An 84-year-old lesbian aged care volunteer was left “devastated” after she was told she couldn’t visit residents due to her sexuality.
The woman, known as Malloy, said she was “horrified” when reprimanded by the facility where she had regularly volunteered.
This week, she told the Australian Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety she began volunteering there after her long-time partner’s death.
But in 2017 Malloy received a letter claiming there had been “a number of concerns” about her from residents.
“It did not make any sense. I could not think of any times when I acted inappropriately,” she said.
Later, a nurse manager eventually implied during a “confrontational” meeting the concerns were related to her being a lesbian.
“She said I wasn’t allowed to talk about my sexuality with the residents,” Malloy recalled.
But Malloy said that while she didn’t hide her sexuality, it was not “something she would actively go and speak to residents about.”
“I would carry a rainbow lanyard and would speak to staff about it if they asked me. I do not think [residents] would ever have known what my sexuality was,” she said.
At the meeting, the “bullying” manager made her feel “humiliated” and “intimidated”, Malloy said.
The manager told Malloy she could only see a small handful of residents.
“I was devastated I was no longer allowed to visit all my usual residents and to hear that they had been complaining about me,” she said.
‘We don’t have people like that here’
Malloy later enlisted the help of an aged care advocate, named Louise. She consulted with the nurse manager on Malloy’s behalf.
The manager allegedly told Louise things like, “We don’t have people like that here” and “People don’t want to hear about things like that.”
“It was clear she had a homophobic bias towards me,” Malloy recalled.
“I believe that complaints were never actually made and that it was the nurse manager’s personal issues with my sexuality.
“This is plainly discrimination and it should not be allowed to occur.”
Experience brought back painful memories for Malloy
Malloy told the Royal Commission the events had brought up traumatic memories from her past.
She said as a teenager, her mother attacked her after finding her in her bedroom with a girlfriend.
“My mother tried to beat us both up. My father started to call me insulting names, which continued for years,” she said.
“I did not have any support from my family whilst growing up.”
In 1960, she suffered a breakdown in her mid-twenties and went to a psychiatric hospital.
“My psychiatrist tried various types of conversion therapy on me including electroconvulsive therapy and LSD treatment,” she said.
“I was told that if I ever went back to being a ‘practicing lesbian’, God would not love me.”
LGBTIQ elders are ‘not speaking up’ about discrimination
Malloy is now a passionate advocate for LGBTIQ people in aged care, through Alice’s Garage.
She told the Royal Commission she continues to volunteer her time visiting residents at a facility next to her own retirement village.
“I experienced a lot of discrimination when I was younger. These events brought back all of those negative feelings,” she said.
“LGBTQI people should be treated with respect and be able to be themselves without having to hide their sexual orientation.”
However Malloy said she believes that LGBTIQ elders “are not speaking up about issues they are experiencing in aged care.”
“Due to LGBTIQ elders not speaking about the discrimination they are experiencing, it may seem there’s no issue,” she said.
She also added aged care facilities must take steps “to make sure LGBTIQ people, particularly elders who have often suffered through a life of non-acceptance, feel welcome and safe.”
“I believe there should be mandatory training on caring for LGBTIQ elders [for] all staff at all levels.”
If this has brought up issues for you, help is available from QLife on 1800 184 527 or online at QLife.org.au, Lifeline on 13 11 14, or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.
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