Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Homophobia and the elderly

The New York Times reports on the problems faced by the elderly gay and lesbian population:
Homophobia directed at the elderly has many faces.

Home health aides must be reminded not to wear gloves at inappropriate times, for example while opening the front door or making the bed, when there is no evidence of H.I.V. infection, said Joe Collura, a nurse at the largest home care agency in Greenwich Village.

A lesbian checking into a double room at a Chicago rehabilitation center was greeted by a roommate yelling, “Get the man out of here!” The lesbian patient, Renae Ogletree, summoned a friend to take her elsewhere.

Sometimes tragedy results. In one nursing home, an openly gay man, without family or friends, was recently moved off his floor to quiet the protests of other residents and their families. He was given a room among patients with severe disabilities or dementia. The home called upon Amber Hollibaugh, now a senior strategist at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the author of the first training curriculum for nursing homes. Ms. Hollibaugh assured the 79-year-old man that a more humane solution would be found, but he hanged himself, Ms. Hollibaugh said…

The most common reaction, in a generation accustomed to being in the closet, is a retreat back to the invisibility that was necessary for most of their lives, when homosexuality was considered both a crime and a mental illness. A partner is identified as a brother. No pictures or gay-themed books are left around.

Elderly heterosexuals also suffer the indignities of old age, but not to the same extent, Dr. Lantz said. “There is something special about having to hide this part of your identity at a time when your entire identity is threatened,” she said. “That’s a faster pathway to depression, failure to thrive and even premature death.”

California is the only state with a law saying the gay elderly have special needs, like other members of minority groups. A new law encourages training for employees and contractors who work with the elderly and permits state financing of projects like gay senior centers.

Federal law provides no antidiscrimination protections to gay people. Twenty states explicitly outlaw such discrimination in housing and public accommodations. But no civil rights claims have been made by gay residents of nursing homes, according to the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, which litigates and monitors such cases. Potential plaintiffs, the organization says, are too frail or frightened to bring action.
As newer (and more tolerant) generations age and our society becomes more accepting of all its members, hopefully this problem with disappear. However, until that day comes those responsible for the care of the elderly need to be attuned to this issue. No one should suffer the indignities of prejudice at any point in their lives but especially when they are experiencing the vulnerabilities that come in the autumn of life.

You can read the entire article here.


Unknown said...

Wow; this is something I'd never thought of before; thank you for sharing these insights.

Comrade Kevin said...

It does speak well of our generation that these prejudicial attitudes are rapidly growing obsolete. The sooner the better, say I.