Researchers want to know housing needs for Calgary's aging LGBTQ community

A group of researchers is assessing the housing wants and needs for Calgary's aging LGBTQ community. The project was sparked by stories that some are facing discrimination in their long-term care centre or supported living facility.

Survey based on growing fears they won't have an inclusive place to grow old

Donna Thorsten says there are growing concerns among Calgary's aging LGBTQ community that there is a lack of inclusive places to grow old in. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

The research group Habitus Consulting Collective is trying to gain a better and broader understanding of the types of housing options available for Calgary's aging LGBTQ community, after some expressed concerns they are not able to be open in their current supported living or long-term care facility.

The collective is working with another researcher at Mount Royal University to conduct a survey and hold consultations with older LGBTQ people, while at the same time reaching out to members of the local housing community to see whether they have specific policies or staff training in place to deal with this population.

"Some of the fears that we've been hearing about locally and across the country are [about] rules and regulations — for example, about having a same sex partner in a seniors care facility,"  said Amanda Weightman, project co-ordinator for Habitus Consulting Collective.

Seniors group

Weightman says the collective was approached by Rainbow Elders Calgary, a group of +50 LGBTQ Calgarians who meet twice a month to talk about ongoing issues and provide support to one another.

Inclusive and safe housing is one topic that comes up a lot, according to one of the group's members.

"It is something that I worry about as I age," said Donna Thorsten, 60.

"Because I've had members come up to me and say, 'I can't be out at my long-term care centre or supported living facility.'

"And I'm going well I've been out all my life and I don't plan to go back in the closet just because I've become, I have to be part of the system."

Weightman says other cities, such as Edmonton and Ottawa, have done similar surveys.

"From other research, we know that the seniors age group, there's often less openness about your gender or your sexuality and there's a little bit more stigma and discrimination," said Weightman.

Stigma remains

She says for some that stigma stays with them today, even if the greater community is more accepting.

So she expects the needs and wants of this community will be quite diverse.

"An example might be, is there an interest in having housing that's specific to LGBTQ seniors or is there more of an appetite just to ensure that the existing facilities are going to be inclusive," said Weightman.

The anonymous online survey, or handwritten version for those who don't have access to a computer, was launched about a month ago and is still ongoing. It's being funded by the Calgary Homeless Foundation.

Weightman says if people reach out to either Rainbow Elders Calgary or the Habitus Collective, someone can provide a paper copy and help fill out the survey.

A final report is expected by the end of March.

About the Author

Colleen Underwood has been a reporter/editor with CBC news for more than 10 years filing stories from across southern Alberta for radio, television and online. Follow her on Twitter @cbccolleen.