'Back into the closet': LGBTQ seniors face housing discrimination

Members of Ottawa's LGBTQ community say discrimination causes some people to go "back into the closet" during their search for long-term seniors housing.

A Halifax researcher is holding a focus group in the capital Tuesday as part of a Canada-wide project funded by the National Housing Strategy.

The plan is to discuss the unique set of housing challenges LGBTQ people face as they age.

"A lot of them, what they're telling us, is they're going back into the closet," said George Hartsgrove, chair of the Ottawa Senior Pride Network.

"They're just acting straight again so that they don't raise any awareness and they're not being treated differently by the staff, or by the other residents."

Isolated from family

Hartsgrove said many LGBTQ people don't have children who can look after them as they get older and are sometimes distant from their families.

He said people face discrimination, both in long-term care facilities and from landlords who won't rent to them.

Those challenges represent a "gap" in Canada's National Housing Strategy, a federal program which seeks to cut chronic homelessness and make housing for affordable for Canadians, according to researcher Jacquie Gahagan.

Gahagan is a professor of health promotion at Dalhousie University and a researcher studying housing needs of LGBTQ seniors.


The research project is hosting focus groups in five Canadian cities, including Ottawa, and hopes to recommend policies, projects and resources to help these seniors find housing.

"[The strategy doesn't] have sufficient data in Canada around the unique needs of the LGBTQ populations and housing. So we're hoping to address that gap," said Gahagan.

Gahagan has invited people who are 55 or older, and identify as gay, lesbian, trans or bi to take part in Tuesday's focus group at the Good Companions Seniors' Centre, which has filled all its spaces.