CommunityPam's House Blend

Training program combats homophobia in elder care facilities

What we suspected is sadly true. It’s why there is a move to have LGBT-friendly retirement communities and nursing facilities. A recent survey highlighted that more than 50% of nursing home social workers believe that their co-workers are intolerant and are condemning of homosexuality in residents. The other half didn’t answer the question.

Here is a snippet of an interview with Judy Mann, Director of Learning and Professional Development at The Center of Applied Gerontology ( on about a training program, “Understanding & Caring for Lesbian and Gay Older Adults.” It’s an uphill battle dealing with an older generation of caregivers, but someone has to start somewhere in combating homophobia. Judy, I know this seems like an obvious question, but would you outline briefly what exactly the purpose of the training is?

JM: Sure. First let me make one thing clear. The purpose of the training is not to change the health care worker’s attitudes or challenge their personal or religious beliefs about homosexuality. (That is an immense undertaking in itself.) Because the topic can evoke strong emotions it is important to focus on how workers can provide quality care to all clients and residents, regardless of their sexual orientation.

The main purpose of this training is to sensitize the frontline workers to the sexual diversity within the elderly population, make them aware of the unique needs and concerns of gay and lesbian older adults, and show them how to provide them the dignified and respectful care they deserve.


JM: Besides the basics, we focus on five unique issues that care providers need to be aware of:

* Lack of acceptance by traditional service providers.— Many older gays and lesbian older people are afraid of getting the care they need because they fear they will not be accepted, or even shunned by traditional care providers. There is a report from the National Gay and Lesbian Task force that indicates that some people working in nursing homes are intolerant of gay and lesbian residents. They site examples of such as aides refusing to bathe someone who was a lesbian or threatening to tell people that a resident was gay if he reported her negligent care.

* History of discrimination .— Elderly gays and lesbians lived much of their lives during times when they could lose their jobs or have their physical safety threatened if they were even suspected of being homosexual. Because of past discrimination many older gays and lesbians live in constant fear of being discovered.

* Lack of visibility — Older gays and lesbians grew up in a time whenpeople kept their homosexuality a secret. We know that there are older gays and lesbians receiving our services but very often we don’t know that they are homosexual.

* They are more dependent on social service organizations — Gay and lesbian older adults are less likely to have children than heterosexual seniors. They also may be estranged from their families. As a result they have to be more dependent on social service organizations to remain independent as well as for care.

* Fear or discomfort caring for older gay and lesbian adults — Many direct service providers have fears and discomfort about caring for a gay or lesbian client. Most of these fears are unfounded.

JM: The fears that care workers mentioned the most were:

Fear of getting AIDS.
Care providers are taught to exercise universal precautions when providing direct care for clients— whether or not you suspect your client of being gay or having HIV/AIDS. Not every person who is gay has HIV/AIDS and not every person has HIV/AIDS is gay.

Fear of someone making a pass.
Sexual advances and suggestive comments are inappropriate no matter the sexual orientation of the client. They should be dealt with in a gentle but firm manner. We go into that a little more in the training.

Fear of sexually arousing a gay or lesbian client.
Many care givers have experienced this with heterosexual clients and are taught how to deal with it. If a person of the same gender as the care giver becomes aroused, they must treat it as they would a heterosexual encounter.

Fear that working with a homosexual person can make you gay.
It sounds simple but we must explain that homosexuality is not a disease and can’t be transmitted from one person to another.

As I said above, you have to start somewhere. The first step is admitting there’s a problem. When put in the context of dignity, anyone that finds fault with the principles of teaching workers respect for gay residents in these facilities has to ask themselves how treating gay elders like their straight counterparts is harmful to them, the family or society.

Previous post

Katrina's fury hits coast

Next post

Army Contract Official Critical of Halliburton Pact Is Demoted

Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding