Landmark project aims to support South Australia’s older homosexuals

Kathmandu (Pahichan) April 24- LEVELS of discrimination experienced by older homosexuals will be the focus of a landmark project aimed at kickstarting a specialised movement in the state.

South Australia’s Council of the Ageing has joined forces with Rainbow Advocacy Alliance to conduct the project.

Campaigners told the Sunday Mail that the specialised 12-month initiative was the first of its type to help the state’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Questioning community.

They say while there is no evidence of increased levels of discrimination, the Ageing Well Project will identify any problems hitting older people.

Gay rights activist Desmond Ford has been appointed manager of the program. Mr Ford praised the timing for the project, which he said would provide “much needed visibility” to older people in the minority community.

“Those now in their 60s, 70s and 80s grew up at a time where homosexuality was deemed a criminal act and so many kept it under wraps,” he said. “Many experienced isolation and discrimination which in some instances led to mental health issues as a result. There were no conversations or dialogue, no acceptance and certainly no support like there is today.”

He added: “But despite how far we’ve come, there’s still a way to go, particularly for older LGBTIQ communities.”

Officials said the project will aim to “engage and empower” older people by giving them a voice, encourage input into public policy and identity problems that may affect them as they age.

They said the project’s priorities include:

RAISE awareness of the needs of older LGBTIQ people in SA, particularly in rural areas and migrant communities that will create appropriate strategies;

ENABLE the voice of older people in the proposed marriage equality plebiscite;

PROVIDE a relevant forum for older South Australians to air their concerns in a safe environment that will ensure appropriate advocacy that addresses their concerns.

BETTER develop diversity of older people;

ESTABLISH priorities for improved advocacy and policy development;

CREATE an LGBTIQ focus across different areas of government;

DEVELOP opportunities for older minorities to participate in events such as the festivals of SA. This would also include establishing older streams through the Feast Festival and creating a specific focus in ZestFest, the former Every Generation Festival);

REMEMBER and “celebrate” the contributions of those in the LGBTIQ community and their shaping of SA history including through the gay rights movement.

COTA SA chief executive Jane Mussared said she was delighted by Mr Ford’s involvement, given his ­standing and commitment to social justice, equality and inclusion.

“Apart from his lifelong advocacy work, Desmond has an outstanding track record managing projects and services that enable and empower people, and is a skilled communicator and trainer,” she said.

“As COTA SA embraces the diversity of our modern ageing, we look forward to standing alongside (him) as we learn and act on the things that matter most to the older LGBTIQ community in SA.”

SA Rainbow Advocacy Alliance chair Andrew Birtwistle-Smith said current structures that supported older people did not reflect the diversity of modern SA.

“This project will ensure that there is a strong voice in all policy and service development for older people in SA, including through the advocacy and representation,” Mr Birtwistle-Smith said.

Discrimination is widespread

On December 26, 1972, Devon Park couple Desmond Rutherford, 72, and Erwin Robins, 65, were bashed by thugs sprouting derogatory taunts in Hindley St, city.

The incident left Mr Robins with a punctured lung and Mr Rutherford with stitches to his forehead. Police were not interested, they said, until a nurse alerted detectives who visited the couple’s home with questions of a different kind.

Mr Rutherford was sharp enough to know the pair could admit to being homosexual – provided they did not admit to having “acted on it”.

Fast forward 45 years and the couple are still victims of discrimination.

“It is very difficult,” Mr Rutherford said. “You still have the rednecks out there.”

Mr Robins’ was at the centre of a court case that saw his attacker’s charges downgraded because of a unique SA gay panic defence. He has also been at the centre of a family inheritance dispute because he does not have children.

Mr Rutherford recently had an operation at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. But when Mr Robins arrived, despite having his partner’s medical power of attorney, he said he was refused entry to Mr Rutherford’s hospital room. “He was threatened with removal by security,” Mr Rutherford said.

The pair have welcomed moves by COTA to increase awareness of LGBTIQ concerns.

They fear discrimination if they have to go to aged care facilities as they fight for marriage equality. “We fight severely for the opportunity and the ability to choose,” Mr Rutherford said.

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