Many LGBT caregivers face stigma by their care recipient, their family, and within the health care system. While service providers may want to support LGBT caregivers, their lack of willingness of engage with, or address, issues of identity and sexuality limits their ability to do so (Brotman, Ryan & Meyer, 2006). Other service providers may not be so supportive due to personal beliefs that homosexuality is ‘wrong’. LGBT caregivers highlight the importance of having support systems that validated their unique experiences, which include higher levels of uncertain physical and emotional health, including disability, depression, addiction and stress (Fredricksen-Goldsen et al., 2011).
Unlike the general population, older LGBT individuals tend to care for one another, rather than caregiving being a family member’s responsibility. The Family Caregiver Alliance states that this translates to a higher rate of LGBT individuals providing care to an adult friend or relative than the heterosexual population (“Selected Caregiver Statistics”, 2012). LGBT care recipients often have a network of caregivers who are friends that may not include traditional biological or legal relationships, thereby increasing the challenge for caregivers who wish to be involved in care planning. Older spousal same-sex caregivers may be forced to ‘come out’ in order to have a voice in care planning, particularly in hospital and long-term care settings. Within the context of family dynamics, LGBT family members may be expected to be primary caregiver of a parent if they are not married and/or have children, regardless of the historical relationship between the caregiver and care recipient. Those caring for a homophobic parent may be particularly vulnerable to exploitation or abuse. In rural areas, living in smaller homogenous communities may increase the invisibility of LGBT caregivers (Brotman, Ryan & Meyer, 2006).
The result is that many of these caregivers may not seek support due to real or perceived homophobia. Collectively, the historical discrimination and invisibility faced by LGBT caregivers (and their care recipients) place them at a higher risk than heterosexual caregivers. Although developed within an American context, the Guide to GLBT Caregiving is a useful resource on how to address specific challenges faced by this caregiving population, including changes in care settings.