Whispers, stares belittle LGBT in nursing homes

David Heitz

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During World War II, Alexandre served his country as a medic. He respectfully and dutifully helped save the lives of those fighting on the front lines to keep our country free.

But when Alexandre became old and frail, finding himself in his own battle with Parkinson’s disease and struggling just to get through each day, respect did not come often.

Like so many caregivers, Alexandre’s partner, Lawrence, gave all he had caring for the love of his life. He tended to him at home as long as he could, but after an accident Alexandre landed in the hospital and then a nursing home.

“From the hospital, he was sent to a nursing facility, and I really didn’t know what was going on,” recalled Lawrence, explaining during an interview that definitive moment that so many of us who have cared for people with dementia face.

Choosing a nursing home in only two days

Sometimes with only two days’ notice, the hospital tells you they are discharging your loved one and you need to find a nursing home. It comes as a shock to anyone who has gone through it. Medicare pays for the first 100 days of care, and then you’re on your own.

Nobody wants to go to a nursing home, and when it happens, dedicated caregivers like Lawrence often spend every waking moment at their loved one’s side.

“It was a beautiful place,” Lawrence recalled of the first nursing home Alexandre entered. “So, I said, ‘Oh this is really nice.’ But little did I know…it was really a disaster.”

In a nutshell, Lawrence never felt welcome when he was visiting his same-sex partner. He had to put up with whispers. Stares.

Several members of the staff, especially the nurse’s aides, made it clear he was not welcome there.

“Mostly it was just attitude,” he explained. “If you feel as if you’re not wanted someplace, you’re in a state of stress. You’re not allowed to be who you are.”

Whispers, stares, rudeness, disrespect

Lawrence and Alexandre are featured in a documentary called “Generation Silent.” It’s all about LGBT seniors and the struggles the face when they find themselves needing long-term care.

You can learn all about the documentary and watch the trailer by clicking here.

My dad was not gay, but I am. And like Lawrence, I spent many hours of every day being disrespected at my dad’s facility.

Diane Carbo, a Registered Nurse who is an expert in caregiving, suggested I likely was experiencing the sort of homophobia that runs rampant in long-term care facilities.

Cultural, religious, and political forces converge in ways that can be frightening for LGBT people.

Imagine how frightening it is when you can’t get along with them and they are caring for your beloved parent.

The executive director of dad’s memory care community had me trespassed when I complained about the care he received.

My father and I were apart 108 days before we were reunited with help from the state of Illinois.

My dad said, “There’s my friend” when he saw me.

He was dead 26 days later.

Look for facilities with gays in management positions

Eventually, Lawrence found a better place for Alexandre, who died two years later. Lawrence found the new place through word of mouth, from a lesbian who worked there.

The facility had a gay executive director and many gay employees. Lawrence was able to lovingly rub lotion onto the hands of his dying companion and not have to worry about stares or whispers.

LGBT people often find themselves alone in their golden years.

According to SAGE, LGBT seniors are:

· Twice as likely to live alone.

· Twice as likely to be single.

· Three to four times less likely to have children than their heterosexual counterparts.

And here’s another problem: LGBT culture celebrates youth. As people age, they stray from “the crowd.”

The younger set you see on television behaving outrageously at gay pride celebrations does not reflect most gay people.

Transgender Vietnam vet speaks kind words with labored breath

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Consider the plight of KrysAnne, a sweet transgender woman who dutifully served her country in Vietnam. KrysAnne developed lung cancer. Even then, her family, who disowned her after she transitioned, would send her nasty messages.

They even returned her letters.

KrysAnne found herself dying of lung cancer alone in her home. I can tell you as someone who has reported on lung cancer and COPD and had a dear friend die of lung cancer, it’s a horrible death.

KrysAnne remains remarkably positive throughout the movie despite years of abuse. Watching her huff and puff to get through each day alone breaks your heart.

KrysAnne wanted to die in her lovely home. She feared being cared for by unsuspecting nursing home workers who would discover her penis, she said.

Mercedes sale would pay a month in nursing home

But even if KrysAnne were to sell her bumblebee yellow Mercedes Benz, the proceeds only would pay for around-the-clock in-home care for one month.

In the film, two old lesbians named Sheri and Lois serve as historians. They explain the sacrifices gay seniors made to create today’s more accepting American society.

Except in senior care. There, many elderly LGBT people duck back into the closet for safety. Being quiet about their sexuality is safer. The partner who visits daily is just “a friend.”

LGBT people are all over the place in extended care facilities, but most remain quiet.

Organizations like SAGE making a difference for LGBT seniors

There is good news. Organizations like SAGE are working hard to open the eyes of managers of long-term care facilities and home care agencies.

SAGE is a national organization that has been providing services and advocacy to LGBT elders since 1978. They lead the march when it comes to equal treatment for LGBT seniors.

Organizations like SAGE face fierce resistance trying to educate people in long-term care about the needs of LGBT people.

For elderly LGBT people like those in “Generation Silent,” it’s a battle for peace and tranquility in the golden years.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best newspapers in the country. Today, I specialize in Denver local news, health reporting, social justice issues, addiction/recovery/mental health news, and topics surrounding homelessness and human trafficking.

Denver, CO
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