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What’s it like to be an LGBT+ Carer?

February marks LGBT history month and 2022 is an extra special year. This year, it is the 50th anniversary of the first Pride march in the UK in 1972. Society and its attitudes have thankfully progressed in the last 50 years, but what is it like for Carers who are from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT+) community?  
Carers UK estimate that there are 240,000 (LGBTQ+) Carers in the UK. The Carers Trust found that:

  • 83% of young adult LGBT+ Carers experienced bullying at school/college
  • 88% experience mental health problems
  • 31% feel that they are treated differently because of their sexual identity

The majority of Carers experience social isolation in their role and are much more likely to live in poverty. This is compounded for LGBTQ+ Carers, especially those from older generations. There are other factors that make being a Carer from the LGBTQ+ more challenging:

Lack of Family Support
Some primary Carers can lean on relatives for extra support but what if you are estranged from your family because they do not know about or approve of who you love? This can add an extra strain for LGBTQ+ Carers.  

“My partner’s family didn’t know we were a couple even although I was her main Carer. When we were with her family it led to tensions where we had to remember what we should and shouldn’t say or how to behave.” Norena

“Due to being non-binary transgender, I have drifted apart from my family. My wife’s family did not like me being around them in case my appearance influenced our nephew. We don’t have family who can provide support with my caring role, no one to call to ask for advice or just to talk things through.” Ian

In Arnold’s case of caring for his longstanding friend with dementia he was, ultimately, excluded by the biological family and by the management of the care home his friend was resident in. Arnold said, “It might have been different if I’d been a conventional, opposite sex partner.’

Assumptions from Family Members
If you do not have what is seen as a ‘traditional family’ other relatives might assume that if you have less commitments at home, that the caring role should automatically fall to those without children. As Tony explained, “I am a carer for both my elderly parents and so is my sister. … However, there is an expectation that I will do this on the part of my parents as I am gay and do not have the same commitments as my sister, i.e. children, despite the fact that I am married to my husband, have a mortgage and two animals so I have financial commitments like anyone else.

Having to Come Out Again
Research indicates that Carers who identify as LGBT often worry that the public services that they have to engage with may not be LGBT+ friendly. They may also feel uncomfortable about ‘coming out’ and telling professionals about their relationship. Telling someone you are a Carer might involve describing your relationship with the person you are caring for which could involve feeling that you are ‘coming out’ all over again which can be emotional and something you may not wish to reveal. “I feel as if during the time I was caring, I spent six years back in the closet, after the journey of coming out.” Steven

Gay couples may not feel they can be open with health professionals as they might not trust them or the services they work for due to bad experiences. Mike said, “I thought I had come out as gay in my 20’s, but now I am a 65-year-old man and as soon as I am in appointments or anywhere official support Tom I have to come out again. I am still coming out at 65. Straight people don’t have to come out as straight all their lives, but I have to come out as gay every time I go to a heteronormative service. Its discrimination, lots of assumptions are made. It is a structural society issue, services are still geared towards heterosexual lives, services are heteronormative, and it needs to be tackled. Services and professionals need to be trained to work with all of the public. Most care workers and professionals are lovely, but sometimes they get it wrong and it can be hurtful.”

Sadly, discrimination is a reality for some Carers as one Carer points out. “LGBT+ people have sometimes faced discrimination when dealing with care homes – either from the home not being inclusive enough, or through hostility from individual workers disapproving of someone due to their sexuality or gender identification.”

Another Carer Ruth said, “Professionals can make inaccurate or inappropriate judgements about our relationship. Sometimes hospital staff assume that I am Sonia’s care worker and not her wife so I have to make it clear.”

“We found a support group for my partner’s condition which was run by a religious organisation. The group was great but we needed to hide our true relationship and say we were just friends. We weren’t able to be totally open about things we wanted to discuss”

Mike cares for his partner Tom who has dementia , explained, “We would go appointments together and the professional would call Tom’s name and he wouldn’t answer, so I would speak up and answer for Tom and I would be questioned on who I was to Tom. This would not happen if it was a husband and wife.

I have been asked in these situations if I have power of attorney, there was always less assumption that we may be partners, it is often assumed that I am Tom’s brother, or Tom is my dad not the obvious choice that we are partners. I know that professionals may feel that they need to ask but as a gay person who is already facing discrimination to then have to justify who I am as a Carer for my partner it is just insulting. It doesn’t happen every time we go to appointments, but it has happened enough times.”

Support Groups
Studies of LGBT+ Carers have shown that support groups run by/ with other LGBT+ people are preferred, and they are less likely to join mainstream, and mostly straight, Carer support groups. The worry with this is, it means that LGBT+ Carers are less likely to seek and access services and support and are trying to copy alone. Mike explains the difficulty, “It was very hard being vulnerable and talking in front a group of straight people. I found it hard telling my mum and dad that I loved a man, so telling a group of straight strangers that I love a man was very hard, but I think most people in the group were so distracted by their own problems they are not really worried about your issues or sexuality.  It shows that these services and groups are heterosexual ordinated, but I think it is very easy to resolve, services should tell LGBT+ people that they are welcome in their service, and staff should be trained to work with people as individuals, services can make activities in groups more diverse and less heteronormative.

Birmingham LGBT can support individuals or groups of LGBT people as part of the Ageing Better in Birmingham programme. Birmingham LGBT runs the Ageing Better LGBT Hub, which can provide practical support, access to finance and promotion of LGBT groups and activities, so that 50+ LGBT people can have a wider range of options for socialising and making new friends.

If you are 50+ and would be interested in joining a LGBTQ+ Carer support group or you would like to share your Carer story to help other Carers, please contact bernie.huntingdon@forwardcarers.org.uk