As someone who has just turned 57, there are certain things you start to think about. While many people will say 50s are the new 40s, there’s the reality that you need to start considering your life and health in different ways, and what sort of supports you need as you get older. This is an issue for everyone as we age, but for LGBT+ people many of us have to wonder and worry about being open about our sexuality, gender identity or gender expression with the people we rely on to support us, the medical professionals and the health system itself.
I grew up in the Ireland of the ‘60s and ‘70s, when this was a very different country. Being gay was not acceptable, it was illegal, and so many of us still bear the scars of having to deal with a society that forced us to stay in the closet. There are older people who have never come out, who have had to live hidden and concealed lives. The ones who did come out, like myself, had to struggle through really difficult times.
Having lived abroad for many years, I am amazed and delighted to return to an Ireland that has changed in so many ways. However, there are still battles to be fought to ensure that everyone can feel included and open about who they are, and a key area is to ensure that our health and social care professionals are active in supporting older people to be open and proud of their sexuality, gender identity or gender expression.
It has been several years now since the publication of Visible Lives, the report focused on the issues facing older LGBT people in Ireland, and it is time that we start taking action on this. I will always remember the line from one woman who said “If I can’t be open with my healthcare professional about my sexual identity, if I can’t trust them with that, then how can I trust them with anything else.”
Recently I’ve started working with LGBT Ireland on their LGBT Champions programme, which trains and supports healthcare professionals so that they can advocate for older LGBT+ people within their services and make sure that everyone knows they don’t have to hide who they are.
Most of the time when you’re interacting with health services, you’re already in a vulnerable position. You may be unwell, you may be worried, it might be the worst time of your life. The last thing you need is to feel like you can’t feel comfortable about who you really are.
The Champions programme will empower staff and services to create a safe place, a safe environment where older LGBT+ people don’t have to worry about being themselves. Where they know they can talk about the things that matter to them, talk about their partner, talk about their family, share their history. It means that we will be treated in a way that respects our dignity. That we know we’re not going to be judged.
To see that the healthcare professional we’re working with is supportive of our identity means that we’ll be able to be more open beyond just this issue. It will lead to better relationships and better health outcomes, both physically and mentally.
This will mean a more inclusive care system, where older people will feel comfortable in being who they are, and for the medical professionals they are better equipped to do their job, and with that comes a greater sense of satisfaction in providing care in a way that is truly accepting. It’s a win-win situation.
LGBT Champions is a programme of LGBT Ireland, you can find out more about their work and how you can support them at
If you’re a healthcare professional interested in becoming an LGBT Champion in your organisation, the next training workshop takes place in Cork on April 16. To sign up for this event or to find out more about the programme, email