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Making housing inclusive

What can housing providers do to support LGBT+ older people in sheltered and retirement housing? Rebecca Mollart and Chris Thomas explore good practice.

 LGBT+ older people struggle to find ‘friendly’ sheltered and retirement accommodation. Specialist schemes are rare and providers don’t always promote themselves as ‘LGBT+ friendly’. Although the Equality Act may have reduced overt prejudice and discrimination, older LGBT+ people ‘have experienced a lifetime of discrimination, fear and isolation. This continues to impact on their expectations of housing, support and care as they age, and their anxiety about facing further discrimination’[1].

Compared to the general population, LGBT+ older people:

  • are more likely to be single, live alone and feel lonely and/or socially isolated
  • are less likely to have children or see family members regularly
  • drink alcohol more often or take drugs
  • are more likely to have a history of mental health or experience depression and anxiety
  • are more likely to rely on health and care services[2]

In 2016 Stonewall Housing[3] identified the need for greater understanding of the needs and concerns of LGBT+ older people. This, together with demand from erosh members, led us to develop (supported by Riverside, and in association with Tai Pawb and Trivallis) a good practice guide on LGBT+ older people in sheltered and retirement housing to help providers better support LGBT+ older people, deal with discrimination and homophobia, and actively promote schemes and services as LGBT+ friendly.

Erosh members have reported more incidents of homophobia. ‘Younger’ older LGBT+ people who have grown up comfortable with their sexuality and are ‘out’, move into sheltered and retirement schemes with ‘older’ older people who grew up when it was illegal to be gay. In most cases this, along with ignorance, has influenced attitudes rather than any conscious homophobic intention.

LGBT+ older people with dementia may have previously experienced discrimination from professionals which makes them feel afraid of being open. They may forget who they have/haven’t been open with and that they have ‘come out’; or believe they still need to hide their sexuality. They can sometimes lose inhibitions and demonstrate emotional, romantic, or sexual behaviour to a person of the same gender who is not aware of their sexual orientation[4]. Trans people with dementia may also forget they have changed gender or started the process.

Even in 1967, homosexuality was only partly decriminalised and public displays of ‘consensual homosexual activity’ were prosecuted until 2000[5]; until 1973, homosexuality was listed as a mental illness in a mental health professionals manual; and until 1980, ‘gender identity disorder’ was listed under disorders in the same manual[6].


1967 Sex between two men over 21 “in private” decriminalised England & Wales
1980 Decriminalised Scotland
1982 Decriminalised Northern Ireland
1988 Clause 28 LG Act banned LAs and schools from ‘promoting’ homosexuality
1994 Age of consent for two male partners lowered to 18
2000 Ban on gay and bisexual people in armed forces lifted; age of consent equalised for same and opposite-sex partners at 16; Clause 28 LG Act 1988 repealed in Scotland
2002 Equal adoption rights for same-sex couples
2003 Gross indecency no longer an offence; Clause 28 LG Act 1988 repealed throughout UK
2004 Civil partnerships legally recognised
2004 Right to change legal gender legal
2007 Discrimination on basis of sexual orientation illegal
2010 Discrimination illegal under Equality Act protected characteristics of sexual orientation and gender identity
2014 Gay marriage legal in England, Wales and Scotland

Now under equality and human rights legislation, LGBT+ people have the same rights as anyone else to live the life they choose without fear of abuse, hate or violence and to receive services that meet their needs. Housing providers must: not discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation or gender reassignment; provide an equally favourable service to everyone; consider all individuals when shaping and delivering services; and give ‘due regard to’ eliminating discrimination and advancing equality of opportunity.

The policy framework is also clear. In 2018 the UK government published an LGBT Action Plan[7] setting out commitments to improving the lives of LGBT+ people. Wales has an Action Plan[8] to advance equality for transgender people in Wales; and Scotland is considered one of the most progressive countries in Europe in terms of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) equality[9].

Two particular issues seem to be concerning erosh members:

  • Terminology – those who wholeheartedly buy into equality and diversity principles worry about how to address or refer to members of the LGBT+ or Trans community. This is understandable but can result in addressing LGBT+ people inappropriately or not at all.
  • Responding to homophobic incidents – as with any other difficult situation, it can be challenging and requires confidence and assertiveness backed up by training and robust policies and procedures.

The housing and support needs of LGBT+ older people are similar to anyone else’s but with some particular considerations:

  • Not assuming all LGBT+ people are a homogenous group with the same needs and preferences
  • Ensuring a safe, secure environment free from homophobia, discrimination, prejudice, bullying and harassment and where these are challenged and addressed, and where LGBT+ people feel understood, and comfortable with openly being themselves and expressing their needs and preferences
  • Staff are professional and non-discriminatory, appropriately trained, and adhere to a code of conduct
  • Policies and procedures specifically refer to LGBT+ people and their rights and consciously take account of their particular needs and preferences.

Monitoring is essential, often a first step and should be fully integrated into existing customer profiling. Despite greater acceptance driven by legislative change, there is still a lack of evidence about LGBT+ people and their needs. Monitoring ensures people receive the services they need, decisions are well-informed, inequalities are not reinforced, and barriers to accessing services and support are minimised.

The right messages and culture need to permeate throughout the organisation:

  • Needs of LGBT+ older people must be considered when designing and delivering services
  • Codes of conduct and resident handbooks must reinforce message that homophobia, transphobia, prejudice, discrimination, bullying and harassment will not be tolerated, and how it will be dealt with
  • Robust, regularly reviewed policies and procedures must be in place for addressing homophobia and discrimination and for supporting staff to address incidents
  • Positive messages must be reinforced with appropriate imagery and language; links made with local support networks; and specialist training provided.

Good practice we have come across also includes identifying staff members as LGBT+ champions and contact points, and dedicated staff and customer focus groups for sharing experiences and views.

Trivallis, for example, has taken a proactive approach to supporting LGBT+ staff and customers, and has set up a Respect Group looking at how the organisation can support staff to discuss issues comfortably.

One of the group’s members is Chris Thomas, care & support service development co-ordinator. Chris, also one of the organisation’s LGBT+ champions as well as a Stonewall champion, works closely with the sheltered team and has been supporting them with all things LGBT+ related.

Equality and diversity training is standard for all staff including how to challenge inappropriate language and homophobic, transphobic and discriminatory behaviour; staff and tenants are signposted to advocacy services.

Case studies have been developed for staff to learn from; and last but certainly not least tenants have been invited to march with staff at Pride 2020. They are even arranging for rainbow flags to be put on their entrance doors, to demonstrate that the schemes are LGBT+ friendly for tenants, staff and visitors.

We hope that sheltered and retirement housing providers embrace the challenges and make their schemes and services truly inclusive.

Rebecca Mollart is chief executive of  erosh and Chris Thomas is care & support service development co-ordinator at Trivallis

Good practice checklist

  • Do you formally consider the needs of LGBT+ older people when designing and planning accommodation and services?
  • Do your support planning and needs assessment processes specifically identify the needs and preferences of LGBT+ older people?
  • Do you have a specific policy for addressing incidents of homophobia and discrimination from staff, residents, customers, contractors and visitors?
  • Do you regularly and formally review policies and procedures to ensure LGBT+ older people’s needs and preferences are reflected?
  • Does your code of conduct reinforce the message that homophobia, transphobia, prejudice, discrimination, bullying and harassment will not be tolerated, and how it will be dealt with?
  • Do all staff receive specific LGBT+ awareness training and are supported to address incidents of homophobia and discrimination?
  • Do you have an LGBT+ champion and point of contact for LGBT+ staff and service users?
  • Have you established links with local LGBT+ groups?
  • Do you signpost people to LGBT+ organisations, resources and sources of support?
  • Do you visibly promote that you are LGBT+ friendly including displaying LGBT+ / Trans logos?
  • Are your LGBT+ customers made aware of their rights and how to report discrimination, homophobia, bullying and harassment?
  • Do you regularly and formally collect, and analyse monitoring data?
  • If you are in Wales, have you have achieved the Tai Pawb Quality, Equality & Diversity Award?

The erosh Good Practice Guide is available to members. To join erosh go to erosh.co.uk/about/join-us/   

[1] Guardian, 27 June 2016

[2] Stonewall Housing, 2011, p3

[3] Stonewall Housing, 2016

[4] Alzheimer’s Society, 2017

[5] Schraer & D’Urso, 2017

[6] Alzheimer’s Society, 2017

[7] UK Government, 2018

[8] Welsh Government, 2019

[9] Scottish Government, 2019

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