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Seniors and Sexuality

Ageing is a particularly sensitive issue for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities. Part of the sensitivity is underscored by the fact that older LGBTI people face very specific forms of discrimination, having lived through an era where sexuality was not simply stigmatised, but same-sex relationships were effectively criminal.

While numerous legislative and social changes have opened up the spaces for sexual and gender minorities to exist without the same levels of harassment, there are still significant elements of discrimination that LGBTI people have to face.

For example, accessing aged care services has been particularly difficult where LGBTI elders have been coerced into regulating or silencing their sexuality within a heterosexual environment. Unfortunately, such silence has also been met with the erasure of sex, sexuality and gender diversity from a range of ageing policies.

Of particular concern, is the release of the new draft Federal residential aged care accreditation standards do not recognise sexual or gender minorities.

While the draft standards identify the differences among all people accessing residential aged care, noting a list of important cultural differences, they fail to specifically reference sex, sexual orientation and gender identity as an important difference.

The Department of Health and Ageing (DOHA) has funded projects that aim to promote non-discrimination. Such projects include ACON's cultural sensitivity aged care training project and LGBTI targeted community aged care packages provided by QAHC and Care Connect in Queensland.

It is therefore surprising that there is no mention of LGBTI older people in the new draft residential aged care accreditation standards.

Submissions to the recent Productivity Commission Inquiry into aged care in Australia, noted that sexual and gender minorities face particular difficulties in accessing services when they are forced to ‘out’ their identities or relationship status.

Historically non-heterosexual older people in aged care settings have experienced high levels of stigma and harassment and many have been coerced into remaining silent about their sexuality.

Moreover, the assumption that all individuals and couples are necessarily heterosexual, leads to a double bind. Either an individual or couple must ‘out’ themselves to an aged care provider, undermining their right to privacy, or they are insidiously coerced into silence, breaching their right to dignity and non-discrimination in relation to their sexual or gender identity.

In order to avoid reproducing this culture of shame and discrimination, the residential aged-care accreditation standards should refer specifically to sex, sexuality and gender diversity, and the need to protect the privacy and dignity of all residents.
Given the absence of comprehensive Federal statutory protections, it is important that departmental polices include specific principles of non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and sex and gender identity.

Ageing is not a discrete issue. Understanding how people relate to ageing involves considering the intersections with gender, sexuality, class, ethnicity, religion and other social categories of difference. We have multiple and disparate identities.

The challenge then becomes ensuring that policy and legislation does justice to these complexities in order to address the needs of a diverse range of LGBTI elders.

To take action on this issue, I would strongly urge you to email DOHA (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) and inform them that sexual orientation, sex and gender identity must be expressly mentioned in the residential aged care accreditation standards. This will be a necessary step to help ensure the rights to dignity and non-discrimination for older LGBTI people are always taken into consideration.


Senthorun Raj

is the Senior Policy Advisor for the

NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby.


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