Living authentically in long-term care
November 16, 2023
By Peter Rybar, social media advisor
Shawn Mccreight, a resident at the Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre, a Covenant Health facility in Edmonton, has spent most of his life not being openly gay.
“I come from an era where you had to stay in the closet because they could fire you or evict you for being gay. It was just easier for me to stay in the closet I suppose,” he says.
Shawn, 62, had a brain stem stroke at the age of 39 and has had several strokes since. He also suffers from unexplained seizures. When first moving to the Edmonton General, he had some apprehensions about being openly gay in a Catholic healthcare facility.
“I was a bit worried about that, but I said to the administrator, ‘I’m gay, and I’ve always lived in the closet. I don’t want to do that anymore; I want to come out.’”
His concerns about fitting in at the Edmonton General faded rapidly, thanks to a friendly face. “I was comfortable as soon as I came here because the manager on the unit was a woman that I had previously worked with for six years, who by the way was also gay,” he says. “I was at home the first day I came here.”
Shawn went on to build relationships with his fellow residents as an openly gay man and established himself as chair of the residents’ council. He ran for the position with a campaign that focused on open communication.
“I told them that they could come to me anytime with anything they’d like to discuss,” he says.
In Shawn’s experience, open communication has consistently been the catalyst for positive change. He suspected that people would call him names behind his back at first but that things would change once they were open to communicating with him.
“They started to ask me things like ‘What does it mean to be gay?’ Now that’s a question to go on, now we can have a real discussion,” he says.
Shawn recalls an experience he had when a pastor came to live on his unit.
“He asked why I had all the colourful flags around, and I said, ‘Because I’m gay,’ and he said, ‘You know you’re going to hell, right?’”
Shawn turned to communication as the path forward in the situation.
The minister had never spoken to a member of the LGBTQ2S+ community, and Shawn had many discussions with him to dispel myths such as the idea that being gay is a choice.
“By the time he left the unit, we were on very good speaking terms,” says Shawn. “When he left, he said, ‘I think I was wrong about you.’”
Shawn feels that positive change is happening and that it’s now safe for people to come out in continuing care if they so choose. “I haven’t been shot at, and no one’s tried to strangle me,” he jokes. “You can live the life of who you are. You don’t have to be in the closet.”
In the future, Shawn would like to see the Edmonton General and other sites organize groups that can help residents on their journey to coming out. “I think it’s needed so that people can feel safe enough to come out if they want,” he says.
Shawn’s hope is that one day everyone in the LGBTQ2S+ community can share their authentic selves without having to think twice.
“We’re not there yet. Yes, it’s legal, but for it to become culturally normal, it’s going to take a few generations. And unless we continue to speak out, it’s not going to occur. You need to have a few more people with a big mouth like me for that to happen. We need more people to speak up, not just at the Edmonton General, but at other places as well.”