Gay and Lesbian Aging: How social networks and the experience of stigmatizing affect the need for and access to health and age-services
Nuland, Bjørn Richard
Institute for Labour and Social Research Fafo Oslo, Norway
Lesbian and gay elderly make up a minority group that up until recently has been invisible in public policy, academic research and even within the gay community itself. Very little research has been conducted on social networks and support for aging lesbians and gays. However, traditional gerontological models of 'normal aging' have in recent years been challenged by a growing awareness that individual and society diversity across the lifespan leads to multiple different realities later in life.
Though older lesbians and gay men will in part share a common reality with all older people, the structural organization of sexuality privileges heterosexuality over other forms of sexuality. It can therefore be assumed that older lesbians and gay men will experience later life differently from their heterosexual counterparts. For instance, elderly lesbians and gays are significantly less likely than heterosexual women and men of comparable age to be in partnered relationships and to have children - the two groups most frequently called upon to provide care for a dependent elder. In the absence of a partner and of children, on whom are these older gay men and lesbians likely to call for support in the event of a health or any other crisis? How does their social location and group membership affect the risk of isolation and loneliness in later life? Do elderly lesbians and gays experience discrimination and non-acceptance forcing them back 'in the closet'? Answers to these questions will inform us not only about the needs of the gay and lesbian elderly, but also about how these needs challenge the present structure for the welfare state provision of care.
The case for this paper will be Norway, and it aims to problematize issues for lesbian and gay elderly based on research primarily the US and Canada, two countries who has produced empirical research concerning gay and lesbian aging. The issue of gay and lesbian elderly will be connected to how a social democratic welfare state, based on unity, equality and universal services, is equipped to meet increased diversity and pluralism in lifestyles, values and priorities in the elderly population.