LGBT+ Carers: is there a different story to tell?
Tony Collins-Moore, carers academy manager at Carers Centre Tower Hamlets, shares his experience of being an unpaid carer and a member of the LGBT+ community.
As both a carer and a member of the LGBT+ community, I wanted to write about carers from the LGBT+ community and if there is a difference in our experience.
Firstly I wanted to highlight that some people from the LGBT+ community move away from the communities they have grown up in, due to issues at home, wanting more acceptance and endeavouring to live their true and honest life. Generally, we move to larger towns and cities because of safety in numbers and better visibility, social life, and job prospects.
The importance of the second family
When you move away from home, what often happens is that you form your own chosen family – call it a second family – which is different of course from your blood relatives.
Second families are often made up of people similar to ourselves, with shared values and sexualities, gender identification, political persuasion or just plain old friendship and love.
Sometimes in the LGBT+ community a person becomes a carer due to a member of their second family needing caring support. Historically, this used to happen more when the long term prognosis for HIV/AIDs looked very negative, when prejudiced attitudes and hate was rife, and services were thin on the ground. In those days we needed our friends and family with us.
These days a caring role might come about through the conditions and health issues that affect the population as a whole. In this situation the strong second family ties that have developed over years of friendship, and in some cases, hardship, mean just as much as they did years ago.
Caring for people in old age
There is a newer emerging issue, as there is in other sectors of society which is the increase of dementia diagnoses and the need for carer support. Like most people, the LGBT+ community is living longer and with any ageing population comes declining health and varying forms of dementia.
If you live alone you might need a friend/carer on call, or if you are in a partnership then you become a carer similar to anyone else. Like most families when a crisis or life changing event happens, we all rally round and support each other the best we can, like any caring, loving family does.
Expectations put upon LGBT+ carers
I am a carer for both my elderly parents and so is my sister. Believe me when I say she does a remarkable job assisting my parents with day-to-day caring tasks, on top of her care worker and parental roles. I manage other tasks like dealing with housing, helping them to make a will and understand its relevance, sorting out utilities and helping with the ever important Netflix, but I also have to help them out financially whenever they come up short in their monthly outgoings.
Of course I do not mind, and I help whenever I can. However, there is an expectation that I will do this on the part of my parents as I am gay and do not have the same commitments as my sister, i.e. children, despite the fact that I am married to my husband, have a mortgage and two animals so I have financial commitments like anyone else.
LGBT+ people, historically, have had an expectation upon them to assume the caring role due to their perceived freer lives and in some cases an idea of different, “less important” lives. There’s also sometimes a perception of being a “natural carer” (another assumption), and having fewer responsibilities. This last can be an assumption on the part of siblings; I have heard it said that, “I have children and a job, and you don’t have children so you are better for the caring role”.
I have discussed these assumptions with LGBT+ carers over the years and many have commented that they have experienced a bias towards assuming they are better at caring due to their sexuality. This assumption is often unfair, but I want to highlight that in many cases like any other carer we do it for love and family connection.
Acceptance in care homes
Another issue that often comes up within the community is acceptance and understanding if a person needs to reside in a care home. LGBT+ people have sometimes faced discrimination when dealing with care homes – either from the home not being inclusive enough, or through hostility from individual workers disapproving of someone due to their sexuality or gender identification.
Improvements are happening all the time, but it is not a level playing field. Sometimes there is a reluctance to house a partner or loved one in a home due to the worry of non-acceptance, negative attitudes when caring at arm’s length or when visiting. One big step forward are the creation of LGBT+ care homes, sheltered schemes and community housing projects springing up in the UK, such as a new extra-care housing project in Manchester, recently featured in the Guardian.
I do feel there is a difference when caring for someone within the LGBT+ community. Of course, a carer is a carer, no matter who you are or where you fit into society, and as I have always championed carers are the backbone of this country.
But LGBT+ people do it slightly differently, due to external factors that other people do not experience. Some of us have had to develop our own families and support networks because our birth families pushed us away, sometimes because we are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, blood families assume we have a less complicated life and should therefore take on the caring role, no questions asked or very little debate or negotiation. Opportunities for care and support, housing or supported care can be fewer and daunting due to prejudices and a lack of understanding.
Despite these challenges, we carers share so much. Being a carer for anyone is a huge commitment, amazing but tiring, rewarding but difficult and the people we look after just need care and love, and that’s something that we all have in common.
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About the author
Tony Collins-Moore is manager for education, training, peer support and volunteer management at Carers Centre Tower Hamlets.