queers as peers elderly lgbtqia czech republic
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Barbora Veselá and Jolana Novotná
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November 10, 2022
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Still here, still queer: Caring for LGBTIQ+ elders with Queers as Peers

Rarely represented, with many of them lost in the AIDS/HIV crisis, LGBTIQ+ elders suffer a great deal from invisibility and isolation. If getting old isn’t an easy thing in itself, it becomes even harder when you bear the trauma of decades of oppression and have few, if any, family and friends to rely on.

We owe a lot to the generations that fought for our current rights, and this reciprocation must go through awareness raising in the spaces where they evolve, as well as properly trained medico-social institutions. This is what Queers as peers is heading towards. Initiated by Barbora Veselá and Jolana Novotná, Queers as Peers is a Czech pilot project aiming to organize gatherings and discussions for elderly people in general, as well as the clubs where they meet or care facilities where they live. Unlike initiative like Tamalou or BabaYagas which aim to connect LGBTIQ+ elderly in Switzerland, the discussions are rather about LGBTIQ+ issues than for LGBTIQ+ elderly people, although the organizers do count on them or their relatives/friends etc. (either openly or closeted) to be among participants in such debates.

As openly queer people are getting older and the global population is aging, an increasing number of queer elders must rely on caregivers. Amplified by the fact that LGBTIQ+ elders are more likely to be single, and to have little or no contact with family members, the need for safe and accepting eldercare seems even more urgent. If the project is still in its development phase, it has a clear strategy and goal in mind. Barbora and Jolana base their project on the field studies and work done by PROUD o.s., an NGO based in Prague, where Jolana founded the first programme on LGBT+ ageing in the Czech Republic, and other organisations and initiatives that gradually joined PROUD in its efforts. They are currently trying out bigger events for the elderly LGBTIQ+ population of Brno, the Czech Republic's second-largest city. Out of these first steps, one thing was made clear: LGBTIQ+ elders were afraid of discrimination in eldercare, by the staff but mostly by their peers, pushing some of them to consider going back to the closet. 

Although it is important to highlight the difficulties faced by older LGBTIQ+ generations, Jolana and Barbora drew attention to the tendency to emphasize negative approaches towards LGBTIQ+ people, especially towards the elderly. They highlighted that although it’s okay to have this approach, it is very important to be careful and not victimize LGBTIQ+ elderly people too much. As Jolana pointed, “they have also developed some coping strategies, many of them are quite well off, many are resilient. Plus there are allies or just nice people among care providers or peers, family members, friends, LGBTQI+ staff". Queers as Peers is built upon these foundations: “to draw attention to what is wrong and concurrently appreciate what is nice, using humor, entertainment, food, and other joys of life to build bridges”.

Through debates, meetings, and talks, Queers as Peer intends to facilitate discussions and offer more safe spaces for LGBTIQ+ elders, as well as raise awareness on related topics. The project aspires to increase intergenerational dialogue and understanding as well, to combat isolation and better staff and elders’ relations but also to learn from them and pass down their stories. Barbora Veselá and Jolana Novotná hope to contribute to the formation of safer environments for LGBTIQ+ elders and would like to extend the project geographically as well as to other social services. If this project is only a starting point towards a better implication of the elderly in queer initiatives, it sets on an essential aspect when knowing the current reality of eldercare facilities, where abuse towards LGBTIQ+ from the staff and peers is common.

Transgender elders also suffer from constantly having to explain and justify their identity and from being uncomfortable with some of their body parts, which is often exacerbated by medical staff’s lack of knowledge, and treatments. Despite having undergone social and/or medical transitions in the past, the suicide risk is increased in these contexts. From neglect by the caregivers to being refused in the facility (notably for transgender elders), LGBTIQ+ elders also suffer from living with people who grew up in an era of prevalent LGBT-phobias. It is more than time to take care of our queer elders, and Queers as Peers opens a path in the Czech Republic that we hope many countries will follow.

Queers as Peers’ team will come to present their project in Geneva this December 3rd during the annual ceremony of the BØWIE awards. Learn more on bowiecreators.com/incubator.

Chloé Bruère-Dawson, Incubator Team, Queers as Peers Team

Illustration from the rainbow tram leaflet


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