With Christmas and New Year over, 2019 is now well and truly upon us.
This year we will hopefully see the proposals outlined in the Government’s July 2018 LGBT Action Plan progress. This includes action on conversion therapy, compulsory and same-sex inclusive Sex and Relationships Education in schools, as well as reform of the Gender Recognition Act.
Looking back at 2018 one of the very best events I attended over the course of the whole year, was the Opening Doors London Christmas Concert. Opening Doors London is a charity which supports LGBTQ people aged 50 and over living in London and the surrounding region. I was asked to read two poems. I have encountered many older HIV positive people who experience isolation, some having lost entire friendship circles to AIDS during the 1980s and 1990s. I was keen to learn more about the challenges faced by older LGBTQ people more broadly.
I read Christmas Carol by Sara Teasdale, which is a festive favourite about Jesus’ birth and Christmas Fancies by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, which is more secular in nature, reflecting on those loved ones who are no longer with us. Earlier in the day I had been reading over the poems and, the more I read Christmas Fancies, the more the words resonated with me:
“And etched on vacant places,
Are half forgotten faces
Of friends we used to cherish, and loves we used to know.”
Several people in the audience came up to me afterwards to tell me how touching they found Christmas Fancies and asking where they could obtain a copy.
Opening Doors London’s Christmas Concert is just one of the functions the charity organises. They have a full calendar of events, catering for many interests. There are film, walking and cricket groups. Recent visits to art galleries and museums have included the Victoria & Albert Museum, as well as the Barbican. These activities enable older LGBTQ people to socialise and build up networks. It is important to enhance the mental, as well as physical, health of members.
Opening Doors London also operates a befriending scheme, whereby other members or younger volunteers visit older housebound LGBTQ people. The younger volunteers often comment on how interesting it is to speak to someone who grew up in such a different environment.
Two initiatives which really impressed me were the Rainbow Cafe, where LGBTQ people living with dementia can meet and the prostrate cancer support group. The Rainbow Cafe gives people living with dementia a safe space to share their stories and engage in social activities. I know gay and bi men, as well as trans people, who have been impacted by prostate cancer and, as someone living with HIV, I can personally attest to the powerful impact of peer support.
Amidst all that is going on in 2019, we must not forget the older generation of LGBTQ people. In their lifetimes they have witnessed incredible changes taking place in the UK around LGBTQ rights, from decriminalisation in England and Wales in 1967, the horror of Section 28 in 1988, to the passing of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act in 2013.
We need to give more thought to the needs of older LGBTQ people and how best to provide support, but also recognise that there is much we can learn from them.