Mount Royal and partners focusing on aging LGBTQ+ population

Local seniors are concerned about future stigma and discrimination

Photo of Floyd Vissar and Brent Oliver

Floyd Visser, left, executive director of the SHARP Foundation and Brent Oliver, PhD, right, associate professor in social work at Mount Royal.

LGBTQ+ seniors in Calgary are engaged in their communities and generally happy in their homes, but are concerned about facing stigma and discrimination in their futures, according to new research.

The SHARP Foundation, in partnership with Mount Royal University, Rainbow Elders Calgary, the Centre for Sexuality, the Alberta CBR Collaborative and Habitus Consulting Collective, recently completed a report on the housing needs of aging members of the LGBTQ+ community in Calgary and surrounding areas. An advisory committee guided the community-based research project, and peer researchers led community engagement initiatives, recruitment and data collection.

"The majority of LGBTQ+ seniors who participated in the study are feeling engaged and included in the community and want to stay in their community, want to stay in their existing home," says Brent Oliver, PhD, associate professor in social work at MRU. "(However) because of past experiences of stigma and discrimination, there's a fear of being discriminated against (in the future)."

The study included a survey of 117 people aged 50 years or older, or people under 50 who were considering their housing needs as they age. Of the participants, the majority were between the ages of 55 and 64 (55.9 per cent), and nearly one-third were 65 years or older (29 per cent). The participants primarily identified as women (48 per cent) or men (45 per cent), with fewer participants identifying as trans or non-binary (8 per cent) or other (3 per cent). Most participants identified as gay (45 per cent) or lesbian (36 per cent), with smaller proportions identifying as straight (10 per cent) or other (10 per cent; bi, pansexual, asexual, questioning, no label). Fifteen interviews gathered information from various stakeholders including community members, professionals working with the LGBTQ+ community, advocates and government representatives.

The study showed that Calgary and area LGBTQ+ seniors are worried about discrimination and stigma from caregivers and other residents if they are required to move to housing for seniors. These concerns stemmed from stories of seniors having to go "back in the closet." Results also suggested that efforts to include LGBTQ+ people must consider safety, previous trauma, and the personal and situational nature of disclosure.

Time is of the essence as the partners in this work look to make a difference for seniors. The study will help inform online training modules for service providers, assisting them in becoming more sensitive and aware of what LGBTQ+ seniors might need as they make their way through the system. As well, the SHARP Foundation - a Calgary-based non-profit organization committed to providing a continuum of care including housing, healthcare, and support for those living with HIV or at the highest risk of contracting HIV - and Mount Royal will host a community consultation for a national study looking at seniors housing. There are also plans for digital storytelling workshops to collect the stories of Calgary's LGBTQ+ community who lived through the AIDS epidemic, a particularly active period for the LGBTQ+ movement.

"We call it capturing the trauma, capturing the stories that people have, and getting an understanding of the resilience of people who were impacted by the AIDS epidemic," says Floyd Visser, executive director of the SHARP Foundation. "There's an estimated 15,000 people who are aging in the LGBTQ+ community who are going to be impacted soon, and we're already hearing horror stories about how long-term care facilities treat the partners of people who are in care, not respecting someone's orientation or gender identity."

The good news is that stakeholder interviews revealed community members and service providers are prepared to act on these issues to build inclusive communities that provide support for people to age safely in place.

"What really differentiates this study is the community- based research approach. It comes from the community itself," Oliver says. "Peer researchers worked with us on creating a survey that would meet the community needs. They were very involved in data collection, recruitment, and will be involved in presentations back into the community."


Mount Royal's Social Work Diploma combines knowledge and skills in social work, humanities and behavioural sciences.


July 23, 2019 — Peter Glenn

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