IMPORTANT STUFF: The forgotten stories of older LGBTQ+ people in care homes
Stories / / Apr 05, 2018
Famously, Bette Davis once said that “old age ain’t no place for sissies.” But when you’re elderly and LGBTQ+, there’s often an extra set of challenges to overcome. Honesty Is Like a Song in the Dark, a new show from queer theatre company Inky Cloak, aims to shine a light on the experiences of older LGBTQ+ people people living in sheltered accommodation and care homes.
Because the LGBTQ+ media has traditionally been pretty youth-focused, these stories have been horribly marginalised over the years.
“I think the biggest aim with this show is to make straight and crazily enough LGBTQ+ people think, ‘Oh my God, I never really thought about these people who are kind of in the shadows,'” says Inky Cloak’s artistic director Daniel Fulvio.
“It’s so important that we open up the conversation to talk about older LGBTQ+ people too.”
Fulvio and fellow Inky Cloak artistic director Martin Moriarty spoke with many queer people living in care homes and sheltered accommodation to identify the specific obstacles they face.
“For older LGBTQ+ people, care homes can also mean having to come out for a second time”
Entering a communal living environment is a massive adjustment for anyone. Whether they have lived alone or with their partner for many decades. Suddenly you’re out of your comfort zone and forced to meet lots of new neighbours. But for queer people, it can also mean having to come out for a second time.
“An issue that comes up time and time again is, ‘When and how do you disclose who you are? Both to staff and other residents,” Moriarty explains. “I think probably all LGBTQ+ people have had that experience. We all sort of ‘edit’ who we are because of the situation we’re in. But what if you’re having to do this where you live?
“There can also be an issue with staff simply presuming everyone in the care home is straight. In many workplaces now, you can get support for these issues. But in many care homes that’s not the case because staff aren’t trained to deal with issues like confronting homophobia in residents or other staff members.”
Being LGBTQ+ in sheltered accommodation can cause major problems for older people
A 2011 Stonewall study found that LGBTQ+ people over 55 are more likely than to have mental health problems than heterosexuals of the same age. Older queer people in sheltered accommodation and care homes are also less likely to see biological family members on a regular basis. They represent an especially isolated and vulnerable section of the population.
“One [queer] person we spoke to was actually worried about inviting friends to visit him at his care home because he’d essentially be outing himself in the process,” Fulvio says.
Their play is grounded in research. But Fulvio and Moriarty were adamant they didn’t want to write a preachy, “issue-based piece”.
Honesty Is Like a Song in the Dark, which premieres on April 13 at London’s The Albany, illuminates the older queer experience through three fictional older LGBTQ+ people living in a care home and the younger staff member they interact with.
“A lot of stuff gradually unfolds because the characters almost feel like they have the audience’s confidence. So they can reveal these aspects of themselves that they might not necessarily normally put out there,” Fulvio explains.
Older LGBTQ+ people are making a change for themselves from sheltered accommodation
And while conducting their research, Fulvio and Moriarty came across a very encouraging piece of information. Anchor Homes is England’s largest not-for-profit housing association providing homes for people over 55. They have been liaising with an LGBT residents’ committee for around 10 years.
“They’re very much about lobbying Anchor to improve their training programmes. The committee wants to make sure staff are trained not to assume everyone is straight. They also make sure staff are trained to be able to separate their own cultural and religious beliefs around sexuality from the needs of the people they’re working to help,” Moriarty explains.
Inky Cloak are now collaborating with Anchor Homes again to give something back. “We’ll be going into care homes and asking anyone who wants to talk to us – queer or straight – about the LGBTQ+ people in their lives who’ve been important to them. It could be a family member, friend or former work colleague,” Moriarty says. “It’s just one more step in the right direction. Let’s have a conversation about these older LGBTQ+ people and bring them into the room. We’re all part of the texture of life, so why can’t we join together a bit more?”
Honesty Is Like a Song in the Dark takes place at The Albany in London on April 13. Find out more and book tickets here.