Calls for more LGBTQ training for aged-care workers

2:34 pm on 10 January 2019

Attitudes to same-sex relationships may have changed, but the stigma of being gay persists in retirement villages, an elderly gay man has said, following calls from within the sector for better sexual orientation training for nurses and workers.

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Jeremy Younger is the only openly gay man at Selwyn Village, home to 560 residents, and said when he first moved into Selwyn, he said there were only two gay people living there.

"There's no easy way for gay people to come into a community like Selwyn and find somewhere where they are accepted or valued or wanted in a way.

"We come from a world where things have been, for years, kept well undercover - it's only over the last 20 years that people have been quite happy to talk about being gay, being queer."

He said that while he personally hadn't faced discrimination while living in a retirement village, the pain of living a life in secrecy still persisted for many residents.

"There are people of the same gender who live together in resthomes but it's not something that gets shouted about," he said.

"I knew two beautiful women who lived in a resthome and what they did every week, you found they were hanging out single sheets on their washing line so that people didn't know that they actually slept in the same bed."

Stories like these are behind a push to provide more lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual or allied (LGBTQIA) awareness training in the industry.

Hanny Naus, who works as an educator at Aged Concern, said that she had dealt with elder abuse involving sexual or gender discrimination.

"The more awareness raising that goes on around how elder abuse can look, the more that we hear about people who are feeling like their rights are not being upheld.

"However, most people do not bring it to a complaint, often it's second-hand that we get to hear about those.

"Clearly as the LGBTQIA community is expanding in general public discussion, certainly the same is happening in the older-people sector.

"Why it's more difficult for this generation is that this generation has been discriminated against before earlier in their lives and so are fearful of what will happen once they're no longer able to care for themselves."

Julie Watson has been running the Silver Rainbow programme since 2016, which is a three-hour workshop teaching aged-care workers about the language and how to handle different scenarios, such as name-calling or residents' partners not being accepted.

"The average age of the person in New Zealand aged-care is 87 and if you were an 87-year-old gay man, through your life you have been illegal, you've been seen as mad, you have probably either been arrested or seen your friends arrested ... you probably lost friends and family, maybe you were chucked out of home," Ms Watson said.

"I think that we probably have a lot of rainbow people in aged care who have gone back into the closet, are keeping their head down and not talking about that private life."

The uptake in the Silver Rainbow training has been lower than she had anticipated, particularly from major resthome providers.

However, the Aged Care Association, which represents 90 per cent of the sector, said that many facilities provide their own education programmes around sexuality and gender.

Chief executive Simon Wallace said he believed existing compulsory training was sufficient.

"Our staff, be they caregivers or nurses, are expected to have biannual training on sexuality and intimacy topics and that training also covers the LGBTQIA community."

"The trainings about right in the sector and actually, our sector is a really diverse one that encourages cultural diversity, it is an inclusive culture regardless of a person's sexual orientation."

He said that anecdotally, there had been a small increase in the number of LGBTQIA residents.

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