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Belong promotes awareness of LGBTQ+ people in care

As June 24th marks the UK’s first national Silver Pride celebration of LGBTQ+ life and culture for the over 55s, Belong is leading the promotion of awareness and appreciation of the needs of older LGBTQ+ people living in care.

The dementia specialist is implementing the Skills for Care LGBTQ+ learning framework, equipping its teams with the knowledge, values and best practice to support its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and other customers whose outlook and needs can differ from others who share their home. Additionally, the move helps Belong build on its inclusive culture empowering colleagues to be confident in who they are at their place of work.

Research has shown that whilst older people have understandable concerns making the transition to living in care environments, older LGBTQ+ people envisage their own distinct challenges, such as carers who lack communication tools to discuss gender identity or sexual orientation, even if they have favourable attitudes to the LGBTQ+ community.1  

Caroline Baker, head of dementia and care quality at Belong, provides more detail: “We believe people should be able to live and work as they choose to present themselves as this makes for a diverse, respectful and cohesive society. We have a responsibility to all our customers and colleagues to engender this culture, and this new training serves as one of many ways we achieve this.”

Belong has a history of supporting its customers, notably, accompanying them to Pride events, as well as other festivities. Since 2018, it has hosted its own Silver Pride, inviting the local community to join. The charitable organisation has also proactively developed relationships with LGBTQ+ sexual health charities and social groups for older people, providing networking opportunities for all its customers and colleagues.

For one person, Belong’s approach to care has proven to be literally life changing. Samantha Wolsey, 68, moved into one of Belong Wigan’s independent living apartments five years ago, presenting as ‘Billy’. She quickly discerned the team’s attitudes and the culture championed by Belong, she finally felt comfortable to share who she is with the world.

Having grown up in a largely conservative Britain, prior to homosexuality being decriminalised in 1967, as a young boy, Samantha’s father took her to a psychologist for conversion therapy treatment where she was tied to a bed with straps to administer electric shocks to her body. In adulthood and working as a builder, she continued to present as male, not quite finding the courage to present as she wanted to.

She recalls: “I would dress in clothes designed for women in private but never in public – the first time everyone saw the real me was at Belong Wigan. I was on the way to a fancy dress party and joined everyone in the garden for a pre-party drink. We were all laughing and joking about me wearing a dress and something in me felt ready to tell them, ‘This is me’. So, I did.”

Belong responded by proposing a celebratory party, bringing everyone together to commend Samantha’s courage and share in her happy news. Charlene Frodsham, experience coordinator at Belong Wigan, said: “When she told us, we were surprised but everyone was keen to support. At her party, Samantha said with tears in her eyes, ‘I didn’t expect all this’. We couldn’t be prouder of her and we hope her story inspires others to show the world who they are.”

1BAILEY et al. (2022). Equal but different! Improving care for older LGBT+ adults. Age and Ageing, Volume 51, Issue 6, June 2022. Article last accessed 19 June 2023 at: https://doi.org/10.1093/ageing/afac142

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