Program aims to ensure fair treatment for all
BY NATE SMELLE
In any community he’s lived in, Port Colborne resident Dick Moore has recognized a need among elderly Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) people to connect with the health care services available to them.
Acknowledging the demand for such a social network in Niagara, he decided to act. With the intention of improving the quality of life of LGBT seniors throughout the region, last December he formed Niagara’s first Seniors’ Pride Network (SPN). Moore explained that the network brings together aging LGBT people with representatives from service provider organizations such as Meals on Wheels, Home Help, Homes for the Aged, long-term care retirement homes, and other organizations that are trained to accommodate the specific needs of the LGBT community.
Unfortunately, many service providers catering to seniors in Niagara are not prepared to assist this growing faction of the local population.
“We have to start where the need is,” he said.
“From our experience, and from what our service providers are telling us, the greatest need here is for training and for education. LGBT people need to know of the safe and accessible services and programs that are available.”
Moore said the ultimate goal of the SPN is to expand and enhance the programs and services available to elderly LGBT people. When connecting with these organizations, he said many service providers have expressed to him that they don’t know where to begin, because they have not been educated on the experiences and life histories of older LGBT people. Since often these individuals have had a negative experience with the health care system in the past, Moore said many of them would rather risk going without proper care than risk facing discrimination or oppression.
Pointing out that it wasn’t until 1969 that the Criminal Code in Canada was amended to decriminalize sex between consenting same-sex adults, Moore said LGBT seniors today came of age thinking their sexuality and/or gender identity was a crime or a mental health condition.
“When people call us perverts or nut cases, it’s because [homosexuality] was listed as a crime and a mental health condition,” he said.
“The message that we heard from most religious communities as well was that it was a sin. People from these generations grew up under that cloud. They went through school being beat up in the schoolyard, called names and all those sorts of things. They experienced intense oppression and discrimination.”
Recalling the story of a woman he connected with through the network, Moore described her experience with the health care system and why many LGBT seniors are uncomfortable seeking the care they need. While receiving a gynecological exam, Moore said she told him that the doctor waited until her feet were up in the stirrups to ask her whether she was sexually active. Admitting that she was, the doctor asked the woman if she was using birth control. When she said that she was not, she told Moore that the doctor then started shaking his finger and proceeded to give the woman a lengthy paternalistic lecture on responsible sexuality. Moore said when the woman told him that the reason she didn’t use birth control was because she had sex with other women, the doctor put down his instruments left the room and never came back.
“I don’t think lesbian women who have heard that story are going to want to rush back each year for their papp smear or their breast exam. It’s not going to happen.”
Moore related another story about a gay man who had gonorrhea of the throat. Though this is a relatively common condition for people who have oral sex, Moore said when the young man went to see the doctor, he was told to go home and gargle with salt water for a couple of weeks.
“The doctor didn’t know what he should have known,” said Moore.
“He wasn’t trained and he wasn’t educated to the level he needed to be.”
Currently part of a committee at the University of Toronto Medical School, Moore is working to diversify medical education so that health care professionals and students can learn about the health issues and concerns LGBT people have. Through the committee’s efforts, he said they are creating a safer learning environment for LGBT students, while also ensuring future LGBT patients will receive proper care.
“A lot of things are being done, but the people who are out there even still now often haven’t had any exposure to this. Personal support workers don’t get it as part of their training—nurses, social workers, speech and language pathologists, physiotherapists, chiropractors—none of these people get that much exposure to the health issues or concerns of LGBT people through their training. LGBT people are cautious and very aware of dangerous situations, so they avoid them. We are seeking funding so we can provide this training.”
To help remedy this, Moore and the SPN have come up with a plan to educate and train service providers that they are hoping to have funded through the New Horizons for Seniors grant program. He said most service providers are eager and willing to learn, but they don’t know what they need to do.
Though SPN is a relatively new organization, Moore has been helping senior LGBT citizens for nearly two decades. Having worked with a similar network in Toronto, known as the 519, and with others in Ottawa and Windsor, Moore knows what needs to be done to assist these community members. By way of his experience, he has seen firsthand the need for such a network and the services, programs and training they provide, a need that has grown in recent years. As the 73-year-old human rights activist grows older himself, he said he has come to understand the severity of these concerns more clearly.
“They often feel that if they have to go into long-term care that they have to go into the closet,” he said.
“Because many of them think that if anyone knew that they were gay or lesbian they would be shunned by the rest of the residents or by the staff. They worry that they will not receive care, or that they would receive second-class care. At 73 it has become a profound concern for me.”
Despite the fact awareness of LGBT rights and gender equality has grown, Moore said homophobia is still a very real and dangerous problem that needs to be addressed. He believes the reason some people today are hesitant or disinterested in learning about LGBT issues stems from their own ignorance and their lack of exposure to the LGBT community. Moore sees homophobia in the political sphere as especially harmful to society, because when an elected official exhibits such hatred and ignorance towards members of the LGBT community — many of the people they were elected to represent — it indicates they will not be serving the entire community in good faith.
“The Region of Niagara is kind of known as a ‘right wing’ area,” he declared.
“You know this young man who was recently elected — Sam Oosterhoff, the 19-year-old MPP who was home-schooled and comes from a very religious background — from some of the things he has said I don’t think he is particularly pro-LGBT. I think a lot of the political folks that have come out of the Region are from this deeply ‘right wing’ religious group that are opposed to the things we are doing. They think it’s a sin.”
Moore said he was not surprised by St. Catharines Regional Councillor Andy Petrowski’s homophobic tweets, or by MPP Oosterhoff declining to answer the Voice’s questionnaire (which in part addressed LGBT issues and rights) during the last election. Politicians who defend their homophobia by claiming to be acting in God’s name need to realize that LGBT people are part of God’s creation too, he asserts.
“I have a neighbour who is my age and is still closeted and goes to a very conservative church where they don’t accept LGBT people,” Moore said.
“I say to him you should love yourself because God made you the way you are and she knew what she was doing. I would say to Sam Oosterhoff, I’m a good person and God loves me and this is the way God made me. And you hating me and your speaking ill of people like me is you speaking bad of God’s creation. We’re entitled and we’re protected under the Human Rights Commission of Canada and Ontario. We deserve equal treatment under the law and we deserve respectful treatment.”
To find out more about the services and supports offered by the Senior Pride Network in Niagara, or to get involved contact Dick Moore at [email protected]