Leaving home is tough.
When we’re in our teens or 20s, we may look forward to leaving the family nest, but leaving as a senior often means a permanent entry into long-term care.
Many of us will have to leave home and rely on others to care for us in our golden years. Independence and privacy are given up for ever.
It must be a difficult and unhappy experience; a very unwelcome reminder that one is heading into the final stage of life.
Now imagine you’re unwanted at your new home.
For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender seniors, moving into a long-term care facility may well mean living cheek-by-jowl with people who hate your sexuality. A CBC report suggests many LGBT seniors remain in the closet because they fear the reactions they’ll face from their new neighbours.
There is also data that suggests LGBT seniors use social services less than their straight counterparts. If that’s true, it indicates that those seniors may be worse off in terms of health and socialization because they want to avoid feelings of being ostracised.
Younger Canadians may see sexual preferences as a non-issue. If attitudes toward same-sex marriage are any indication, we want everyone to feel equal. Fewer and fewer of us feel in any way threatened by members of the LGBT community.
But anyone who doesn’t mesh with past experiences may be perceived as a threat to some who are “set in their ways.” And who are more set in their ways than older folks?
There are gay-friendly seniors homes open today or in the works in Toronto, Vancouver and Halifax.
Given that a recent national survey found that 2.6 per cent of people age 55 and over identify as LGBT – and that the seniors population is growing overall – there is obviously demand for long-term care spaces where members of the community will feel supported.
While separate housing and care for different communities will make many residents happy, the thought of segregation should be addressed.
A quick Google search turns up many seniors homes that are based on language or religion: for Catholics, or for German or Japanese speakers, for example.
Is it segregation? In a way it is, but if those types of residences deliver familiarity and make people happy in their old age, then they are worth supporting. Society should want to see everyone live where they feel welcome.
And as the next generation ages, and the next, we will reach a point when very few people will care who lives next door.