Homosexuality was illegal in Canada until 1969. It was considered a mental disorder until 1973.
Individuals who are now in their seventies and eighties grew up learning that homosexuals were evil, diseased or pedophiles, says Serge Gingras, chair of the Central Alberta Pride Society. “People didn’t disclose their sexuality for fear of being kicked out of their apartments or being denied employment.”
Shawn McCreight is a resident at the Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre (EG). When he was 11 years old, his neighbour could sense he was gay and warned him about the dangers of being out. “You can choose to go with your feelings and be with men, or you can be safe and do what society wants: date women, marry a woman and have children. Be safe, Shawn. Don’t live dangerously.”
The only way for Shawn to protect himself was to be silent. “I got used to being in the closet, so I just remained in the closet.”
At 39, Shawn suffered a life-changing stroke. Despite years of intense rehabilitation, he requires care and has lived at the EG for four years.
Many LGBTQ+ seniors faced oppression when they were younger and are now afraid to enter supportive living communities because of bullying from fellow residents and inadequate care from staff.
“Other issues include the inability to maintain relationships with partners or negative reactions while doing personal care with transgender individuals,” says Monica Morrison, Executive Director of the Golden Circle Senior Resource Centre.
Monica and Serge agree that there needs to be more education about LGBTQ+ issues. “We need to get people talking about honouring and accommodating diversity and inclusion. Vulnerable people—whether they’re LGBTQ+, refugees, residential school survivors or member of an oppressed community—need support.”
Various care facilities around Canada are creating inclusive communities so people like Shawn don’t have to hide who they truly are when they enter care.
The EG identified this unmet need three years ago. "We have a very diverse population at the EG in terms of staff and residents," says Jo Ann Molloy, Site Administrator. "Recently, we have done a number of in-services with a local resource who speaks about gender identity." Staff awareness and skill development have created a safe and welcoming place for people to come out.
Serge and Monica have begun working with Villa Marie, a supportive living site in Red Deer. Although no residents have self-identified as LGBTQ+, the site is preparing policies for when a member of the community does require care.
Dan Dela Pena, Healthcare Aide, works at Villa Marie and is open about being gay. “Some of the residents have old-fashioned mentalities, but most of the residents really accept me for who I am. My hope is that the world accepts the LGBTQ+ community.”
Other ways to show inclusiveness include hanging the pride flag around the facility and starting conversations with residents about their journeys.
Shawn realized an EG staff member was LGBTQ+ when he saw a photo of her and her partner. The picture sparked a conversation, and her openness inspired Shawn to truly be himself.
At 52 years old, Shawn was finally able to admit that he is gay.
“It felt like a great weight was off my shoulders,” smiles Shawn. “It was the first time I could say those words to somebody and know I was safe in saying them.”
Since coming out at resident council, Shawn has not experienced any negativity from his neighbours or the staff. He is taking a lead role in creating a more inclusive community at the EG and is encouraging other LGBTQ+ residents to speak to him if they ever feel alone.
“My whole life, I’ve been so isolated because of my sexuality. I’ve had to play straight. I have been the outsider looking in,” says Shawn. “But here, I think of all the residents as members of my family and I truly feel at home.”