Nfld. & Labrador

Advocacy group reaching out to LGBTQ seniors to offer support, get input

"Seniors in care often feel that they have to go back into the closet," says Pamela Sheaves of Grey Gays NL, which wants to hear from LGBTQ seniors in N.L.

Grey Gays NL wants to hear from seniors about their experiences and their worries

Pamela Sheaves and Geoff Chaulk of NL Grey Gays are hoping to reach seniors in the LGBTQ community across the province. (Ted Blades/CBC)

A new advocacy group wants to hear from LGBTQ seniors in Newfoundland and Labrador.

It's a group of people with unique needs, say Pamela Sheaves and Geoff Chaulk, who have started the group NL Grey Gays in order to reach out and advocate for the older members of their community.

"There's work being done across the country and around the world on this, because I think within our community as we age we kind of become invisible and not as connected to our community as we used to be," Chaulk said.

Chaulk and Sheaves, who has been working on senior issues in the LGBTQ community for a decade, have started a Facebook group and hope to reach senior community members across the province in order to identify their needs and priorities. 

"The gathering of these people together, the hearing of their voices, their stories will give Grey Gays a sharper focus," Sheaves said.

Concerns about discrimination

LGBTQ seniors in living in care facilities often feel particularly at risk, both Sheaves and Chaulk said, even within a population already dealing with the vulnerabilities of needing medical care, having health challenges and sometimes sharing accommodations with people they don't know well.

The concerns do not necessarily lie with the care workers themselves, Chaulk said, as they tend to be of a younger generation that is more widely accepting of and knowledgeable about the LGBTQ community. As well, facilities increasingly have policies in place that welcome diverse residents and their family members, he said, pointing to St. Luke's and Pleasantview as two examples within Eastern Health.

"It may not be such an issue for staff," he said.

"What some of our peers might be more concerned about is who's your neighbour on the unit and how liberal or accepting is he or she."

Whether or not the fear they feel is due to a real or perceived threat, it is real and has an effect, Sheaves said. 

"What has been happening is that due to fear, seniors in care often feel that they have to go back into the closet," she said.

People need to know that they're going to be safe.- Pamela Sheaves

This can be a factor outside of care facilities as well, said Chaulk, who gave the example of a man he knew who lived in a rooming house but did not feel comfortable to be out. 

Affordable and safe housing is a clear need for the community, he said. At the same time, some of these issues may lessen naturally over time as a long-term care standard of single-room housing is reached and acceptance of and education about the LGBTQ community continues to increase.

As they begin to reach out more widely, Chaulk and Sheaves say they welcome participation from more people, who do not have to be seniors to become involved. They are seeking out funding for additional community engagement and short-term and long-term work, and working with St. John's Pride and other local community partners to broaden their reach.

"People need to know that they're going to be safe," Sheaves said, "and that there are others within the community looking out for them."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from On The Go