LGBT seniors disrespected in long-term care, forgotten by youth-centric gay peers

By David Heitz for CaregiverRelief

I originally wrote this in October 2015 for the website CaregiverRelief. Reprinted here with permission.

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 easy.

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.

Check out my report: LGBT Caregivers: The isolated among the isolated, and what Baltimore is doing to help

“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 with CaregiverRelief that definitive moment that so many of us who have cared for people with dementia face.

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. Especially at first.

“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. Whispers. Stares.

Read more: Check out my report on why aging LGBT people need to start preparing for their trip over the rainbow

Several members of the staff, nurse’s aides in particular, Lawrence said, 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, utter disrespect

Those who read my pieces regularly know why this story strikes a chord with me. Lawrence and Alexandre are featured in a documentary called “Generation Silent.” It’s all about gay and lesbian seniors and the struggles the face when they find themselves needed long-term care.

You can learn all about the documentary and watch the trailer by clicking here. Warning: It will BREAK. YOUR. HEART.

Although my dad was not gay, I sure am. And like Lawrence, I spent many hours of every day being disrespected by self-entitled, malcontented elder care workers whose qualifications better suited them for Burger King than caring for my father.

From day one, Diane Carbo, purveyor of Caregiver Relief, suggested I likely was experiencing the sort of homophobia that runs rampant in many of these places. Cultural, religious, and political forces converge in ways that can be frightening for gay people.

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

Finally, the cunning executive director of the memory care community had me trespassed. You can read about that here.

My father and I were apart for 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 gay employees 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, so Lawrence was able to lovingly rub lotion onto the hands of his dying companion and not have to worry about stares or whispers.

Vietnam vet KrysAnne: Unthinkable suffering

Gen Silent subject Krys Anne Hembrough

As I’ve reported many times before, gay and lesbian 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, and three to four times less likely to have children when compared to their heterosexual counterparts.

And here’s the other problem: LGBT culture is one that celebrates youth (the men in particular). As people get older, they tend to stray from “the crowd” that is that younger set you always see behaving outrageously at gay pride celebrations on television.

I aged out of the gay community a long time ago. Getting sober and serving as your parent’s caregiver are factors that drive isolation in any population, but I suspect even more so if you’re gay, too. Being gay often is all about the party and nothing else for so many.

The peace of living in isolation after the wild life I have lived is wonderful. But someday, I’ll be old and sick. Who will help me?

Transgender Vietnam vet speaks kind words with labored breath

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

Gen Silent subject Krys Anne Hembrough

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 also had a dear friend die of lung cancer, it’s a horrible death.

Read more: My interview with Loni Anderson on caring for her parents with COPD

When you see sweet KrysAnne, who remains remarkably positive despite the abuse she absorbed for years, huff and puff just to get through each day, alone, it will break your heart.

Of course, KrysAnne wanted to die in her lovely home, very fearful of being cared for by unsuspecting nursing home workers who would discover her penis. And she very bluntly phrases it that way herself.

Listen up, you twirling twinks!

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.

Read more: My Los Angeles Times report on why gay people need to stop smoking

You will have to watch the film to find out what happens with KrysAnne, as well as Sheri and Lois, a couple of old lesbians who exemplify all that can be right about a couple of old lesbians. In the film, they serve as the historians who explain the sacrifices today’s gay seniors made to create this quasi-accepting American society that gay people (openly and otherwise) live in today.

Just think, today’s gay and lesbian seniors were in their 20s during McCarthyism. Their parents legally were able to have them committed to insane asylums for being gay if they wanted to. It’s not something the twinks who twirl around dance floors today have any concept of, nor do some of them even seem interested in learning about that history.

I know. I used to be one. You can read all about my “Circuit Boy” days by clicking here.

Guys, the next thing you know…you’re 50! SCREECH! SCREECH! SCREECH! SCREECH!

The good news is, organizations like SAGE are working hard to open the eyes of people who work in and manage long-term care facilities and home care agencies. In one film, one official even describes how home care workers frequently will get out a Bible and tell gay seniors that through prayer they can find salvation for their sins (chiefly being the “sin” of living life as a gay person).

You will see in the film the resistance organizations like SAGE face when trying to educate people who work in long-term care. And it’s alarming.

Learn how to support SAGE or access its services by clicking here.

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