January 28, 2008

Reaction to "Aging and Gay, and Facing Prejudice in Twilight"

There has been less discrimination against homosexuals in today’s modern society, but those gains only come in areas with relatively young populations. This is because generally speaking, the younger the people, the more receptive they are to new ideas. So it doesn’t seem very surprising at all that one place where homosexuals still face strong discrimination is in the nursing homes of this country, where the population is likely to be among the oldest in the nation.

This generation in the nursing homes would obviously be more prone to anti-homosexuality. They grew up over 50 years ago, right before the baby boom. American society was much more conservative back then, with a relatively strict set of moral standards that could not be deviated from. Homosexuality was treated as a psychological disorder, and state government agencies even sponsored films about the dangers of homosexuality. It is thus no surprise that this generation would have anti-homosexual tendencies.

What is more disturbing, however, is the fact that the caretakers too are also prone to this kind of behavior. The caretakers should in fact be more open and tolerant than the members of the nursing home community. Instead they are just as, if not more openly, homophobic than some of the older people in the nursing home.

And while the article does postulate some solutions as to the problems caused by the homophobia in nursing homes, none of them seem able to adequately addressing the issues. Yes, separate nursing homes for LGBT elderly will take care of the problem in the short run, but such homes do nothing to change the actual attitudes of the people towards LGBT individuals. They merely move them away from the general population, which could lead to a situation where tolerance simply doesn’t become an issue.

Training for caretakers themselves seems to be able to better address some of the problems. Indeed, with supportive caretakers individual LGBT elderly can effectively live among a community of non-LGBT in a nursing home. However, even with this training, the fundamental problem of discrimination cannot change.

The problem of discrimination will not change through any actions that can be taken. We can try to alleviate the problems that can result, but the only way that discrimination itself will end is with time. Eventually, the oldest generation will simply be gone, and the current individuals who are tolerant of homosexuals will become the elderly.

Sadly, that is all that can be done to change the long term trends of the treatment of homosexuals and others in nursing homes. While separate nursing homes and training for caretakers both offer temporary solutions, the only real solution is to wait for the changes in society to filter down towards the elderly.

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