Groups unite to fight ‘hidden’ loneliness of Yorkshire’s older LGBT community

Buddy groups are forming in villages to tackle loneliness among the elderly.
Buddy groups are forming in villages to tackle loneliness among the elderly.
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THE HIDDEN loneliness suffered by older members of the LGBT community must be addressed to stop future generations going “back in the closet” in later life, campaigners have said.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LBGT) older people can be profoundly affected by isolation when they lose a partner or when they enter a care home, where sexuality can still be a taboo subject.

Bradford-based The Equity Partnership and Future Years, the Yorkshire and Humber Forum on Ageing, will come together in York next week to empower older people to make their voices heard and further understand the serious health impacts of loneliness on people in the LGBT community.

The Equity Partnership already runs two groups for older LGBT people, ‘Older and Wilder’ for women, and ‘Older and Bolder’ for men. In 2009, it held its first conference for older LGBT people, leading to this month’s workshop, where attendees will be able to get the knowledge and confidence they need to bring about change in their communities. It is being funded in part by the Big Lottery Fund.

Rachel Nawelaerts, community development coordinator at The Equity Partnership, said: “A lot of older people aren’t open about their sexual orientation. If you have two 80-year-old gentlemen that have been together for 50 years, many won’t be able to take about their loss openly when their partner passes away. They haven’t just lost a ‘friend’, it’s much more than that - but it’s something they can’t share.

“We have also seen examples of older people who were very much ‘out’ and were even activists, but when they go into care homes they feel like that are back in the closet again because they feel like they can’t be open.

“It can be difficult to constantly explain why you haven’t been married or don’t have children or grandchildren who can visit - and so they find themselves increasingly isolated.”

The most recent figures show as many as 75 per cent of LGBT people over 65 live alone, and 90 per cent have no children.

The workshop will include looking at how local authorities and the health service engage with older people, and how people can use the health and well-being structure to bring about change and ensure the older LGBT voice is heard.

Ms Nawelaerts added: “When you consider that we estimate seven per cent of the population will be LGBT, combined with our ageing population this issue will only increase.

“It’s important to make these changes now as many of these 19 or 20 year old gay people will eventually become 80 or 90 year old gay older people.”

Future Years spokeswoman Joanne Volpe said: “We believe that nobody that wants company should be without it. It’s really important to us, at Future Years, that we reach all older people especially under represented groups because we want to tackle hidden loneliness.

“That’s why we’re working with Equity Partnership to raise awareness of loneliness amongst lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender older people. Future Years want to give people the knowledge and confidence to change things and enable people to be active in their own communities.”

The issue of loneliness among older members of the LGBT community was also examined in a short film made recently by Bradford-based Positive Minds. It focused on the mental health problems that can arise through loneliness caused by a bereavement and featured a man in his 80s named David who struggled with the death of his partner of 40 years.

Chair of Positive Minds, Marilyn Foster, said: “Members of the lesbian and gay community can find event harder than others, especially if they haven’t come out. Loneliness and depression can hit full in the face.“

Loneliness: Activate for Change takes place on July 16 at 10am at the Priory Street Centre, York.

Places are limited and booking is required on 01274 725451 or 0776 9933010.