When my partner was diagnosed with a life threatening condition, I was not with him when he was given the news, though I wish I had been. Later, however, we were able to sit down, hold each other, and then talk about and plan what we were going to do. I was able to assure him that I wasn’t going anywhere; I was in it with him, for the duration.
We were lucky, we had each other. However that is not the case for the majority of older LGBTs who are not in a relationship and are more likely to live alone. They might have someone special with whom they can share and receive support from, but essentially they are alone shouldering the news. Their immediate families might step in and help, but for us, at our age, the relationship with the family might not always have been of the best; I still hear of older LGBTs who, having ‘come out’ ,were rejected by their relatives, and that state has remained for the rest of their lives.
Giving the diagnosis of a serious condition is a challenge which GPs do not always recognise as the crisis it is for the patient, and which requires immediate help and support. Some more enlightened GPs, however, do provide information packs which give details of services, support groups and other relevant information,and which will later probably be a life saver. However I would bet my shirt that such packs wouldn’t be likely to contain details of LGBT support, either because the issue hadn’t been considered; or wasn’t immediately available; or, more likely, didn’t exist in the first place. Remember we are at least 5% of the adult population – there are a lot of us!
So, consider. Anne is living alone, has been diagnosed with a form of dementia, and is not ‘out’. What now? The best answer might be to ‘come out’ and thus ensure that all of her service and health provision will be given with the added information that she is a lesbian. In that way there is a hope that she will be treated holistically, with the acknowledgement by service providers, that her sexuality is fundamental to who Anne really is. However, since Anne is faced alone with yet another issue to be sorted before her dementia becomes more profound, the chances are that she will stay ‘in the closet’. She will keep the matter secret and, from now on, will silently accept that she will remain, or become, an honorary heterosexual.
Not surprising therefore that so many service providers, health professionals, residential home workers will say that they haven’t had to deal with an LGBT person and the unspoken assumption follows that it isn’t an issue.