Loneliness is a widespread issue in our society – as the late Jo Cox well knew. It was one of her campaigns, one which Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves has taken up since Jo’s death.
But loneliness and social isolation are particularly acute problems facing older Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender citizens. Headingley Councillor, Al Garthwaite, spoke movingly on the issue last week in Leeds City Council. As she pointed out, thanks to Leeds City Council’s inclusive work this is less likely to be a problem in our city. The Council’s Time To Shine project has specifically addressed older LGBT people through SAGE. But – as she also made clear – this is an issue affecting our fellow citizens, something of which we need still to be very aware, involving a group to whose needs we need to be very alert. The full text of her speech is given below.
“Loneliness and social isolation are among the biggest issues affecting older Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender citizens – LGBT for short. Growing up at a time where to be LGBT was seen as shocking, disgusting or even criminal, it was very hard, if not impossible, to come out. In this country, male homosexuality only became legal in 1967, when some of today’s gay men were already aged 30, 40 or more. And as we all know, prejudice still exists.
Not surprisingly, a recent national YouGov survey found that only half of older LGBT people would be comfortable coming out and expressing their true identity. Worries about needing care in later life, housing and health are all much higher than for other people. Many LGBT senior citizens report anxiety about accessing services for fear of discrimination. Some older people – not all, I know – have supportive families and faiths, and strong networks of friends. Sadly, many fewer older LGBT people are so blessed. All this results in more loneliness and higher risks of isolation.
Addressing this is a key priority.
Also, ageism can play a part. Here in the Civic Hall, some years ago, there was a conference for older people in Leeds to identify causes of social isolation. On my table, the younger facilitator was reluctant to write the words Lesbian and Gay on the flipchart or include them in report back for fear of putting people off (I don’t know who). We insisted, and in fact none of the participants were put off – they nodded in agreement.
Because of all the inclusive work done by Leeds City Council this is much less likely to happen today. The Time To Shine project is also there for older LGBT people. Within its remit, SAGE has taken shape. Run by AgeUK Leeds and Yorkshire MesMac it engages with older lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, runs training and works in partnership to make existing services across the city more inclusive, and provides a programme of activities and services. For example, at Pride this year, SAGE organised an older-people-friendly space, quieter, where you could sit down and talk, with refreshments (including a bar). This was really well used and much appreciated by everyone who went there – I certainly enjoyed it.
We support SAGE, but we mustn’t leave it all to them. We need to remember that older LGBT citizens are part of all communities in Leeds, can be found everywhere, and must be made welcome.”