothians but are looking into rolling the model out further afield in Scotland. We also offer monthly social events for LGBT people over 50 and these are open to anyone who can travel to the venue.
The project was recently acknowledged by Edinburgh City Council’s Libraries and Information Services “Get Up and Go” scheme. We were awarded the “Innovative Openings” award for 2010-11 which goes to a service offering something new and unique to the over 50s. Our wonderful volunteers also received a certificate in the “Outstanding Contribution” category.
If you would like more information please call Garry McGregor on 0131 523 1107 or visit www.lgbthealth.org.uk/content/lgbt-age.