New guide helps seniors age with pride

Photo by Rene Baker

No one ever said getting older was easy.

However, a new guide released by the Ministry of Seniors and Housing is aimed at seniors’ groups and non-profits aims to ensure that identifying as LGBTQ2S+ doesn’t make the process any harder.

Entitled “Aging with Pride,” the document outlines the various difficulties faced by that demographic and how to address those difficulties with support, education and pride.

“The government of Alberta is committed to meeting the needs of this diverse population through programs and services that help older adults remain active, healthy and connected to their communities,” the document states. “Addressing the social conclusion and full participation of older adults requires action and collaboration across organizations.”

The guide outlines how LGBTQ2S+ older adults have gone through incredible milestones and changes throughout their individual lifetimes.

By way of example, the article uses the life of “Pat,” to show the massive amount of social advancement that could occur in just 70 years.

“Pat” was born in 1948 and is now more than 70 years old. The guide asks the reader to consider that Pat was only 21 when homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969, 25 when homosexuality was no longer classified as a mental illness in 1973 and 29 when being homosexual no longer made one inadmissible to Canada due to the Immigration Act.

More recently, “Pat” would have only been 48 when the Alberta Supreme Court made it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation, 57 when same-sex marriage was legalized and 68 when gender identity and expression was added as protected groups to Alberta’s Human Rights Act.

While these changes are historic, it also means that those who are older adults now grew up alongside open discrimination and outright hostility for a majority of their lives, with many choosing to keep themselves hidden out of fear of reprisal.

“If I come out to the family, I risk giving up the ability to hold my grandkids,” one anonymous senior said.

And the discrimination hasn’t ended. Compared to their counterparts, LGBTQ2S+ older adults are more likely to experience mental or physical illness, have smaller support networks and are more concerned about being lonely or growing alone according to the guide.

“You’re asking me to live with people who bullied me 40 years ago?” said one anonymous man discussing seniors housing in Alberta.

How do seniors organizations, then, do their best to welcome and support older adults of all colours and varieties?

The provincial guide recommends a combination of education, training and formalized policies to protect and assist the population.

Using inclusive language, celebrating the community and intervening when hurtful comments arise are all part of working to become stronger allies to less privileged groups.

The guide was created in part by consultation with groups such as the Alberta Association of Senior Centres, Alberta Seniors Communities & Housing Association and Rainbow Elders Calgary.