Continue reading the LGBT Caregiving Blog Series Presented by ASA's LGBT Aging Issues Network (LAIN):
Sharing Care an Energizing Experience
Two Relationships in One
Complications of Transgender Caregiving
Caregiving in the LGBT Community
My grandfather was 75 when my mom informed him I was gay. As my mom tells it, his one and only response was his concern that I would have difficulty keeping a job if people knew. It’s a concern all gay people have—how do I stay authentic to myself in a heterosexual world? Twenty years after my grandfather’s prediction of job woes, I own a successful homecare company with my partner, Bob. We employ more than 260 people providing quality elder care to more than 530 clients. Our business web page clearly identifies us as life-partners in business together.
When Bob and I started our business taking care of elders in their homes 11 years ago, I was guarded about my sexual orientation for fear that it would deter clients from using our service. You might say that I put one foot in the closet each day as I went about my work. Every time I would meet with elderly women to discuss services, they would inevitably inquire about my marital status. “No, I’m not married” was my response, hoping they would leave it at that (I wasn’t going to lie, after all). Sometimes, they were satisfied. Many times, however, they would persist, asking, “Don’t you want to be married? Just haven’t found the right girl?”
I finally asked a woman, who was already a client, to please refrain from bringing the subject up every week because I would never be married. Her response took me by surprise, not only because she had figured out what I was trying to tell her, but more so because it didn’t bother her. “Honey,” she said, “I’ve seen so many things in the course of 83 years that a person’s sexual orientation means nothing. You treat me with dignity and respect, and that’s what matters.”
In this heterosexist world, it’s easy to get caught up with “fitting in.” During the period when I was still guarded with clients about my sexual identity, I got an inkling of what it might be like to be an elderly gay man and feel the need to closet myself again so that I would be treated with dignity and respect in my vulnerable years.
Studies have proven that to be the case; one of the greatest fears of LGBT elders is the day that they will need services or housing and have to return to the closet in order to receive the kind of care their heterosexual counterparts take for granted. If we wish to offer dignified services to all of our elders, the dominant heterosexist mindset needs to adapt. For example, in our client assessment process, we now ask about “significant relationships” rather than “marital status.” It’s amazing how a simple change of language opens the conversation and makes it clear to people that it’s fine if they aren’t heterosexual.
Our company provides companionship and homemaking services to the elderly in an era when all such agencies have incorporated personal care models into their business. People ask me all the time how we do enough business in this model and why we don’t follow suit and add personal care. It’s because this is the business that we dreamt of building, one where we assist the elderly in their homes with basic, everyday tasks, a need we observed in our aging family and neighbors. It’s our passion to do extremely well in this one area, instead of sacrificing quality to be all things to all people for the sake of growth.
In many ways, at the end of the day, it’s about authenticity all the way around—being true to myself and being true to our dream of creating the best companion-homemaking service. It’s easy to want to change how you live your life or run your business to better suit those around you or their priorities. I have found that living a life that is true to self and values is the greatest measure of success, a measure transcending sexual orientation or business model.
Paul Blom is co-owner of the Right at Home franchise serving the Minneapolis-St. Paul and southern suburbs. Blom serves as President of the National Parkinson Foundation Minnesota, Chair of the National Parkinson Foundation Chapter Advisory Council, Treasurer of the Minneapolis Area Senior Workers Association, Vice-Chair of the National Private Duty Association of Minnesota, Marketing Chair for Training To Serve, and is a facilitator of a support group for the Alzheimer’s Association of Minnesota.
This article was brought you by the editorial board of ASA’s LGBT Aging Issues Network (LAIN).
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