Older Australians who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex

Older Australians who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) have lived through a period of social and cultural transition. Many have likely suffered first hand stigma, discrimination, criminalisation, family rejection and social isolation. The rights of people who identify as LGBTI have substantially improved over the last 50 years; however, accessing appropriate services remains difficult for many older LGBTI Australians [4].

The history of discrimination experienced by older Australians who identify as LGBTI can be a source of anxiety in disclosing sexual orientation and gender identity. Approximately 34% of people who identify as LGBTI reported hiding their sexuality or gender identity when accessing services [3].

The LGBTI population is diverse, as individual needs vary substantially; however, many older LGBTI people will share similar experiences as a result of living through the recent social changes.

There are very little data regarding the older Australian LGBTI community. According to the Census in 2016, there were around 23,700 male same-sex couples and 23,000 female same-sex couples. Around 2% of all people aged under 25 in couples were in a same-sex couple, and this proportion decreased with age down to less than 1% in people aged 65 and over (Figure 1).

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Overall, only 5% of people in same-sex couples were aged 65 or over, compared with 20% of people in opposite-sex couples [1]. 

The total number of same-sex couples who reported living together increased by 83% between 2006 and 2016, and the number of same-sex couples among people aged 65 and over is expected to increase over the coming decades [1]. This increase may reflect people's greater willingness to disclose their sexual or gender identity due to reduced stigma associated with homosexuality, coupled with improved legal rights for same-sex couples and the ageing of the 'baby boomer' population.

The 2016 online Census had an opt-in service for people to more fully identify their sex or gender. This allowed the choice of ‘Other’, coupled with a response box to provide further detail. This was part of an initiative to make it possible for Australians to report their sex in a way not limited to ‘male’ or ‘female’ in the Census [2].

Around 1,300 people that had opted in using this form identified their sex or gender as ‘Other’, and the most common identities provided in the responses were Transgender (26%), ‘Another gender’ (18%) and ‘Non-Binary’ (17%). As this was a new item introduced on an opt-in basis, it is likely the Census did not capture all sex and gender diverse individuals. Just under 6% of people who responded ‘Other’ were aged 65 and over, and this proportion is likely an underrepresentation due to the decreasing preference for online forms with age. Improving the accessibility to this response option in future Census collections will ensure that this item captures more sex and gender diverse Australians, particularly for older people [2].

There is currently no way to identify LBGTI older Australians accessing aged care services. Recently, the specific concerns of the older LBGTI community have been highlighted at the national level in the form of The National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Ageing and Aged Care Strategy. This strategy addresses the need for change in aged care services, to promote equitable access to high-quality aged care for all people who identify as LGBTI. This includes initiatives such as a full inclusion, empowerment, and consultation [4]. Over time, it may be more possible to measure access and quality of services for older Australians who identify as LGBTI and their families and carers.

References

  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2017. Census of Population and Housing: Reflecting Australia – Stories from the Census, 2016. Same-sex couples. ABS cat.no. 2071.0. Canberra: ABS.
  2. ABS 2017. Census of Population and Housing: Reflecting Australia - Stories from the Census, 2016. Sex and Gender Diversity in the 2016 Census. ABS cat.no. 2071.0. Canberra: ABS.
  3. Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) 2015. Resilient individuals: sexual orientation, gender identity & intersex rights 2015. Sydney: AHRC.
  4. Department of Social Services (DSS) 2012. National lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) ageing and aged care strategy. Canberra: DSS.