Re-engage is a charity working with people over 75 to find ways to reduce loneliness and social isolation. We have always been determined to be there for everyone who might need us.
But there’s a problem with the idea of ‘everyone’: when you don’t think that you are ‘everyone’ then things don’t feel like they are for you. Older people from any minority will have had lifelong reminders that they are different and so may not think they are one of ‘everyone’.
As part of our commitment to reaching more older people, we are currently exploring the needs and wants of older lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender, or other non-cisgender (LGBT+) older people. A team from across the charity has been reaching out to organisations that work with older LGBT+ people.
There are great organisations across the UK and real potential to develop impactful partnerships. One of the common themes we’ve found so far, though, is that our age cohort of the older old isn’t necessarily being reached in great numbers.
There’s plenty of research about the health and care needs of older LGBT+ people and the ways they have been let down. It makes for difficult reading. People are vulnerable to loneliness as a direct consequence of decades of privacy and self-concealment.
Younger gay people like me have the confidence and support we need to push back against discrimination and speak out when we see and hear things that will harm others. But that’s not easy for some LGBT+ people and certainly not for a generation who grew up when their very being was deemed outrageous and illegal.
It’s not surprising that research tells us that a lifetime of exposure to discrimination and stigma can lead to high levels of stress and a strong sense of isolation. All too often, isolation is seen by older people as the price they have had to pay for their sexuality.
Right now at Re-engage, we’re asking ourselves how we should diversify our work to ensure that we are reaching more of the older people who need us. This charity is an amazingly welcoming and caring organisation, thanks to the approach of the team of volunteers and staff.
It’s time for us to make a concerted effort to reach out and recognise the importance of difference and diversity and understand better the needs of older LGBT+ people.
If you are aged 70 or older, identify as LGBT+ and would like to get involved in our important research project, please do get in touch.
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