Carers are not highly visible in our communities. Their caring role often restricts their social activities.
However, they are out there. My boss cares for a relative. I cared for a friend with a chronic condition who is now deceased and even four years later struggle to address the despair I felt.
Fortunately, there is help available for LGBTIQ carers. Carers Queensland was the first not-for-profit in the state accredited with the Rainbow Tick for offering a welcoming and safe workplace to our communities.
I spoke with Jill*, a carer for just over eight years, and am grateful for the frank and forthright insight into her life.
Jill grew up in a fundamentalist Christian home, married and had three children — all later diagnosed as on the autism spectrum.
Despite her friends and relatives perceiving her as a wife and mum, albeit a mum who cared for three children with autism, she struggled privately with her sexuality.
“I felt like the duck in the pond — calm on the surface but paddling furiously underneath,” she said.
“Then seven months ago I met Gabrielle* and my life changed instantly. I thought, ‘I could go gay for this woman.’
“I was very naïve about what ‘going gay’ meant but now I think — I am who I am, and I don’t fit in a box.
“I am a woman and I love a woman – why does that need a label? I am a carer, but don’t want that label either.
“I have three children with autism — another label. I have three beautiful, smart, funny, mischievous, loud, sometimes very anxious and demanding children who have different needs to most other kids and they have a mum and a step-mum who love each other, and who love them.
“Unfortunately, society wants to keep children like mine away from kids who are quiet, do as they are told and have a mum and a dad.
“My children rarely get invited to birthday parties and don’t often have play dates. We would spend time with other rainbow families. I know there are others out there with children who have challenges, but how do we find them and if we did, would we connect?
“I work with many families of children with autism and each one feels isolated and disconnected from society. Some parents reach out to each other and have lovely morning teas together.
“I worry I’ve been disconnected for so long I’ve forgotten how to socialise and make small talk.
“I feel marginalised and I do not have the support of family and friends. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but my village kicked me out.
“My parents struggle to cope with the autistic behaviours of my children let alone the fact that I love a woman and live, very happily, in a same-sex relationship. This must be a common experience of many from the LGBTIQ communities.”
Before becoming a mum, Jill was a Special Education teacher, actually working in a school for children with autism. That experience helped her cope with the demands of her own children.
“I take my hat off to mums who learn on the job. They are their own case managers as there is little support for parents of children with special needs,” Jill said.
“Special schools provide some assistance, but most parents do their own research, go from doctor to doctor, to specialists and other professionals and glean information through trial and error.
“Sadly, the demands of caring often means not only social isolation, but also carers neglecting their own needs.
“I would love to join a choir and really should go walking or ride a bike but don’t feel I have the time. Carer/mummy guilt stops many of us doing things for our own physical and mental well-being.”
Jill points out that LGBTIQ carers suffer the added anxiety of fearing judgement when accessing support services.
“So many times, I have had to tolerate the negative opinions or brutal comments of others,” she said.
“That’s what makes Carers Queensland’s policy on inclusion so important.”
‘I need to listen to my own advice’
Carers Queensland CEO Deb Cottrell told QN Magazine last year the organisation’s approach “is about affirming and actively supporting LGBTI people rather than just passively trying not to discriminate.”
Fortunately, with the support of partner Gabrielle, Jill is now better able to cope with the demands of working and caring for her children.
“I often tell my colleagues who are carer-mums, they need to put on their own oxygen mask before they put on their child’s — they need to learn to take care of themselves so they can be there to help their child,” she said.
“I need to listen to my own advice!
“But in saying that, I love my work. I love my kids. I love my partner. I love spending time helping others. This gives me great fulfilment and I really don’t know what I would change.”
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.
Carers Queensland is committed to becoming a genuinely LGBTIQ inclusive organisation. They want your help to develop and implement LGBTIQ policies and practices and support a corporate culture that promotes LGBTIQ inclusion. To this end they are conducting a survey to get your feedback. The survey is open until May 26 and can be completed online here. For more information regarding caring check out the Carers Queensland website.