Anne is a Lesbian. She’s in her 60’s, and it was a privilege to talk with her recently about her experiences; both growing older in the LGBT community and some of the things she and other gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people had to live through in decades past.
The piece that I, and my colleagues, recorded with Anne will be broadcast on Gaydio tonight; as part of a larger series about mental wellbeing in the LGBT community.
In a moving interview, Anne talked about how she and people like her risked their jobs, families, and personal safety because of their decision to live openly as LGBT; and the effect living with that stigma has had on her, and people like her, growing older.
Horrifyingly to someone like me who has grown up in (thankfully) very different times, Anne explained how, without any evidence to back it up, LGBT people used to be seen as a risk to children. Anne related a story of her daughters being interviewed by social workers, who were concerned that her sexuality endangered the welfare of her young family.
Older members of the LGBT community, Anne explains, often feel isolated and alone. Living with the aftermath of their experiences means that people like Anne often have little or no family, or social support, in their later years. Isolation like this creates real challenges around maintaining mental health.
It’s easy to see why support for older LGBT people, including safe spaces both in the community and in specific environments such as retirement villages, is so important; and why the support offered to people in later life by organisations like the LGBT Foundation here in Manchester is absolutely vital.
In everything Anne said, though, one thing stood out to me the most. Increased acceptance in society of people who are LGBT has changed the world for the better; but it also means that some individuals and organisations, often those who are supposed to be there to offer help, have lost sight of why LGBT-specific services and opportunities matter so much.
Space and time to be ‘out’ amongst your peers, without worrying about the reactions of others, isn’t a luxury. Safe spaces for LGBT people are vital in ensuring the wellbeing of older, and younger, people of all sexualities. But greater acceptance, and financial pressures, have led to many of these groups and opportunities closing their doors.
As a community, as society as a whole, we owe a great debt to LGBT people of Anne’s generation. Without their efforts in the face of almost unimaginable challenges, we would live in a very different world. Perhaps the least we can do to repay them is to support and care for them in their golden years.
If you live in Greater Manchester, you can listen to the interview with Anne tonight at (approximately) 9.20pm BST on Gaydio. People elsewhere can listen online. The interview is part of a series on mental wellbeing in the LGBT community, produced as part of a project supported by the BUPA UK Foundation.