Advocates tackle LGBTQ discrimination in Edmonton seniors' homes

Advocates take on discrimination in Edmonton seniors' facilities after LGBTQ members expressed fears of encountering discrimination and bullying.

Aging LGBTQ Edmontonians worry about bullying in seniors' facilities

Activist Michael Phair said more attention needs to be paid to LGBTQ seniors.

Advocates are taking steps to ensure members of Edmonton's LGBTQ community will age in a safe and inclusive environment.

Results of more than 155 LGBTQ seniors surveyed indicate the biggest concern of many is running into discrimination or bullying by staff or other residents in seniors residences.

"Some folks said that they were afraid they might have to be silent," said Michael Phair, the coordinator of Edmonton Pride Seniors Group. "And a couple of people even mentioned that they might think they have to go back in the closet."

A couple of people even mentioned that they might think they have to go back in the closet.- Michael Phair

To counter that, the group has developed a presentation to train frontline staff in the use of appropriate language, the history of discrimination, and an understanding of issues LGBTQ members might face.

The presentation also suggests ways to create a more inclusive facility including the use of physical symbols such as a rainbow decal, running films with gay and lesbian characters, or attending events like the gay pride festival.

It suggests communicating to arriving residents that the facility will not tolerate bullying or negative language.

"And we think that the way to get there, much as we've seen happen in schools is that if you do something about educating people, training, providing information, you start to see internal kinds of changes," said Phair.

Phair points out today's seniors grew up during a time when there was a lot of stigma around being gay and "probably have some of those notions."

"There's been a lot of shifting but it takes awhile for that to happen and sometimes people who are older maybe haven't had that opportunity to shift their thinking," he said.

The group also hopes to secure a grant that would fund a study to look at building a future LGBTQ seniors' residence or new wing in an already existing facility.

"It is to ensure that older gays and lesbians have as good an experience as they possibly can as elderly people in our society just as we wish to have for anyone that's older," said Phair.