When Jim lost his partner of 60 years in 2017 he started to feel lonely and very low.
At 83 the only people he had contact with were the carers and cleaners that came to his home. A recent fall in the street had left him shaken and not confident enough to venture out alone. His osteoporosis and failing memory made him feel shaky, but also very isolated.
But Jim tried to keep his spirits high and decided to contact Opening Doors London (ODL) to register for its Befriending Service.
ODL is one of the country’s biggest charity providing information and support for older LGBTI people.
‘The ODL Befriending Service was set up to support LGBT+ people over 50 who are feeling lonely and socially isolated,’ said Befriending coordinator, Fabricio Catroppa.
‘It pairs them with a volunteer befriender for regular social contact, whether it’s visiting the befriendee’s house for a cup of tea or taking them out for a walk or an exhibition.’
Things couldn’t have worked out better for Jim. He and his brefiender struck up a good relationship based on their shared love of black and white films.
‘I couldn’t imagine life now without his visits… he has saved my life and my sanity,’ Jim said.
‘After being locked away in my flat, the befriender has started to take me out of my flat and I love it.
‘I feel wonderful.’
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.
Loneliness in LGBTI people
Loneliness is a serious epidemic amongst older LGBTI people. A 2011 Stonewall UK study found older LGBTI people were less likely than straight people to have a partner. It also found they were more likely to live alone, less likely to have children and see biological family.
‘In other words, there is an increased need for support services and social opportunities among older LGBT+ people. Yet, they are under-catered for,’ Catroppa said.
‘We also recognize older LGBT+ people can have complex mental health needs as a result of being criminalised for their sexuality, being labelled mentally ill, being rejected by family and friends, hiding their identity for fear or prejudice, and experiencing discrimination and hate crime.’
Currently, ODL’s Befriending Services has about 90 active befriending relationships. The befriendees might need the service because of mental health issues and need help or encouragement to leave the house. Other befriendees might have long-term health or mobility issues which makes it hard for them to leave the house.
Just having someone to see regularly can make all the difference to their lives. But the most significant part of the service is people know their befriender will accept their sexuality or gender identity.
‘A majority of our volunteer befrienders also identify within the LGBT+ umbrella, which also gives our members a sense of connection to a wider LGBT+ community and a common ground to exchange stories and experiences,’ Catroppa said.
The turnaround of John’s* life in his final years went from a tragic tale of loneliness to a more fulfilled life.
While living in a residential care home, John had tried to take his life multiple times. A temporary manager at the home spoke to John about why he wanted to end his life.
John revealed he was a gay man who’d spent his life in the closet. He also revealed he was very unhappy living in the heterosexual care home. His situation was not uncommon, according to Catroppa.
‘In an ideal world, older LGBT+ people would feel at ease accessing any local services and social activities without fear of prejudice and discrimination,’ he said.
‘Unfortunately, this is still part of what many older LGBT+ people experience when they attend groups or make use of services that are not LGBT+ specific.
‘Even when attitudes are not expressly prejudiced, it can still be uncomfortable to be met with heteronormative assumptions about your life (i.e. your partner, marriage, having kids/grandkids). It can also be scary and even triggering to ‘come out’ against those assumptions.’
But knowing he could be out and comfortable with his ODL befriended, John’s confidence grew.
The pair developed a friendship where they would talk often and share experiences. John said he wished he’d met his befriender years earlier because had spent too long without anyone to talk to.
They remained good friends right up until John’s death.
*Not his real name
What is Digital Pride?
Digital Pride is the online movement, by Gay Star News, so you can take part in Pride whoever and wherever you are. Even if you are from a country where being LGBTI is criminalized or leaves you in danger – it’s a Pride festival you can be a part of.
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.