Gord Richardson is a proud gay man but the 72-year-old worries he may have to hide his identity if he loses his independence and goes into a personal care home.

Richardson is living with congestive heart failure and needs help doing chores around his Winnipeg house. It's likely he will have to move into a communal living setting within the next five years — a reality he fears.

"Will I have to go back into the closet?" Richardson asked at the Finding Rainbows Summit on Tuesday.

The thought of going back into the closet is daunting for Richardson and other Manitoba seniors who gathered at the summit to address social isolation in the aging LGBT community. The full-day event for people 55 and older was put on by the Rainbow Resource Centre.

He also worries about the level of care he'll get.

"Will I be the last person on the block to have my diaper changed because staff find out I'm gay?"

Coming out 54 years ago was hard, Richardson said — he was gay bashed and followed by thugs from a bar while with his partner after coming out.

A University of Manitoba study in 2015 found lesbian and queer-identifying women experienced homophobia or transphobia when accessing health care in Manitoba.

Roberta Bishop Winnipeg

Roberta Bishop says more talk with health-care providers is needed to ensure LGBT seniors have better experiences in personal care homes, for example. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

The people behind Tuesday's summit decided to have it after LGBT seniors at a coffee group expressed concerns about isolation at the Rainbow Resource Centre, said Roberta Bishop, one of the summit's organizers.

Bishop recalled the story of a woman who lost her spouse of 25 years.

The woman didn't tell her friends in her knitting group that her partner was a female until the shooting at Pulse nightclub happened in Orlando in 2016, Bishop said.

"There's an assumption that if you get old and you're widowed, then you've lost a man," Bishop said, explaining why the woman didn't reveal her partner's identity sooner.

Medical students learning to do a better job

Training medical students in doing a better job caring for LGBT people is a priority at the University of Manitoba, says Deborah McPhail.

The U of M assistant professor trains medical students in LGBT health and said there's a real concern from the community about a lack of basic knowledge in that area.

"We are trying very, very hard in medicine to change that," she said. 

McPhail said the university has training for medical students on cultural competency around language identifying the LGBT community.

"Like not always assuming that the people they're encountering are straight," she said.

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