Why housing for LGBTQ+ people later in life matters

At the University of Surrey (opens new window), we’ve spent the last eight years working with a range of partners and LGBTQ+ community members to build an evidence base to highlight the issues faced by older LGBTQ+ people in relation to housing and care.

We've found that although many are concerned about both, a lack of alternatives and information have been highlighted as a big problem. Some older LGBTQ+ people are concerned about people visiting their homes – with home care workers being a particular worry. Some people modify their home environment in some way – like hiding photos, or flags or other personal items – that reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity. Others worry about going into care homes or even retirement communities, either because they have direct experience of discrimination or have fears they might be subjected to it. 

So, what can be done? Firstly, more LGBTQ+ affirmative housing, a more educated housing and care workforce and a range of choices are needed. Secondly, whilst we have empirical evidence, we need to find ways for older LGBTQ+ people to tell their stories and communicate those directly to policy makers and other stakeholders. Stories are powerful and can make change happen. 

The Life House Project

Theatre, an art form that is built upon a foundation of storytelling draws people together to commune, listen and hear in a way that doesn’t happen in all public spaces. For this reason, theatre is its own kind of political activism and should not be underestimated.

The Life House Project, a partnership between Tonic Housing, Brixton Umbrella Group and the University of Surrey, uses theatre to share stories of fear, homophobia and abuse in relation to housing and adult social care provision for LGBTQ+ older people. One older person shared:

‘I was in hospital for eight weeks, and there’s no way I would have come out. I was scared that something bad might happen, especially when I was so vulnerable.'

Similarly, another recalled the abuse that their friend had experienced in a care home due to their sexuality. They said that:

‘the staff refused to recognise his relationship because it was with a man … cigarette burns from the carers were found on him’.

Theatre provides a platform for these stories to be publicly witnessed and brings to the forefront the oppression that many LGBTQ+ older adults experience. Participants explained that:

‘... theatre takes the fear away from talking about these things’ and ‘brings us all together to share how we feel and to get people listening’.

The Life House Project is theatre about older LGBTQ+ people, made by older LGBTQ+ people, and utilises live performance to fight for the rights of this community, rights that should be afforded to all. As this stage of The Life House Project draws to a close, we seek funding to enable us to share these stories directly to policy makers and other stakeholders and build a more inclusive and equal social care system for all LGBTQ+ people. 

Tonic @ Bankhouse

Tonic Housing created the UK’s first LGBTQ+ affirming retirement community of 19 apartments in Vauxhall, Lambeth, in 2021. It is a place where people can share common experiences, find mutual support and enjoy their later life. Tonic Housing is very excited to be part of The Life House Project. The use of theatre and drama to examine the themes of housing and care in later life piqued the interest of many residents and it has attracted other older LGBT people from outside Tonic.

It has been inspiring and moving to see residents share terrible experiences of the past and also the joy of living in the UK’s first LGBTQ+ retirement community through drama and creative writing.

One of the main reasons that people have given for moving to Tonic @ Bankhouse is the feeling of isolation where they live, and they want the community that Tonic offers. The Life House Project has shown how residents have created the community they have craved. As the project comes to a close, it is vital that older LGBTQ+ people’s life experiences are shared more widely to improve services in other settings for those not fortunate enough to live at Tonic @ Bankhouse.

This blog has been published to coincide with Pride Month 2024.

Housing services need to reflect the diversity of local populations. The information found on our Diversity Matters webpages, kindly sponsored by Aster Group, is intended to help service commissioners and providers understand relevant policy and practice issues. They include examples of good practice and tools to assess whether the needs of older people from a diverse range of groups are being met.


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