As Pride Week returns for another year, I find myself thinking specifically about seniors. In response to the recent Ireland same-sex marriage referendum, an older woman from Ireland, who was critical of the outcome, was quoted in the media about how she feels young people these days have lost their way. Her comment reminded me that despite the progress being made, much of the attitudinal shift has been among our younger members of society. A senior LGBTQ person may still be surrounded by peers who grew up in very different times and for whom discrimination and homophobia is the norm.

It is heartbreaking to think that people in their golden years need to hide their identities to make life tolerable. Over the last few years increasing attention has been paid to LGBTQ residents in long-term care, and how many people go back into the closet during those years. The story that brought me to tears was the one about a man who felt he had to be behind two locked doors just to give his partner a hug.

Universities are studying the issue and the City of Toronto even published a toolkit to assist homes to become more inclusive.

Part of my practice as a health lawyer involves giving legal advice to adult children whose parents are in long-term care. Later this month I will be attending a conference that will bring together family members of long-term care residents from across Ontario. Many of these family members have formed “family councils”, which are permitted under the Long-Term Care Homes Act. The councils have actual legal powers and may bring attention to systemic issues in the home. Any family member or person of importance to the resident can start or join a family council.

I have seen how the actions of one caring family member can make a difference. If you have a loved one living in long-term care, I encourage you to get involved with the family council. June is the perfect month to put the topic of LGBTQ awareness on the table. The toolkit mentioned above provides examples of successful programs, such as Pride flag-raising; film programs, services for World AIDS day, and bingo led by a well-known drag queen. On a more systemic level, changes have been suggested that contribute to creating welcoming environments, such as staff training, amending heteronormative language on forms, and displaying LGBTQ positive signs and images.

If you are involved with a family council I encourage you to explore these ideas even if the person you love is not a member of the LGBTQ community. After all, other residents surely are and they may not have any advocates, or they may not have come out of the closet to their families.

By advocating to implement small changes we can improve the quality of life of residents in long-term care and ensure that all residents are free to be themselves.


Photo credit: simaje / Foter / CC BY

About the Author

Lisa Feldstein is the principal lawyer at Lisa Feldstein Law Office. She is a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School and the University of Guelph. Lisa practices in the area of Family Health Law™, which includes reproductive law, human rights, privacy, mental health and other health law matters. Lisa has presented at the 519 Church Street Community Centre and PFLAG Canada (York Region), and has been interviewed on Proud FM. She has helped many couples build their families through third party reproduction. Lisa has been teaching negotiation at Osgoode Hall Law School since 2010. She was recently awarded a 2014 Canadian Law Blog award for Best Practitioner blog, and a 2015 Precedent Setter Award.