The Unorthodox Website Blog

Gay Support Networks

19 Jul

I look around at my family and friends and there is a vast difference between the heterosexuals in my family and gay friends, especially as we all get older.

My maternal grandparents were fairly independent living in their rented bungalow until my grandmother had an accident, broke her hip and went downhill rapidly, dying a few months later. My grandfather died the following month. In the last few months of their lives, when they needed daily care, my mother gave up her job to look after them.

My paternal grandparents were looked after in their old age by my father’s sister. Two of my uncles had daughters to look after them in their older years (one is now in a care home, but near his other daughter.) I look after my mother who lives nearby in sheltered accommodation. We have our meals together and I take her out, visiting her nearly every day.

There are only a few of our family who don’t have or didn’t have this family care in their older years. My aunt and uncle on my mother’s side never had children, my mother’s sister died a year or so ago, so my uncle is now entirely on his own relying on the help of neighbors (he lives miles away from his blood relations and his in-laws).

My dad was divorced from my mother and went back to his native Cyprus years before he died. He did, however, have a common-law wife living with him.

My gay cousin is on his own, like me in his 60s.

All my gay friends, except two, are now on their own. One died in a residential home last year (his partner had died five years earlier). The residential home was, of course, full of heterosexuals with whom he had little in common.

Another elderly gay friend is in sheltered accommodation, one was last seen wandering round apparently homeless. He was chucked out of the room where he’d lived for years when Arabs took over the house, was offered a flat but apparently never moved in. I have no idea if he’s dead or alive. Another gay friend lives on his own, though has a non-live-in younger partner who visits regularly. The older of the two did act as carer for an older gay man till he died.

The point I’m trying to make is that many gay people, and childless heterosexuals, have nobody to turn to for support in their older years when they may need a great deal of help. It is a constant worry as I see how helpless my own mother would be without my help. She can’t draw her pension since the banks have made it so difficult for old people not used to pin numbers, cash machines and plastic cards – all way beyond her comprehension. She can’t deal with bills or correspondence, can’t do shopping, can only cook light meals, can’t keep or attend hospital and doctor appointments, etc. without assistance. She is totally reliant on me and her cleaner to function. If I die first or am indisposed I don’t know what will happen to her, she’d probably have to go into a care home. My only brother lives in Yorkshire and is out of the country much of the time.

My own life-partner died neary 20 years ago in 1991. I was only 46 then, but am now 66. I have no idea how I’ll cope if I live to my mother’s age (97 next September). There will be no family living near, only distant cousins spread all over the place who I never see from one year to the next. My married brother (no children for them either) is, as I say, up in Yorkshire and I’m lucky if I see him even once a year. There also needs to be practical help for disabled gays of all ages since many in our community don’t have families who can do things like DIY or gardening for us. Many straight older or disabled people can call up a son to come and do something like that for them.

I just feel there should be a support network for older gays, most of whom don’t have children or grandchildren. After all we are all going to get old one day, if we survive that long. I am not aware of any specifically gay organization which provides carers for older gay men and women. There are organizations like THT and CARA for those with HIV who provide some services for those so affected, but not carers that I’m aware of. There are, of course, organizations like Age Concern who provide some services for older people generally, but many council-sponsored carer services seem woefully inadequate from experience I’ve had via friends and my mother.

I did pick up a leaflet today at an older people’s LGBT meeting and the Opening Door Project run by Age Concern for older LGBT people sounds like just the sort of support service I was thinking about, though you will notice not run by gays themselves, though using LGBT volunteers. The one on this leaflet just applies to Central London, i.e. Camden, Islington, Hackney, Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster. To qualify you have to live, work or socialize in one of these boroughs. Well I used to work in several before I retired, and I sometimes socialize in several of them.

I don’t feel I need their services at the moment, but in the future I may well need something like this. Among other things they provide increased support for individuals in the LGBT community to remain independent and live at home for longer by recruiting LGBT volunteers to provide befriending to older people and also working in partnership with other local and national agencies.

However this sort of support should not be left to agencies like Age Concern. Surely the gay community is most aware of the needs of the older people in our community and should be providing this support itself through our own organizations. Support so older people can be befriended, live independently in their own homes, be taken out, have sympathetic carer support and if necessary and they so wish, go into residential care with other LGBT people.

I’ve never been one to live in a gay ghetto, and many of my friends and acquaintances are straight, but I can see that many LGBT people like my friend who recently died would have nothing whatsoever in common with other residents in a regular residential care home. He used to stay in his room all day, never conversing with other residents who just would not have understood his background or lifestyle. For those who have mixed in gay circles most of their lives, it must come as a double shock to first have to go into residential care and then mix with mainly straights for the first time in their lives. No wonder many feel totally isolated and alienated living with people with whom they have nothing in common except their age.


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