This February marks LGBT History month, a time that provides an opportunity for all of us to learn more about the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Britain and Northern Ireland.
To understand our present and imagine our future, we must first gain insight into our past. This is true of us as individuals. It is also true of society. LGBT History Month is a time when we can explore and share some hidden aspects of our country's past, both recent and remote. This hidden history belongs to all of us and is part of our inheritance.
For the last two years the theme was sport, due to the impending Olympics and at Men's Sexual Health we used that opportunity to raise awareness with our show homophobia the red card campaign.
This year's theme is science, maths and technology. There have been many pioneering LGBT people throughout history who have played big roles in these subjects, such as Alan Turing (1912 1954). He was a British mathematician, logician and cryptographer. He is considered by many to be the father of modern computer science. He designed and built some of the earliest electronic, programmable, digital computers.
During the Second World War, Turing headed the classified mission at Bletchley Park to crack the Nazi's Enigma machine code (which was used to send secret military messages). Many historians believe that breaking the Enigma code was central in bringing the war in Europe to an end. Despite Turing's huge and lasting contribution to computing, and the part he played in the allied war effort, his personal life was less auspicious. In 1952, like many other gay men at that time, he was convicted of acts of gross indecency. He was given a choice between prison or a course of hormone therapy to reduce his libido. Turing chose the therapy, which resulted in bodily changes such as the development of breasts. Turing was found dead in 1954, apparently after having eaten an apple laced with cyanide. Although the cause of death was ruled as suicide other theories, such as assassination due to his sexuality, have also been suggested.
Using that as a starting point, Men's Sexual Health with support from AGE UK, has come up with this year's theme of Learn From the Past, Look To The Future, as, if we are going to have a better, happier, safer future, we must learn from our past mistakes. That is why Turing features on our poster this year. His poor treatment due to his sexuality, can and should not happen in today's society. We also acknowledged this would be the perfect opportunity to use the theme as a way to engage with the older LGBT community.
In 2011, Stonewall published a report on Lesbian, Gay & Bisexual People in later life. The report was based on a survey of 1,050 heterosexual and 1,036 lesbian, gay and bisexual people over the age of 55 across Britain. The survey asked about their experiences and expectations of getting older and examined their personal support structures, family connections and living arrangements. It also asked about how they feel about getting older, the help they expect to need, and what they would like to be available from health and social care services.
Some of the key findings of this report were that the LGBT older population are, in comparison to their heterosexual peers:
- More likely to be single (so less support from a loved one)
- Have no children (no family to give support)
- Live alone
- Higher use of alcohol/drugs/smoking
- Have a history of mental health issues
- Encounter homophobia from staff if living in care homes
- Encounter homophobia from other residents in homes
So with facing diminished support networks in comparison to their heterosexual peers, the LGBT population will need to rely on more formal support services including GPs, health and social care services and paid help.
However the majority of LGBT people feel such services would not be able to understand and meet their needs; one in five would not disclose their sexuality to their GP and nearly half would not feel comfortable being 'out' to care home staff.
If we are to improve the situation for this vulnerable group, changes need to be made.
With this knowledge in mind, we have sent our campaign posters and letters to all GP surgeries across Swindon, to over 20 different care homes and to local social venues in the area. We hope they will proudly display these posters so the local community will learn about LGBT History Month and the LGBT community will know of the support that exists out there for them.
Recognising that one of the biggest fears facing the older LGBT population, is going into a care home and that the services there will not meet their needs, we have asked the care homes to address their policies regarding LGBT residents. We are offering free training to help them do this.
Most care homes when asked if they have any LGBT residents would say no, or that they did not know, or why is it relevant. When in fact they probably do have someone in their care who is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender, but that person doesn't feel comfortable disclosing this to them. It is important that they know this information because they are part of a vulnerable group who may need extra support as they might not have the support opportunities that their heterosexual counterparts have.
Care homes should apply the same policies and procedures to same-sex couples wanting to live together as those applied to heterosexual couples.
- Same-sex couples should be allowed private time or allowed to show affection for one another, as is the case for heterosexual couples.
- Care homes should develop clear policies on what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour from patients.
- Care homes should deal firmly but sensitively with incidents of homophobia from other residents.
- Staff should be trained to understand the needs and circumstances of older lesbian, gay and bisexual patients or residents and how to provide them with good quality care.
- Lesbian, gay and bisexual residents should be supported to access opportunities to socialise and meet other lesbian, gay and bisexual people to help them to maintain social support networks.
- Care home staff should ensure that older lesbian, gay and bisexual people have stipulated who should be given decision making power in the event that they are unable to make decisions about their care for themselves.
- Care homes should make their environments more welcoming by displaying images, posters and materials that reflect lesbian, gay and bisexual people.
We hope with the posters and letters sent to the care homes most will now realise it's time they acknowledged this issue.
Finally we have also launched an attempt to start a new social group for the older LGBT community. We understand many of the older generation either feel isolated or left out from their community, or don't enjoy being part of the 'scene'. That's why we would like to try and launch this new group where new friendships can be made through a variety of social events.
If you would like to be part of this new social group, or discuss any aspect of this campaign in further detail please do get in touch email@example.com or call 01793 250951.