Community Care Inclusion Project
conducted by the
Victoria Lesbian Seniors Care Society
Box 39022, James Bay Postal Outlet
Victoria, BC V8V 4X8
250 381 6081 firstname.lastname@example.org
Funded by Status of Women Canada
May 30, 2003
Lyn Davis, PhD
250 361 9691
This project could not have completed, much less initiated, without the foresight and hard work of the Board of Directors of the Victoria Lesbian Seniors Care Society (VLSCS). Particular acknowledgement is due to Karen Gallagher, Chair, for the numerous and unpaid hours she has devoted to this project.
Two women assisted the Project Coordinator in compiling and analyzing the information contained in this report. Gail Schacter skilfully interviewed several service providers, and Anna Issacs did a marvellous job of analyzing and producing an interesting, well-written description of the survey results.
Lorinda Alix moderated the beginning forum, eliciting many perspectives of and insightful comments from participants. Jannit Rabinovitch moderated the concluding forum and is responsible for participants’ enthusiastic response in volunteering that evening to continue the momentum this project began.
All of us are indebted to Lorraine Cameron of Status of Women Canada for her continued belief in the necessity of this project. Our two Project Officers, Dena Klashinsky and Mebrat Beyene also aided us.
Finally, I thank the VLSCS Board of Directors for allowing me to use my professional talents and skills in the service of my community. How wonderful to be a lesbian doing lesbian research and lesbian organizing!
Community Care Inclusion Project – i
Funded by Status of Women Canada, the Community Care Inclusion Project began in June 2002. The purpose of the project was to identify and take action on the needs of senior lesbians. The project included:
- – a review of literature;
- – beginning and concluding forums to obtain lesbian community input and feedback;
- – interviews with selected policy makers and service providers to acquaint them with lesbian issues and needs and to assess their awareness of and openness to having lesbian clients; and
- – a survey of lesbians to identify lesbians’ perceptions of aging and service needs as seniors.
We contacted over 60 organizations for interviews and interviewed 34 policy makers and service providers. We found:
- – Almost three-quarters of the persons interviewed had never heard of VLSCS
- – Almost three-quarters of the persons interviewed said that some of their clients probably were or were lesbian. One-quarter said they had no lesbians, and one said there are no lesbians living in her organization’s catchment area (Sooke).
- – None of the organizations have policies that address needs of lesbian clientele.
- – Most organizations have forms that include client’s personal information. We reviewed seven organizations’ forms and found them all to be lesbian-friendly.
- – Most organizations provide training for their staff and volunteers but none of this training includes anything about persons who are not heterosexual.
- – More than two-thirds of the persons we interviewed said their staff would act positively or neutrally towards a lesbian client. None of them said their staff would act negatively towards a lesbian client.
- – When asked how their volunteers would act towards a client they knew or suspected to be lesbian, half of the persons we interviewed said volunteers’ response would be one that needed improvement. Only one-third said volunteers’ response would be positive, and the remaining persons said volunteers’ response would be neutral.
- – When asked how other clients would act towards a client they knew or suspected to be lesbian, almost three-quarters of the persons we interviewed said other clients’ response would be one that needed improvement. Slightly less than one-fifth said other clients’ response would be positive, and the remaining persons said other clients’ response would be neutral.
- – Almost all persons interviewed said they would put up a small poster concerning diversity that included lesbians and that they thought the poster would stay up for a long time.
- – When we walked through the public areas of the facilities, none of us felt that we would be visible as lesbians if we were clients of that facility.
We also surveyed of lesbian living in the Greater Victoria area, including some of the Gulf Islands. The 100 respondents ranged in age from 31 to 80, with an average age of 52. Just under half the respondents were aged 50-59; slightly more than one-third were aged 30-49; and one-fifth were 60 and older. Almost 90 percent of the respondents were white. Almost two-thirds claimed the identity “lesbian,” while slightly more than one-tenth claimed “gay” or “queer.” Older respondents were more likely to claim “lesbian” than younger respondents.
Over three-quarters of the respondents were in a relationship. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents do not have children, and nearly two-thirds of the women in partnerships do not have partners with children. Women aged 50-59 were the most likely, and women aged 30-49 the least likely, to have children.
When asked to rate the degree to which lesbians expected to receive support from certain sources when they are old, respondents said:
- – Family members are perceived as an important source of help. The most frequently cited expected source of support was partners. Half expect to receive help from their siblings, while one-third expect to receive help from family members other than children or siblings. Three-quarters of those with children expect to receive help from their children.
- – Other important sources of support are friends, the lesbian community, and social service agencies, in this order.
- – Those sixty years and older expected to have access to the broadest range of sources of help, indicating on average that they expected to have access to six of the 10 specific sources of help listed.
We also asked lesbians to tell us what they worry about when they think of growing old. They said:
- – Lack of money is the most important issue. Almost all said they worry somewhat or all the time about financial independence. Three-quarters said they worry they won’t have services or the housing they want because they can’t pay for them. Women aged 50-59 worry less about these issues than women in the other age categories.
- – Mobility and ability are other important issues. Over three-quarters said they worry about getting around on their own and needing help with outside chores, inside chores, and personal care. Lesbians 60 and over worry more about getting around on their own and needing help with outside chores, while lesbians aged 50-59 worry most about needing help with personal care.
- – Isolation and discrimination are the next most-important issues. Over half of the respondents worry they will be isolated from their community, be treated differently because they are lesbian, spend too much time alone, and have no one to talk to. Lesbians 60 and over worry the most about spending too much time alone, being lonely and having no one to talk to, and having no lesbian friends. Lesbians aged 30-49 worry the most about being isolated from community, being treated differently as a lesbian, not seen as a lesbian, and being separated from a partner. Lesbians aged 50-59 worried the least about all of these concerns, except for being in the middle in terms of fear of being isolated from their community and being lonely and having no one to talk to.
Community Care Inclusion Project – iii
- – Over three quarters of respondents also had worries about being in poor health for their old age, and nearly two thirds worried about being depressed. Those 60 and over worried most about being in poor health, and those 50 to 59 worried most about depression in their old age.
Finally, we wanted to determine how much lesbians currently use and estimate they will use seniors-related services. Services that were frequently used include:
- – Physical fitness facilities (two-thirds of all respondents), but older respondents are less likely to use such facilities than younger respondents. Anticipated future use of physical fitness facilities is high for all age groups, however.
- – Although almost all lesbians use physician and pharmacy services, older lesbians use these services more frequently than younger lesbians.
- – Almost three-quarters of all respondents currently use health care practitioners such as chiropractors, naturopaths, physiotherapists, and massage therapists, and a higher percentage expect to use these services in the future more than they do now.
Services with mid-range usage included:
- – Slightly less than half of all respondents use support groups and expect to continue to do so in the future.
- – One-third of all respondents have used information and referral services and expect their usage of these services to double in the future.
- – One-third of all respondents have used counselling services, with lesbians aged 50-59 using them more than other age groups. All age groups expect to use counselling in the future.
Lesser-used services included:
- – Financial assistance (just over one-fifth of all respondents). Not surprisingly, lesbians 60 and over were most likely to say they expected to receive financial assistance in the future.
- – Help with household activities from friends, family, and programs (one-tenth of all respondents), with lesbians 60 and over reporting the highest percentage of help. Frequency of use is expected to increase within the next five years.
- – One-tenth of all respondents have used senior activity centres but one-third plan to use them in the future. The rate of projected increase in use is highest for lesbians 60 and over.
- – Lesbians living in subsidized housing ranged from a low of 6 percent for those 30-49 to a high of 18 percent for those 60 and over, and respondents from both these age groups expected to maintain this rate of usage in the future. Lesbians 50-59 expected to increase their rate of using subsidized housing in the future.
- – Lesbians use of legal services, transportation, and meals and nutrition services are low and expected to remain low or increase slightly in the future.
- – A small number of lesbians receive assistance in personal care from family, friends, and agencies. The rate of usage in the future is estimated to be low.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Lesbians are everywhere in the Greater Victoria area – even in Sooke! Policy makers and service providers are generally aware that lesbians are part of their clientele but neither policies nor training protocols include anything about lesbian needs. It appears that staff’s behaviour towards lesbian clients is either positive or neutral, but volunteers’ and other clients’ behaviour towards lesbians is more likely to need improvement or be neutral. Policy makers and service providers should amend policies and training protocols to address lesbian needs and to facilitate appropriate behaviour of volunteers and other clients towards lesbians.
We do not have extensive information on the experiences, current needs, and projected needs of senior lesbians (those 60 years of age and older). We do, however, have good information about the experiences and projected needs of lesbians who will soon be seniors (those between 50 and 59 years old) and adequate information about those who are between 30 and 49 years old. We need to get more information about senior lesbians, particularly since they are more likely to have lived in the closet and hence have different worldviews and expectations than lesbians who are currently 50 to 59 years old.
The lesbians we do know about are likely to be in a relationship and not have children. When lesbians get old, they expect to get help from family members, particularly partners and children, friends, and social service programs. The older lesbians are, the more sources of help they expect to access. Lesbians currently use and expect to increase their usage of physician, pharmacy, and other health care provider services, as well as physical fitness facilities. It is therefore important that health and social service policy makers and providers are aware of and respond appropriately to senior lesbians’ needs.
Lesbians’ primary worry about growing old is lack of financial resources. The next most frequent worries are lack of mobility and agility, isolation, discrimination, and poor health. Although these worries are not substantially different from those of non-lesbian women, homophobia and heterosexism confound these issues.
Part of increasing awareness of senior lesbian needs is increasing lesbian visibility. We therefore recommend that service providers include lesbian-positive art, notices, etc., in their facilities. We also recommend that VLSCS assume a higher profile and become a valued senior-serving resource in the Greater Victoria area.
Community Care Inclusion Project – i
Next Steps and Number of Volunteers
Suggested Next Step
Number of Volunteers
Survey members to learn what social activities they would like VLSCS to sponsor
Conduct VLSCS social events
Create and monitor the answering machine for a 24-hour VLSCS telephone line
Telephone response to 24-hour VLSCS telephone line
Conduct outreach in the lesbian community
Continue interviewing policy makers and service providers
VLSCS offers training to service providers
VLSCS continues to apply for grants
Volunteer coordination of projects resulting from funding
Join existing networks of senior-serving agencies and organizations
Advertise VLSCS and get on other agencies’ mailing lists
Volunteer to work with senior lesbians
Obtain a social work intern through the University of Victoria
Work with VIHA to create assisted housing for lesbians
Develop clusters of senior lesbians living together with no care component
Educate the health care community about lesbian issues and needs
Update VLSCS communications:
- – web site
- – brochure
- – poster
- – information pack
- – newsletter
Create a VLSCS speaker’s bureau
Write and submit articles to medical, nursing, and social work journals
Present information about the project at conferences
Link VLSCS with US organizations, such as OLOC (Older Lesbians Organizing for Change) and SAGE (Seniors Aging in a Gay Environment)
Publicize the project and VLSCS with local media (CBC, the New VI, Times Colonist)