There are an estimated 1 million LGBTQ+ people over 50 in the UK, but there is little in the way of dedicated support services for them—here’s how you can help someone
The negative impact of the pandemic on our mental health has been discussed so much that it can feel like there’s little else to say about it. As early as December 2020, it was reported that almost half of adults (48 per cent) thought their well-being had deteriorated. Feeling rubbish after spending months staring at the same four walls definitely sounds familiar…
While discussing our mental health with people like Jill next door is becoming slightly more common and the stigma lessening, there’s still a specific section of the UK’s population that isn’t getting the support they need.
How often do we hear about the mental health of LGBTQ+ people over 50, for instance? Unfortunately, the answer is rarely, despite there being an estimated 1 million living in the UK today.
With the help of Opening Doors, the UK’s largest charity providing support services specifically for LGBTQ+ people over 50, we’re here to shine a light on a group that isn’t often spoken about, offer advice about the support that is out there, as well as ways in which you can help.
Historical discrimination continues to have a lasting effect
It’s easy to forget that homosexuality was only legalised in 1967. Even more recently—until 2003, it was legal to prohibit any kind of promotion of homosexuality by local authorities—most notably in schools. Enforced by Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1988, Section 28 had a profound effect on the lives of many LGBTQ+ people and still does today.
Combined with the stigmatisation of the community during the AIDS epidemic, it’s little wonder that the impact on people’s mental health has been huge and especially on those who experienced discrimination and emotional trauma first-hand.
It’s also important to remember that this focusses on just a small part of the LGBTQ+ community. Prior to 2004, when the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) was passed, it was illegal for those who identify as transgender to change gender on their birth certificate.
Many LGBTQ+ people over 50 don’t have family for support
Whereas over 2 million elderly people in the UK live alone, if you identify as cis-gender and heterosexual, you are more likely to have family members to keep you company. “LGBTQ+ people over 50 are much less likely to have support from children or extended family and many experience loneliness and social isolation,” explains Opening Doors.
This is, of course, not the same for everybody with circumstances differing from one individual to another. Location can also play a factor where places to meet and socialise aren’t available or accessible.
Coming out isn’t isolated to younger LGBTQ+ people
Whereas there are positives of the LGBTQ+ umbrella growing to include more and more identities—with intersex and asexual more recent “terms”—it’s too simple to include everybody’s experiences as “one”, which often happens.
“Coming out” is one such experience that’s often thought of as a universal right of passage by teens and those in their early twenties. Opening Doors recognises that those over 50 may still be “in the closet”, making it part of their mission to “provide somewhere they can share their feelings without judgement, and then if needed, referring them to other care organisations or charities.”
What help is out there?
As you may have guessed by now, Opening Doors play a crucial role in ensuring LGBTQ+ people over 50 are getting support. As well as developing research to better understand their needs and influence policy, the charity’s doing everything they can to change this by putting on social activities for members to connect with one another.
They appreciate that everybody has bespoke requirements, so specific groups that focus on say, dementia support, the Bi community, BAME/PoC and Trans and Non-Binary+ are implemented.
If attending meet-ups isn’t doable, a befriending and tele-friending service, where members are matched with a like-minded volunteer to meet face-to-face or have a friendly call once a week is an option.
The work of Opening Doors extends beyond their members too, offering training to organizations in the health, housing and social care sectors so they can better understand the needs of LGBTQ+ people and make the necessary changes to better care for them.
How can you help?
We’re glad you asked. Opening Doors is a small charity, with the support of people like you essential in order to keep going. If you see that they’re doing callouts for volunteers, they’d love for you to get in touch and help out. They have also just launched a fundraising campaign where they are asking people to donate £2/ month.
We appreciate that being sociable right now may not be something you feel like doing, but if you see somebody in your community that is struggling and you think they may be part of the LGBTQ+ community, consider having a chat with them.
Like many of us, they might not be so keen on the idea but a kind gesture can make all the difference. Being aware of how this community may experience the world differently and particularly during the pandemic is also crucial but above all else, just be open and willing to learn.