#AgeingWithPride Campaign with the Centre for Ageing Better
In this guest blog, Lawrie Roberts and Bob Green, both from the LGBT Foundation, talk about the discrimination and isolation that older LGBT+ people face and what’s being done to create change.
“This Pride Month it has been wonderful to read about the lives of over 50s LGBT+ people via the Centre for Ageing Better’s #AgeingWithPride campaign. At a time when we haven’t been able to gather together as a community to recognise Pride, these pieces are a celebration of the incredible contributions to society our older LGBT+ communities have made and continue to make. Each person is an amazing example to us all and should inspire younger generations.
However, it’s important to recognise the voices that are missing from the campaign. Unfortunately, many older LGBT+ people report that they continue to face a lack of affirmation around their identities, and in some cases experience discrimination and prejudice. Because of this, many people are hiding their LGBT+ identities in later life and, for those who wish to come out for the first time in their later years, it can be even tougher to find your place within the community.
In my work, I’ve commonly seen a twofold exclusion: many over 50s find their LGBT+ identity is not addressed in spaces set up to support older people while simultaneously feeling a lack of inclusion in some LGBT community spaces. For example, Manchester’s Gay Village has been singled out for catering mostly to a younger late-night crowd, as well as online dating apps, where ageism is pervasive and entrenched.
I cannot imagine how it must feel to be part of the generation who fought for the many rights that our communities enjoy today, only to be made to feel that our community spaces aren’t for you when you reach a certain age.
Fortunately, things are changing. I run a programme of work for LGBT+ over 50s in Greater Manchester called ‘Pride in Ageing’ which looks to address some of these issues. This programme is now established at LGBT Foundation as a dedicated programme of work supporting the needs of our older LGBT+ communities. The reception to the programme from local authorities and organisations who work with older people has been promising. There is agreement that LGBT+ inclusion and visibility play a vital part in cultivating an age-friendly region and tackling discrimination.
The #AgeingWithPride stories all speak of the vast change in equalities, recognition, and rights over the lifetimes of older generations of people from LGBT+ communities, and the positive impact this has had. However, for many the weight of shame and stigma from the past is still hard to lift and be free of, and for some, such as our trans and non-binary communities and LGBT+ people of colour, they are still facing attacks, discrimination and debate over their rights today.
For older LGBT+ people, hiding your identity, as well as a lack of connection to family (usually due to having been ostracised or being less likely to have children to rely on for support) leads to higher levels of isolation compared to the general population. A range of projects at LGBT Foundation have been looking to address these issues through where people are living. For example, Back in the Closet and a series of LGBT+ artist residences in retirement schemes.
After years of discussions, the dream of the UK’s first purpose-built LGBT Extra Care Scheme is becoming a reality in Manchester. LGBT Foundation, together with Manchester City Council and Anchor Hanover, have set up a Community Steering Group made up of older LGBT+ people and older people from Whalley Range, where the building will be situated. They will be at the heart of designing the shape of the building and services on offer. The journey of the development is being recorded through an online Learning Journal, which can be found on LGBT Foundation’s website.
Thanks to campaigns like these and #AgeingWithPride we are finally giving this generation of LGBT+ trailblazers the recognition and opportunities they deserve.”
LGBT Foundation is a national charity delivering services, advice and support for LGBT people in England.
Why Lynn is #AgeingWithPride
To mark Pride Month, Lynn, 69, talks about the importance of having a transgender memorial, being active in the LGBT+ community and enjoying getting older.
“Since I’ve retired, I’ve ended up doing a lot of trans support work and things like that, I’m very involved in the LGBT+ community in Manchester. There’s a lot of stuff going on, although it’s much quieter at the moment with COVID.
I wanted to have my photograph taken by the ‘Transgender Memorial’ in Manchester because it’s the only one in the country. In fact, I think at the time it was done it was the only one in the world! It’s a memorial to all the trans women who, because of their circumstances and the attitudes of the time, were buried in their male names. I suspect there were a lot of trans men buried with their female names as well. There’s a plaque on the memorial that says ‘You were known to us’. Your families may have denied it, but you were known to us. That’s why it was created.
That’s one of the things that affects older trans people far more than the young. These days, you can change your name fairly easily, records are changed and so forth. That wasn’t the case for us. The Gender Recognition Act in 2004 sorted a lot of those problems out. It wasn’t perfect but it helped. The older generation of trans people never got that, and many died before then.
I’m looking to get involved with a project that finds housing for young trans people, which is a major issue. Very often trans people struggle to start in life, in some cases they get very badly treated by their parents and schools. I’m aware of young trans people living on the street. And if you’re at that level as a teenager and you can’t afford adequate accommodation, you’re not going to succeed
I did do quite a bit of work with the LGBT Foundation’s helpline, particularly when they first adopted a trans-inclusive policy, about six years ago. Back then, there wasn’t anyone who had experience of trans people, not among the volunteers, or most of the staff. Although some of them were in the closet, I think. Imagine, being in the closet in an LGBT organisation! It’s shifted a lot, but at that time they had nobody who could support trans people who were struggling. So, I ended up doing that. It was quite an interesting experience.
The media has been what they call ‘debating’ trans people’s human rights by including people with an eccentric view of gender in the name of balance. It’s really offensive. Even media outlets that are more balanced than most have recently been taking a partial side to trans issues. Transgender rights are being slanted and that’s why I’m cautious about appearing in the media. It’s the whole issue of what is the journalist’s aim for their program or their article? I’m quite enjoying getting older and not having to worry about earning money. There is an LGBT+ support and social group that I go to called ‘Out in the City’. It’s mainly social, but when you’re on your own – which a lot of older LGBT+ people are – you need some contact with people. I’m pretty good at managing on my own, but I was aware that by the time I’d been in lockdown for months that it was getting to me. And there are people who have had it a lot worse. This group has helped a lot of people during this time, me included.”
Why Ken is #AgeingWithPride
Ken talks about his love of performing, the benefits of multigenerational workplaces, and meeting Sir Ian McKellen.
“I’m 74, which is exactly the same age as Elton John. We have the same birthday and we’re both in entertainment. I always liked theatre as a youngster. I first started off doing musical comedy in the chorus in a show. But after that I wanted to do drama and variety, and pantomime.
In earlier years I used to do quite a few theatre shows. I performed as Larry Grayson (the comedian), I used to take him up and down the country in variety shows. I also used to be a dame in pantomimes, which you could do a lot with, comedy songs and such. I did a couple of comedy plays in years gone by, ‘When We Are Married’, for instance. That was really fun.
I still do pantomime sometimes – although last year everything was cancelled. You do miss really it but I’m hoping to get back into a production later in the year all being well.
I don’t think of age really. I’ve been associated with so many age groups in the theatre and we always seem to get along. That’s my favourite part about working in the theatre: the people. I enjoy working with everyone – people of all ages, and they don’t treat you any differently for being older. Younger people I’ve worked with have gone off to drama school in London and said, ‘We won’t forget you, Ken!’, which is really nice. Some of us kept in touch throughout the pandemic.
I know that Sir Ian McKellen is still acting in the theatre. He’s going to be playing ‘Hamlet’, which is on at the Theatre Royal Windsor. It must be something now to have a big part like that at 80. As part of the ‘Pride in ageing’ opening we actually got to meet Sir Ian. It’s a programme set up in response to concerns that LGBT+ people over 50 are living in isolation or facing discrimination. Sir Ian helped set up the group and it was such a joy to meet him. He chatted with most people and was really a nice person.
I’m involved with a very good social group called ‘Out in the City’. It’s a group for people to get involved with when they’re by themselves. Tony, who runs the programme, organises various day trips. One time we went to Clayton Hall and got all dressed up, which was fun. We’re hoping to do more trips soon.
It’s much better today being a gay person. When I was first coming out it was all a bit behind closed doors. It’s much better for people today, the younger generation. I don’t condemn my younger days, but I think today is freer from my point of view. You can get married and have a partnership, which is wonderful. Today you can be in a LGBT+ relationship and actually say ‘my partner and I’.
When I’m not acting, I volunteer for the theatre. I help with the front of house, giving people their programmes and showing them to their seats. Once everybody gets settled in you can watch the production but you’re always on duty in case anyone needs anything. People enjoy you welcoming them to the theatre – it’s all a pleasure to do. I have the luxury of not having to think of my age. I’m lucky that I’m able to keep doing various things – theatre, gardening, getting out and about. I’m quite happy with where I am.”
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