LGBT Elderly Care Awareness

An off the cuff conversation and a timely tweet on twitter got me thinking the other day.

The conversation was about tattoos and that, now old adage, “what will we look like when we are in our 80’s?”. Well the answer was pointed out to me “like everyone else” so from being the minority with tattoos (especially women) it’s almost an exception to see 20 something’s without tattoos. How times change.

The tweet was about LGBT and dementia awareness, the suggestion was made why don’t i do a blog so here goes.

I identify as “lesbian” and have been open about my sexuality since the age of 18. Before that, from the age of 15, I frequented the only place that I believed would have like minded people, the one and only gay bar in town. A far cry from the busy canal street in Manchester or other now trendy “gay districts” in every city. 

This was the mid 80’s, AIDS / HIV was a new term and widely known as the offensive “gay plague”, you looked twice before you went in the door of the pub and once in their would still be subject to the “dares” of stag night parties and the odd brick through the window or offensive graffiti.

Once in the bar playing cards, dominos, pool, chatting would be ordinary people having a nice night, albeit a little secretively. I remember the lady at the bar, always in a tux on New Year’s Eve, and in her mid 50’s, the 2 guys that had been together for 25 years but still unable to be open about their sexuality at work.

If you bumped into someone around town, from the “scene” you would nod say hello, but we all kept up the front of a law abiding heterosexual, no hugs and kisses and definitely no flamboyant gestures.

So why is my little trip down family lane so important?

In 1967 the sexual offences act, in England and Wales, decriminalised homosexual acts between consenting men over the age of 21, exceptions to this, the armed forces and the merchant navy. A longer wait for the same in Scotland (1980) and Ireland (1982). What about ladies you may ask? Well (apparently) queen Victoria did not think ladies could do such things so it was never actually illegal to be a lesbian, although publically and for many years all homosexual acts were considered wrong and continued “underground”.

I got to thinking, all those people, I remember so fondly from my youth, are now in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. The early parts of their life was spent in a society that did not recognise them or respect their sexuality, partners would be “the friend”, “the lodger” or even the person no one ever mentioned.

I was talking to a lady a while ago, she was in her 90’s and went to great lengths to tell me about her friend, they lived together and had done since the 1960’s, both professional women. The ladies “next of kin” though was a great niece and all liaison about on going care and discussions were had with the niece. The “friend” was told 2nd hand and staff did not even think to have direct conversation with the friend. But then again, the lady insisted that the discussions were had with the niece and not the friend. I may be seeing something that is not there, if not a couple, the ladies had lived together for 50 years and obviously loved each other very much.

So here’s my dilemma, part of me wanted to shout “it’s ok you know, I understand” but then part of me thought if this is what makes everyone comfortable then so be it. After all for over half of their life to identify as same sex was socially shunned and illegal and could result in prison sentences.

So those role models and LGBT friends from my youth are now, probably, accessing mine and your hospital services, as young adults some had secret lives and were subjected to bullying and even imprisoned. Should we treat them differently or go to great pains for them to be able to identify? I don’t think so, we should treat everyone with, dignity, respect, kindness and compassion whilst being aware of the history, context and times people have lived through. Most importantly we must never judge or allow anyone to feel uncomfortable. 

You may think why the big deal, everyone is fine now. Well here is my modern day example…..

“Your next of kin?”



“Civil partner”

“Oh yes, yes, thats ok, that’s nice”

Well yes thank you, I think I kind of knew that 🙂

I really don’t know the best approach to older LGBT, especially if there is some cognitive impairment, but i would love to hear suggestions, after all in another 40 yrs it will no doubt be this elderly lesbian (with wrinkly tattoo) wanting compassionate care.





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Executive Director at warrington and Halton NHS FT. Proud and passionate nurse and NHS leader

14 thoughts on “LGBT Elderly Care Awareness”

  1. Good for you Karen – what can we do to support LGBT older people in terms of appropriate and sensitive care/support?

    Margaret Swanson Sent from my iPhone

  2. In Bristol we have started to have discussions and research about the possibility of LGBT-only care homes, i.e. do we want that, how would it look, etc.

    1. Thanks for that, mmmmm I’m not sure, would I want to go on a LGBT only holiday? Or only go in gay bars / restaurants? Probably not 🙂 but worth doing the research

  3. A fantastic blog. A similar situation to the one you relay is seen in the first story on the DVD, If These Walls Could Talk 2. As a (closeted) gay woman in my mid 30s when I first watched this, it took my breath away.
    Now, as an openly gay woman in my mid 50s , I find that I am often in a position where I feel sorry for the person I am speaking to when they don’t know what to say. Some amusing ones related to my (younger) partner’s twin pregnancy 3 years ago … the paediatrician at the birth when I was taking photos – ” oh here’s grandma!!!” … the receptionist on the neonatal ward “you can’t come in now it’s for parents only!” … the consultant doing the ward round on the neonatal unit, speaking to me alone … “did you have gestational diabetes in the pregnancy?” I went from a grandparent, to a nobody, to a mother in the space of 2 days.
    I really could write a book!
    It’s difficult for everyone to get everything right, but surely PARTNER is a good start rather than asking about husband, boyfriend, etc.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment and share your story. I have an adoptive daughter so trust me I’ve had many similar conversations 🙂

  4. A very interesting discussion. As a student nurse, I can never recall such issues being addressed in regards to LGBT awareness. And I’m not talking 10-20 years ago, more like 5 years, the ‘Modern’ era. Should this be incorporated in the 3 year nurse training?
    Maybe the fact that I trained in paediatrics, it wasn’t relevant?
    As a professional within a healthcare setting, we are exposed to all age groups whether they be caregiver, patient, family or friend and will, at some point in our career, have to provide a service to the LGBT society.

    I hear you say, ‘Equality and Diversity’ and ‘Mandatory Training’.
    We all have to partake in this yearly update in order to fulfil the requirements as a registered nurse within the Healthcare Trust, but, I question the effectiveness from personal experience.
    As a 46 year old lesbian (with tattoos) and 3 grown-up children, I am interrogated about my family dynamics, sexuality, husband, boyfriend and lifestyle by the very people who have supposedly updated their training.
    ‘Married?’ – tick
    ‘Children?’ – tick
    ‘Husband?’ – X

    Should this be happening in this day and age?
    The moral of the story:
    LGBT awareness should be a broader subject and not be focused on the Elderly.

    I too, a lesbian with tattoos, will one day be that old lady receiving elderly care, and by then it will probably be the ‘norm’. In the meantime, I would like people to be aware of me now.

    Thank you for reading and hope that it makes sense.


      1. Hi there,

        I trained in Social Work and have spent most of my career in the voluntary sector. I too have had those same questions put to me from other staff and clients. I’m 57 and don’t have any tattoos. However, there have been times when I have shaved all my hair off and have been subjected to criticism and comments that none of my male colleagues who shaved their hair off did. This needs to be addressed in the training of all staff in all the caring professions including the public, private and non-profit sectors, for qualified and unqualified staff.

  5. But can we make a difference? Well, I’m doubtful it will happen in the very near future. I feel the only people aware of the LGBT society are the people themselves.
    A conversation, only yesterday with one of my work colleagues certainly highlighted how ignorant and prejudice people can be.
    I certainly won’t go into detail, but let’s say, some of the ‘one way’ conversation was inappropriate and very uncomfortable. More so that the person in question openly said she found homosexuality ‘pointless’. How little does she know!!

  6. It’s ok, the blog has sparked off some good discussion, so no it’s not gone off on a tangent….. Wherever we look in society there are always people that don’t value, respect, care or understand diversity. Let’s take the 80/20 rule, I am sure that 80% of people are tolerant, non judgemental and good people. In fairness it is probably more likely 99%.

    There is then a small percentage who don’t tolerate and fail to understand what makes us all different it may be they struggle with colour, race, sexuality, disability, women, men – absolutely anything. I find it is usually in the context of the situation or circumstances people are in, ignorance breeds intolerance.

    Let us spend our time focussing on those we can make a difference with and embrace them. Those that choose not to tolerate or understand we can try but in the end how much energy are they worth and why should we get upset? I’m sure the person in the office hasn’t given their comments a second thought….. And to say its pointless, oh how very very ignorant she really is, cos I love it 🙂

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