Fears of ‘coming out’ again for the invisible segment of aged care

Written by kyliedicksondeakin

Older lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people are facing the distressing reality of revealing their sexuality or gender identity when accessing aged care services or entering residential facilities.

Why all the fear about coming out?

The Department of Health and Ageing [DoHA] (2012) as part of the National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Strategy recognises that there have been decades of inequitable treatment for LGBTI people. They have suffered stigma, family rejection and social isolation. Many have had a life experience of fear of rejection and persecution, coupled with the impact of potential or actual discrimination.

Prior to the legalisation of homosexuality LGBTI people even faced imprisonment.

How do aged care providers cater for LGBTI people?

Unfortunately for the vast majority they don’t. This segment of the market has been invisible and largely forgotten by Australian aged care services.

The proportion of people who say they are homosexual is consistently rising. This includes people in the 50+ age bracket, however it is recognised this number could be much higher due to under reporting. (Roy Morgan 2015)

The Department of Health and Ageing [DoHA] (2012) has identified that limited attention has been paid to the needs of ageing LGBTI people. In gereral aged care approaches have assumed that all people are heterosexual and gender conforming.

As a result, they have not identified or understood the unique characteristics of the LGBTI segment and their fear of mainstream health care and government agencies.

It comes as no surprise that the LGBTI community is disenfranchised with aged care services.

Harrison (cited in Rosenstreich, G, Comfort, J, & Martin, P 2011) explains that this impacts on the health and well-being of older LGBTI Australians and reduces their willingness to access health and aged care services.

La Trobe University confirms that accessing aged care services is being delayed by older LGBTI people, and the additional care needs are being placed on partners. (La Trobe University 2015, para. 1)

However LGTBI people are more than twice as likely to live alone, and only one in four is likely to have children. So relying on partners or family for support or care is just not an option for many. (Abatiell, P, & Adams, M 2011, p. 881)

The experiences of LGBTI people accessing aged care services has been captured in the below video (A home for all 2013) filmed by George Clipp for Tell Me A Story, a digital storytelling project of Something In Common and the Australian Human Rights Commission.

 The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow

In a sector that is undergoing reform – an imperative to become more customer focused and consumer directed – there is a growing awareness, and spotlight on the neglected LGBTI segment.

Thankfully, organisations and programs advocating for change are being recognised and heard by aged care providers and the LGBTI community.

Here are some great initiatives in support of LGBTI people:


The Rainbow Tick

Rainbow Tick

The Rainbow Tick (Gay Lesbian Health Victoria n.d) is an accreditation program. Service providers undertake an assessment and review process to determine whether they met the needs of LGBTI consumers. If the criteria is met they can proudly display the Rainbow Tick.


The Silver Rainbow

Silver RainbowThe Silver Rainbow project (National LGBTI Health Alliance 2014) aims to educate, inform and train a broad range of staff working in ageing and aged care, students studying aged care and aged care assessment teams nationally.


Val’s Café

Val's CafePioneered from the 1950’s Coffee lounge in Melbourne, a meeting place for the LGBTI community, Val’s Café (Val’s Café n.d) is now a project concentrating on improving the health and wellbeing of LGBTI people. Val’s Café works with service providers to develop an understanding of the unique experiences and needs of LGBTI people.


Have you noticed any positive initiatives to support the ageing LGBTI community in your area? Should events like the recent Madi Gras highlight this issue more broadly?



Abatiell, P & Adams, M 2011, ‘LGBT Aging: A Question of Identity’, Gerontologist, vol. 51, no. 6, pp. 881

Department of Health and Aging 2012, National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Ageing and Aged Care Strategy, retrieved 19th March 2010, https://www.dss.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/08_2014/national_ageing_and_aged_care_strategy_lgbti_print_version.pdf

DoHA – see Department of Health and Aging

Gay Lesbian Health Victoria n.d, The Rainbow Tick, retrieved 22nd March 2016, http://www.glhv.org.au/files/RainbowTickProspectusAndStandards.pdf

A home for all 2013, YouTube, SomethingInCommonAus, 6 June 2013, retrieved 19th March 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FB8PfwCZUmw

La Trobe University 2015, LGBT experience of dementia and ageing, retrieved 19th March 2016 http://www.latrobe.edu.au/news/articles/2015/release/lgbt-experience-of-dementia-and-ageing

National LGBTI Health Alliance, Silver Rainbow – LGBTI Ageing & Aged Care, retrieved 22nd March 2016, http://lgbtihealth.org.au/ageing/

Ray Morgan Research 2015, Is Australia getting gayer—and how gay will we get?, retrieved 19th March 2016, http://www.roymorgan.com/findings/6263-exactly-how-many-australians-are-gay-december-2014-201506020136

Rosenstreich, G, Comfort, J, & Martin, P 2011, ‘Primary health care and equity: the case of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex Australians’, Australian Journal of Primary Health, vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 302-308

Val’s Café n.d, What we offer, retrieved 22nd March 2016, http://valscafe.org.au/index.php/our-story/services

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