A Study by the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne has delved into the fears and thinking of older gay men as they consider moving into assisted living facilities.
“You’ve got to get back into the closet – I am not going back into the closet for anybody,” one 75-year-old from Auckland told researchers.
Researchers found that in addition to general anxieties about growing old and losing their independence, gay men were worried about having to hide their sexuality – a particularly unappealing prospect given many had only come out later in life.
The New Zealander said he would want to be seen with his partner and not have to hide anything, but that others in a home or retirement community might not be able to cope with that.
“I think it’s possible that if I was in a retirement village that there is a potential for us to be treated differently if people know I’m gay,” he said.
“There’s both resilience and vulnerability because of the era of when these men came out,” said the report’s author, Dr Peter Robinson.
The sociology and history lecturer said there was more work to be done in making aged care facilities accommodating spaces for LGBT+ residents.
“I think this is happening, especially in suburbs of capital cities in Australia where there are active gay and lesbian elder community networks.”
Dr Robinson told SBS he'd visited several providers which had done an exemplary job of welcoming LGBT+ residents, but that they were mostly on the more expensive end of accommodation options.
Researchers spoke to 25 men in their 60s, 70s and 80s who lived in New Zealand, the UK, Australia and New York.
Of the 25 men, 14 were in relationships, five had previously been married to women and 14 said they had concerns about moving into aged care.
One 72-year-old Sydney resident said he was worried about other residents and the organisations that run nursing homes.
“Nursing homes in Australia are often run by church organisations. Some church organisations, though not all, are not particularly welcoming to gay residents,” he said.
“They are not particularly understanding of the diversity of human relationships and of their needs.”
“Because of the age of people in nursing homes they will have grown up in Australia in a time when there was not great knowledge and even less sympathy for gay people,” he said.
A 63-year-old from Manchester said he was petrified his partner of 40 years would die before him.
“I’m scared stiff of being left on my own,” he said.
”He can’t go. I’ve got to go first. It’s a done deal,” he added, laughing.
A 75-year-old in Auckland said his ideal retirement home would be exclusively for LGBT+ residents – especially if it had attractive younger staff.
“That would be great because then if I want to say something about the young boy who walked past delivering the papers to somebody, I’m not going to offend anybody,” he said.
“If I was in a heterosexual situation, I couldn’t say that and I’m thinking, ‘Well, would that be even lonelier?’”
Dr Robinson said he's not sure if exclusive LGBT+ aged care facilities are the answer.
"It’s one solution, but it’s not going to suit all gay men.”
One such facility is planned for the Victorian town of Ballan, with another planned for the Melbourne suburb of Prahran.
Other men had told researchers they were scared of being alone if their friends died, so had adopted a strategy of seeking out younger gay friends.
That noted that this was sometimes a struggle in a sub-culture which values youth.
“The whole world is young compared to us,” one New Zealander in his early 70s said.
“There are some wonderful young people here. But they still have their own lives.”
“Most of them are in relationships and I’m jealous of that too. It’s quite sobering and saddening to go home alone when they’re going home in love and all the things that go with that.”
Dr Robinson told SBS that the millennials he had spoken to were horrified that people their grandparents' age were facing challenges, and angry that the LGBT+ community wasn't doing more.
The Swinburne lecturer said that the issue wasn't given a great deal of attention - partly due to ageism in general society, but also because of the emphasis on youth in the gay community.
“The people adverting in the gay press are more interested in selling clothes and drinks and cars – they’re not particularly interested in selling aged care accommodation," he said.
"But that will change, I expect.”