Positive Ageing Week: Concern elderly cannot reveal sexuality

“Where people once had a vibrant middle period of their life they became vulnerable when entering nursing homes." 
Positive Ageing Week: Concern elderly cannot reveal sexuality

Arthur Leahy has voiced concerns for the challenges facing elderly gay people in certain environments, like nursing homes, where they may feel the need to hide their sexuality. Picture: Denis Minihane

A CORK trailblazer in the LGBT community voiced concern about the challenges facing elderly gay people struggling to adapt to life back in Ireland.

76-year old activist Arthur Leahy, who is one of the founders of the Quay Co-op on Sullivan’s quay, highlighted the issue as part of Positive Ageing Week taking place this week.

Longstanding campaigner highlights issues 

Arthur co-founded the Quay Co-op as a space for social justice campaigns in 1982 following 20 years of working with alternative communities in London.

He explained that while society has come a long way, many older people have reverted back to hiding their sexuality to adapt to new environments like nursing homes.

“We have been to visit older people from the community in nursing homes in very secretive situations,” he said.

 “Where people once had a vibrant middle period of their life they became vulnerable when entering nursing homes.

 You would never say that you were gay so in a way that oppressive atmosphere came back. Even if they were openly gay in their younger days in a nursing home it was easier for them not to bring it up.”

Unique challenges for older people 

Arthur said that older people in the LGBT face unique challenges compared to the younger generation.

“When there isn’t that sexual energy that exists in younger people, you tend to make compromises. However, the extent of the compromises tends to be underestimated. 

"To deny that huge aspect of your identity is easily done but the cost on people’s lives is huge. 

"Huge numbers of people from my generation would have married and had families. It was a noticeable part of the community. A lot of people were in denial about their sexual identity. It certainly is a factor in a lot of people’s lives.”

Representation crucial 

He emphasised the importance of LGBT representation in the media.

“The atmosphere and context were completely different in the early years. it was hugely oppressive back then so you didn’t get any sort of positive representation. The only thing you read about in newspapers in relation to gay people was derogatory.”

Arthur said he rarely experienced discrimination in his own life.

“I was only attacked once as a gay person. Luckily, I was strong enough to fight back. You tend to develop a sixth sense to anticipate the danger. I worked on a building site but was average-looking so didn’t stand out. However, I knew people who did, and that presented a lot of difficulties for them. 

"There is a growing awareness of the complexity around sexual identity which people have the confidence to look at now in all its forms.”

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