Why are some older people going back into 'the closet'?
There are an estimated one million lesbian, gay and bisexual people aged 55+ in Britain today. However, research has found that some people are returning ‘to the closet’ as they get older.
Although in many ways their lives are not radically different from those of other elderly people, the problems faced by elderly members of the LGBTQ+ community are often far more subtle. They generally live alone and as they age, they fear being forced ‘back into the closet,’ especially if they have to move into a retirement home.
Studies estimate that between five and ten per cent of the global population is homosexual, making it statistically impossible for there to be none in a retirement home. However, many LGBTQ+ individuals who move into such homes hide their sexual orientation for fear of being rejected or mistreated, whether by staff or by other residents.
What do older LGBTQ+ say about their experiences?
Stonewall commissioned a YouGov poll of 1,036 older lesbian, gay and bisexual people and 1,050 heterosexual older people, where they received the following comments:
“From personal experience of visiting older friends in retirement and nursing homes I know as an absolute truth that they have felt more comfortable in hiding their sexuality from other residents and carers.” – Ray, 59, South East
“Everything is predominantly heterosexual orientated ... It’s depressing to think I might end up in a home where I could be isolated because to disclose or talk about my life would lead to ostracisation.” – Molly, 68, London
Why is there a disparity in care for LGBTQ+ seniors?
Older lesbian, gay and bisexual people want many of the same things in later life as heterosexual older people. This includes staying in their own homes for as long as possible and being treated with respect and dignity when they access health and care services. Stonewall research has shown that half of older gay people feel their sexual orientation has, or will have, a negative effect on getting older.
Gay people are much more likely than heterosexual people to face the prospect of living alone with limited personal help from their families and therefore are more likely to rely on formal services for support in later life. Many older gay people express considerable worries about the future – about having to hide their sexual orientation, about having to move into a care home that is designed for heterosexual people and about a lack of opportunity to socialise with other older gay people.
Those who have been ‘out’ are more likely to:
- Be estranged from children or grandchildren
- Be single or without children
- Have an extensive ‘chosen family’ of support networks, which can be threatened by aging and illness
Many who have lived wholly or partially in the closet:
- Have elaborate constructs to protect their sexual orientation
- Are at risk of exposure with disability or sickness
With all of this in mind, more and more older people who identify as LGBTQ+ are concealing their true selves out of fear and how this will affect the treatment they receive.