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Without a Voice

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The preoccupation of youth in our culture has left a whole generation either forgotten or invisible.

In the last 80 years or so, sex was never talked about openly, much less homosexuality.

Women grew up in an era where marriage was the only socially and practically viable option, despite knowing that they were lesbian. They suffered fear and confusion coming to terms with the sexual and emotional attraction to other women.

It was an era of different roles and expectations. A time of bias towards heterosexuality when identifying as a lesbian was perceived on a scale from deviant to abhorrent or they were simply rendered out of sight.

Staying 'hidden' may have, of course, been voluntary in addition to being imposed - forced in to living a lie and enduring painful brushes with bigotry, when homosexuality was considered both a crime and mental illness.

It is no wonder many older lesbians are both resilient and survivors. They have earned their right to respect and advocacy, a proud and uncomplaining peer group.

But what about today?

Older people are all too often assumed to have no gender or sex. A class ignored by society. The mere existence of elderly non-heterosexuals is rarely, if ever acknowledged by the media, a taboo subject in mainstream culture.

For some, age has brought more burden, for others it has brought increased freedom and happiness. The most common reaction, in a generation accustomed to being in the closet, is a retreat back to the shelter that was necessary for most of their lives. A lack of legal recognition in same-sex relationships also leaves them vulnerable and unhappy.

In the UK alone there are over one million people who identify as being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. An increasing population who are becoming more and more unprotected.

A pioneering study by Stonewall in 2011, confirmed our worst fears - countless pensioners feel unable to be open about their sexual orientation. The implication is that they don't receive the care and support that they so desperately need.

Miss Blake, 84, explained: "I went in to a care home where I confided to my carer that I was a lesbian. From that moment on, I was ostracised by the others living there and felt like a social pariah.

"Every time I went to bed I prayed that I would never wake-up."

Thankfully she has moved homes and is now settled but this is not a solitary case.

Ageism and homophobia are alive and well and it hurts!

We all have the right to be open about our sexuality without being marginalised, isolated and made to feel unwelcome. We also have the right to privacy if preferred. There is an urgent need to investigate these issues faced on a daily basis.

The elderly are often depressed and lonely especially within minority groups. Loneliness can be fatal - it is a fact.

Meeting these inspiring women has given me cause to think about my own future and facing yet more prejudice in my twilight years. A period when we deserve a compassionate end to our days, free from sexist attitudes and stigma.

There is a need to educate care providers so that we all receive the same level of care and support.

It seems that those who are not seen will be treated as if they don't exist.

Who will speak up on behalf of this abandoned generation?

But more importantly - for those brave enough to make their voices heard - are we ready to listen?

Around the Web

Ignored needs of the elderly homosexual community - YouTube

Gay and Lesbian Aging

Elderly Homosexual Women and Men: Report on a Pilot Study

Aging and Gay, and Facing Prejudice in Twilight - New York Times

Gay, Getting Old, Getting By - New York Times