The Canadian Press
Posted: Sep 2, 2012 12:56 PM PT
Last Updated: Sep 2, 2012 2:30 PM PT
Alex Sangha is determined to make sure elderly LGBT people have a comfortable place to spend their twilight years.
The project is part of Sangha’s masters degree in social work at Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie University and he eventually hopes to build a facility for around 150 residents.
Speaking in a phone interview, Sangha said many LGBT seniors face discrimination by staff and fellow residents in standard retirement homes and don’t have family to rely on for support, leading to depression and even suicide.
“There’s a lot of risk of alienation and isolation and loneliness,” he said.
Community at risk
Richard Sullivan, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s school of social work, said the problem extends beyond loneliness and is actually putting the safety of elderly members of the gay community at risk.
‘Who wants to come out again in your 70s and 80s?’—Richard Sullivan, associate professor at UBC
“Who wants to come out again in your 70s and 80s?” he said.
“For fear of prejudice, [gay and lesbian people] are avoiding aggregate care to the point where they probably should be using it, where they’re no longer safe in their own home.”
Sullivan said such infrastructure for the gay community is lacking because of the effect AIDS had on the population.
“The wealth of the gay and lesbian community is greatly diminished by the fact that baby boomer men in that community perished at a rate of 50 per cent through the AIDS epidemic,” said Sullivan.
“If that had not happened, I would venture to say there would already be a resource like this.”
Fight for dignity
According to Sangha, staying in gay communities in Vancouver is especially hard for retirees because the community is centred in the city’s pricey downtown or West End.
Vancouver’s annual Pride Parade celebrates the LGBT community. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)
“What’s happening in some cities especially in Vancouver is it’s becoming very expensive for people to live in downtown Vancouver and the rental market, the housing market, has low vacancy and high cost,” he said.
“The population is aging and it’s important to develop infrastructure for the senior population and this includes all the vulnerable sectors of the population.”
He says many older gay and transgendered people have fought for equality their whole lives and deserve a happy retirement.
Sangha also hinted the project could be a way to show gratitude to a generation of gay and lesbian people who helped bring their struggle for rights into the mainstream.
“We need to [help] our elders and our seniors who have fought for years for rights for our generation to live in dignity, to live in respect and to live with compassion,” he said.
There is already one such retirement home operating in Montreal, while a limited number have recently sprung up across the U.S.
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