Faith based aged care provider, UnitingCare NSW.ACT, marched for the first time in the Sydney Mardi Gras last weekend to show support and commitment to LGBTI communities and LGBTI clients and residents in its care.
Steve Teulan, director of UnitingCare Ageing, says people need to remember that the average age of people receiving aged care is about 85 years. That means members of LGBTI communities seeking aged care today may have spent the first two thirds of their lives subject to legalised discrimination, as well as other forms of discrimination and abuse throughout their lives.
"Too often we’ve heard stories of seniors fearing the move into aged care and even going ‘back into the closet’ because they are afraid of persecution. That’s why we need to take action," Mr Teulan says.
UnitingCare NSW.ACT has worked hard to be recognised as LGBTI inclusive, winning the Pride in Diversity Workplace Inclusion Award in 2013. It was also recognised by the federal government last year by being selected as a provider of LGBTI specific home care packages.
In partnership with ACON, UnitingCare NSW.ACT has facilitated LGBTI cultural competency training, with more than 500 staff completing the course so far.
Melanie Dicks, chair of UnitingCare’s LGBTI Working Party, says marching in the parade is just one way to show our support to LGBTI seniors. However, fostering a culture of respect and inclusion is encouraged for everyone, staff, volunteers, clients and residents alike.
“Mardi Gras is a celebration of diversity, no matter how young or old," Ms Dicks says.
Paul Ostrowski, chief executive of CareConnect, an aged care provider that works closely with the LGBTI community, says church facilities make up about half of the aged care sector in Australia.
"There's a perception that aged care is primarily delivered by faith based organisations," Mr Ostrowski says.
"While there is no evidence of discrimination by faith organisations, there is the perception that people may be discriminated against," he says.
"Seniors in LGBTI communities have grown up with 60-70 years of quite profound discrimination and many of them have not come out."
He says ageing with HIV is another issue that aged care homes had to consider, as modern medicine had enabled patients to live longer.
"Back in the 1980s only 2% to 3% of people living with HIV would make it beyond 50," Mr Ostrowski says.
"Now almost half of the population living with HIV is reaching the 50 year old mark or older. So you've got the dual issue of living with HIV and ageing," he says.