Now Reading
Older LGBTI people fear having to return to the closet

Older LGBTI people fear having to return to the closet

An older man looks through blinds

A new documentary premieres this evening at the Luminate Festival in Glasgow.

Return To The Closet was commissioned especially by Luminate and LGBT Health & Wellbeing. Filmmaker Glenda Rome helmed the production.

The documentary talks to several LGBTI people in Scotland aged 50+ about their fears as they age. Many of these revolve around losing independence and having to rely on support from carers or enter residential care.

‘I fear, if I go into care, I don’t want to return to the closet. I’ve been out of the closet since my early 20s, so it’s something that bothers me,’ says one participant.

‘Having to hide artefacts around your house just to please the sensibilities of people coming to your home.

‘Having to re-explain my life and lifestyle to carers who either have no conception of what a gay lifestyle is or what being gay is, or what the issues are around coming out are, because coming out is not just something you do once.

‘You do it many times in your life. And I don’t relish doing that on a regular, daily basis to changes of staff coming in and out of the house. Or indeed changes of shifts of staff in care homes.’

Digital Pride is the only global Pride dedicated to enabling everyone to be part of a Pride, whoever they are and wherever they live in the world. This year, we are focusing on tackling loneliness and isolation. It takes place on Gay Star News from 29 April to 5 May 2019. Find out more.

Care home managers mistakenly think they have no LGBTI residents

Despite looking after a large number of people, some care home managers believe they have no LGBTI residents,

For example, Megan Johnson of the LGBT Health and Wellbeing project, recalls hearing of a care home in Brighton, England. Staff there didn’t think they cared for any LGBT residents. But after staff began wearing rainbow lanyards, about 20 residents came out.

‘They weren’t hiding. They just didn’t know if the staff were people who it was safe to share that part of their identity with.’

People not revealing their sexuality or gender identity until they know it’s safe is a recurring theme in the film.

Many older people don’t have confidence when dealing with new healthcare providers. They fear being asked inappropriate questions and having to hide their true selves. This fear can be particularly acute for trans people who rely on others for personal care (bathing, etc).

Multiple studies reveal the concerns of older LGBTI people

These concerns around ageing have been identified elsewhere.

Last year, in a survey conducted by Gay Star News, over 75% of participants said they wished there were more LGBTI nursing and retirement homes.

A 2015 report by LGBT advocacy group, Stonewall, looked at healthcare for older gay and bisexual people. Unhealthy Attitudes found ‘one in ten health and social care staff across Britain have witnessed colleagues express the dangerous belief that someone can be “cured” of being lesbian, gay or bisexual.’

One of the participants in Return to the Closet?
One of the participants in Return to the Closet? (Photo: Glenda Rome)

Last year, the charity Opening Doors launched a new quality standard for social care providers who take good care of gay, bisexual and trans clients. Jim Glennon, the initiative’s lead, told GSN at the time that he too had heard of people returning to the closet: ‘Often at their most fragile, possibly without much family support, they feel they can’t express themselves as an LGBT person.’

Last year in the US, AARP published the results of a survey into the challenges facing older LGBT people. It found that 76% were concerned about having adequate family or social support as they age. Seventy-three per cent said they had no access to LGBT-specific senior services. Furthermore, 60% expressed concern about facing harassment at long-term care facilities.

Attitudes in Scotland

However, there’s reason to believe such fears may be even more pronounced in Scotland. Although England and Wales partially decriminalized gay sex in 1967, Scotland didn’t follow suit until 1980.

As gay sex became legal, and local advocates looked forward to attitudes changing around homosexuality, news emerged from the US of a virus spreading among gay men. The arrival of HIV and AIDS did nothing to advance attitudes towards homosexuality in the immediate aftermath.

Scotland also lagged behind England and Wales in getting full marriage equality (something still denied to those in Northern Ireland).

‘There are many ways that the care sector needs to change’

‘When I saw the commission to work with the older LGBT community to lead workshops in film making, and ultimately make a film, I was immediately drawn to it,’ Rome told Gay Star News.

‘I am passionate about projects which have an ethos of empowering people to find a voice and means of expression through film.

‘I think the subject matter of ageing is so important in today’s society so I was keen to get the opportunity to work with the older generation and hear their views, but more importantly, knowing what the LGBT community have lived through in terms of social history.

‘From criminalization to the AIDS epidemic. There are issues which the older generation now face which are really important to discuss.

Older people in Scotland who took part in the Return to the Closet? documentary
Participants in the documentary, which was commissioned by Luminate, Scotland’s creative ageing organisation (Photo: Glenda Rome)

The task ahead

One of the participants says there remains a ‘huge educational task’ for the care sector when it comes to dealing with LGBTI people. Rome agrees.

‘I think there are many ways that the care sector needs to change and many factors that need to be discussed and addressed as far as creating an inclusive, welcoming environment.

‘I think that to do that, decisions need to be informed by real people with real hopes and fears, and I think the film is a means of getting those voices out there, hopefully to generate discussion, and progress with better standards of good practice which could be incorporated into the care sector.’

‘It is really sad that after living through so much in their lifetime that people were having to face these issues right at the end of their lives and hopefully this project can help to change that.’

Return To The Closet? is screened today (1 May) as part of the Luminate Festival, at CCA, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow. 

In 2019, Digital Pride is tackling loneliness and isolation with articles and videos connecting LGBTI people. Join us by reaching out to someone who needs it. The festival takes place on Gay Star News from 29 April to 5 May 2019. Find out more.

See more from #DigitalPride:

Digital Pride brings same-sex intimacy to Times Square

This video of a same-sex couple dancing to fight loneliness is so important

3 out of 4 LGBTI people want LGBTI nursing and retirement homes

Care agencies challenged to prove their LGBT-friendly credentials