Written by Kariuki Monday, 06 August 2012 12:56
Gays and lesbians who grew up in the days when homosexuality was considered a mental illness are now seniors who face continued discrimination and self-imposed silence when it comes to accessing the health-care services they need.
"People were once forced into psychiatric institutions," said Jay a senior gay pal of mine, “Going to a doctor was a very fearful experience for many people."
Gay seniors are still afraid to reveal their sexual orientation to their doctor or other health care providers. Many gay seniors recall medical treatment to "cure" their homosexuality. Their relationship throughout their early lives with the health-care system was one of extreme discrimination and hostility, so they come to their older selves, requiring care, losing some autonomy. . . and they really are afraid to access the same system that treated them so badly when they were younger.
“You didn't want anybody to know," said a 71-year-old close pal of mine who spent much of his life in the closet. "You were called sissy, teased. What I had to do was adapt myself, adopt the behaviors of people who were more masculine." And while much has changed, there are still a surprising number of stories of discrimination”.
One woman told me that her home-care provider arrived with a Bible to "save her." Another was told she didn't need an annual pap smear because she was a lesbian. Older gay men say they were assumed to have AIDS. Some gay couples say they signed into care homes as brothers so they could share a room, where they hugged and shared affection only behind closed doors. I find that pretty sad.
One of my 64 year old pal, recalled one recent incident during an appointment with a specialist. "I told him I was a lesbian and right away he said, 'you need an AIDS test,' as if I was contaminated," she uttered.
Partners, children and friends who take care of homosexual seniors are also marginalized. Homosexual partners aren't granted the same rights as heterosexual spouses, and in a community where family relations are often strained, non-family caregivers are rarely included in medical decision-making the same way as family members would be.
There are many seniors who have good relationships with their health-care providers. But we have to pay attention to those who don't.
All in all I call for increased training within the health-care sector and greater effort to reach out to gay and lesbian seniors.
“People who were once forced into psychiatric institutions.”
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