You’ve got a friend - social isolation and LGBT older adults

Gay people can experience acute social isolation as they get older. But a befriending project in London is changing all that, as Clare Lomas discovered

Gay people can experience acute social isolation as they get older. But a befriending project in London is changing all that, as Clare Lomas discovered.

Abstract

Social isolation is a common problem among older people, but it can be more acute for those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans (LGBT). The Opening Doors London project for older LGBT people gives men and women opportunities to socialise. It also offers support, information and advocacy for a range of issues.

Many older people have experiences that can lead to social isolation, such as bereavement, loss of work and ill health. But for older lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people, these are often compounded by a lack of social support and a fear of prejudice rooted in decades of harsh experience.

‘Until 1967, homosexuality was a criminal offence in the UK. Gay men were arrested throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and even their platonic friendships were scrutinised,’ points out nurse Nick Maxwell, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) development co-ordinator for men at Opening Doors London, an LGBT project for older people led by Age UK Camden in partnership with Age UK across the capital.

‘Older gay men have lived a large part of their lives in less than liberal times. They can feel very isolated because they have been conditioned to keep themselves hidden as a means of survival,’ he says.

Launched in January 2008 after securing funding from the national lottery, Opening Doors London is the only project of its kind in the UK. It provides social support, advocacy, information and a befriending service to the older LGBT community.

The project started life as an older gay men’s group of just 15 to 20 members in Hampstead, north London, set up by Age Concern Camden (now Age UK Camden) in 2005, but men soon started coming from all over the city.

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This article was first published in print under the original title 'You’ve got a friend' in Nursing Standard: volume 27, issue 23

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