LGBT Elders and Long Term Care

In thinking about sexuality among people with disabilities it’s important to consider all sexual orientations. It’s often assumed the disabled, elderly, and the very young are heterosexual. For service providers and families this heterosexist attitude can remain intact until it is unexpectedly challenged such as when a grandfather comes out of the closet after a long life of marriage, and raising his family.

Among gay elders entering nursing homes, exists a fear of being forced back into the closet. Many are concerned they will be harassed, taunted or neglected. In a recent survey of residents, staff, ombudsmen, and family members, authors of LGBT Older Adults in Long Term Care Facilities: Stories from the Field reports that of 278 gay elders 78% of them felt they could not be open about their sexual orientation when in a nursing home.

This story illustrates the theme of many comments:
Two friends of mine, Vera and Zayda, had been together for 58 years. When Vera’s Alzheimer’s became too much, Zayda moved her to an assisted living facility. Zayda could barely trust family or neighbors with the truth, let alone strangers, so she and Vera became “sisters.” Much later, after Vera’s death, Zayda needed to move into an assisted living facility herself. She had many, many photos of the love of her life, but dared not display them in her new home. The other residents would talk about husbands, children and grandchildren, but she felt too vulnerable to tell the truth. Zayda was in hiding and terribly isolated. —Nina L., Carlsbad, CA

As our elder population grows, more and more gay men and women will be seeking aging services. It is the responsibility of service providers to become competent in the culture, needs, fears and desires of gay men and women. This is not an issue we want to be behind the curve on.

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Preparing for the (Un)conference: Introduction to Open Space

The agenda is a blank wall. The ideal participants are whichever people show up. No one, including the event organizer, knows exactly what will be discussed or who will lead sessions. This is not the typical conference, but something called an unconference, and at the heart of the event is Open Space Technology. 

In brief, we will gather in a large room. Everyone will come with his or her own ideas and concerns about sexuality and disability.  Paper will be provided. We will take our ideas and make session titles from them. We will tape them to the wall. We will sort them out, perhaps combining similar topics, negotiating time slots and breakout rooms. People will sign up for the sessions in which they want to participate. All of this will happen in morning, and in the afternoon, we will go to the breakout rooms we have chosen, or change our minds and go to other sessions. At the end of the day, we will come back together and talk as a group. Throughout the process, there will be one or more experienced leaders to help us whenever confusion erupts. 

There is a structure supporting what at times may appear to be chaos.

From Introduction to Open Space Technology by Kaliya Hamlin:

Open Space Technology is an approach to facilitate convenings described by the following characteristics:

  • high levels of complexity
  • high potential or actual conflict
  • high levels of diversity
  • a decision time of yesterday

Please view the slide show to get a general idea what will happen during the unconference.

Do you have questions or concerns about the process? Have you ever attended an unconference? We would love to discuss these topics and others of interest to anyone thinking about attending the Undressing Normal (Un)conference. Please leave your thoughts in the comments here.

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Preparing for the (Un)conference: The basics of unconferencing

Maybe you are interested in our general topic, but wary of the unconference format. You want to know what will be expected of you and what information or materials you might need to bring. Or you wonder how in the world we can have a successful event without a lot of advance planning or even an agenda. Here are a few tips to help you become familiar with the concept of an unconference.

  1. A great way to start learning the basics is to read this short document, titled Unconferencing, by Kayila Hamlin.
  2. Now that you have read about a few of the types of sessions, you might be interested in learning more specifics about the types of methods that might be used. Check out this page at Here you will find lots of creative ideas for sessions, as well as a description of Open Space technology, which we will use to get things started.
  3. Think about the topics listed here. Think about your own interests and experiences. If you could decide the agenda for a conference on sexuality and disability, what would you most like to see discussed? This will be your opportunity to make it happen!
  4. Now go back to the Methods page and think about how you might like to present your topic. You will not be required to lead a session, but you will have the opportunity if you want it. What techniques might you use to get a conversation started around what you see as most important? Get more ideas by exploring our Links to Unconference Information in the sidebar.
  5. Attend the unconference! Don’t forget to register.
  6. Do you have more questions about how this will work? Please leave them in the comments here so we can have a conversation about it!
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Preparing for the (Un)conference: BYOT

Bring your own topic! Unlike a traditional conference, the unconference format depends upon all participants to create the day’s content. Everyone who attends will have the opportunity to contribute ideas, and it is a good idea to come prepared with a topic or two you’d like to discuss. Sessions will be determined by your interests, and you will have the opportunity to lead a round table discussion or present information in a more traditional format.

A small group of us have been meeting since October 2011 to prepare for the unconference. We will help coordinate topics and facilitate for anyone who needs help leading a session. In brainstorming sessions, we have discussed possible topics of interest; some of these are listed below. We are sure you will have many more to add! Please share your thoughts in the comments here. This is how we will get a discussion started so that when the day of the unconference comes, we will have a general sense of direction.

Some possible topics for Undressing Normal sessions:

  • Defining sexuality
  • Power and privilege
  • Monetary implications
  • Sexuality and the autism spectrum
  • Supporting LGBTQ clients and staff
  • Legal issues for individuals with intellectual disabilities and those who support them
  • Into the nursing home and back into the closet
  • Sexuality throughout the lifespan
  • Parenting and the eternal child stereotype

Please add your own thoughts in the comments and bring your ideas to the unconference on February 10.

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Preparing for the (Un)conference: Who should attend?

Who should attend Undressing Normal?

  • People with intellectual and other developmental disabilites and people regarded as having disabilities.
  • Direct support staff for people with disabilities.
  • Directors and staff of agencies charged with supporting people with disabilities.
  • Educators, administrators, psychologists, social workers and other professionals.
  • Policy makers and government agency staff.
  • People of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
  • Advocates, and all citizens or individuals who are interested in supporting the rights of people with disabilites.

This list is not comprehensive, but is a sample of stakeholders we hope will attend the (Un)Conference. Registration is limited to 100 persons. Register here to attend!

Rule 1 of Open Space: Whoever shows up are the right people. Sessions don’t need a presenter or even a so-called expert. And sessions don’t need 50 attendees to be considered a success. Two people could get together and have the most important conversation of the meeting, or one person could sit in a corner and write down his thoughts, then submit them as part of the conference proceedings.

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Undressing Normal (Un)conference to be held February 10, 2012 in Lexington

Please join us for a series of discussions on sexuality and people who are considered to have disabilities. The unconference will take place at the Clarion on Newtown Pike in Lexington Kentucky. We will start at 10:00 AM on Friday, February 10, and will leave by 4:00 PM with a set of action plans for improving the lives of LGBTQ and straight people who have often been denied opportunities to fully express their humanity.

There is a $10.00 fee for the unconference to help defray the costs of food and meeting rooms. scholarships are available. Register here to attend.

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Welcome to Undressing Normal

This is the blog for an upcoming unconference on the range of human sexualities and abilities. We welcome all people and acknowledge that whatever your orientation and/or disability labels are, you are well within the range of human normality. Our focus will be on minority sexualities and gender identities within the context of services to persons who are considered by some to have disabilities. The creators of the unconference have a particular interest in the rights of people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities, as well as those who work to support them. We seek to create a welcoming community for all lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, assexual, queer, questioning, straight, and other people to discuss issues of concern.

The unconference will take place February 10, 2012, at the Clarion Hotel at 1950 Newtown Pike in Lexington Kentucky. Registration information and further details will be posted here as they become available.

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