Pride in Ageing’s first of its kind LGBTIQA+ pilot project

Minister for Equality, Harriet Shing, announced funding for Switchboard to deliver the Pride in Ageing program, created to help older LGBTIQA+ Victorians to feel connected, safe and proud to live freely as their authentic selves.Photo: Katrina Brandon

Katrina Brandon

AS the first of its kind in Australia, the Minister for Equality, Harriet Shing, has announced a $4.5 million pilot project for Pride in Ageing, in partnership with Gippsland Pride Initiative and Switchboard.

Pride in Ageing, one of Gippsland Pride Initiative’s top five priorities, is based on equality, access, and partnership between communities to help discontinue discrimination, disadvantages, and exclusions for people within the LGBTIQA+ community.

The four-year program is aimed at people over 60-years-of-age who are experiencing repetitive explanations of their identity and sexuality, negativity, and disadvantages when receiving aged care services and other later care.

“LGBTIQA+ people experience disadvantage, discrimination, and exclusion, particularly when accessing services, aged care, and affirming care later in life. This prevents people from fully participating and ensuring they are part of a community,” Ms Shing said.

“The Pride in Ageing initiative has $4.5 million for over four years to ensure that we can partner with organisations and communities across the state to address those needs and concerns and ensure where people might otherwise have to come out over and over again.

“It’s to make equality non-negotiable; it needs to include everybody, and this is what the Pride in Ageing pilot is about – the partnership with Switchboard and, of course, our regional communities, such as the Gippsland Pride Initiative.”

According to the Switchboard website, Pride in Ageing will hold co-design sessions with older LGBTIQA+ people across Victoria from July to September 2024. They are encouraging people to share what they would like to see in the future to help LGBTIQA+ people feel safe and welcome within local communities and LGBTIQA+ spaces.

“We want to ensure that people who want to access aged care can access organisations and support, whether aged care or medical services and that we have the right supports in place so that people feel safe and able to access that care irrespective of gender identity or sexuality,” Ms Shing said.

At the launch of the project in the newly established Trafalgar Gippsland Pride Initiative Centre, Josie Davis, who is a retired nurse and part of the East Gippsland LGBTIQA+ community, got the chance to speak about her experiences in Bairnsdale and surrounding areas, about how the LGBTIQA+ community is perceived and the regional challenges that behold people in similar circumstances.

“I am a retired nurse with a background in welfare and health. For 25 years, I worked in mental health. I moved to East Gippsland from Melbourne with my then-partner 25 years ago,” she said.

“While we were in the moving van, we were contacted by the local woman who was the primary contact person for lesbians in East Gippsland and who had been invisibly networking for over 40 years.”

During her time in the East Gippsland region, she said that she has attended many events with up to 60 other LGBTIQA+ people and that the visibility in rural communities and facilities was poor. She said that while she acknowledges Indigenous health, awareness is essential, there needs to be universal education for health workers about the LGBTIQA+ community.

“Workers in health and community services rarely have the tools to discuss sexual orientation or to incorporate it into their care, and this means older lesbians have to ‘come out’ again and again to workers. If they lack any confidence, they will not experience care as a result,” she said.

Ms Shing said the program would be in place to help ease anxiety and to lift any shame that someone would feel during the process without compromising the quality of life. The program is leaning into the challenges and doing something about it.

“This $4.5m over four years will mean that we can provide dignity and safety for people, that homophobia, transphobia, discrimination, harassment and violence are identified, are prevented and are acted upon for people often that have experienced this for their entire lives,” Ms Shing said.

During the conference, Minister Shing expressed admiration for the work that the president (chairperson) of Gippsland Pride Initiative, Caitlyn Grigsby, has invested in, ensuring that those within the LGBTIQA+ community have a safe place to go and get the support they need.

“Caitlyn is a force. Caitlyn has the extraordinary ability to meet people with the care and compassion they deserve. She has changed how we have conversations within our communities, advocating for governments and breaking down many layered barriers we experience. Caitlyn’s work is rippling through generations and, more broadly, represents what we are trying to do,” Ms Shing said.

The program coordinates regular fortnightly catch-ups for mutually enjoyable activities or hobbies, such as chatting over the phone, having coffee or tea at home or in a cafe, going for walks, seeing films and attending LGBTIQA+ community events.

For more information on Pride in Ageing, go to switchboard.org.au/prideinageing