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Date published: February 29, 2024

Supporting the LGBTQ+ community in adult social care – a reflection from Hope Lightowler, Shared Lives Ambassador

Following the release of our new equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) policy, Hope Lightowler, a Shared Lives ambassador, reflects on the experiences of LGBTQ+ people, in social care.

Hope is 24 and has been supported in Shared Lives for over four years, shaping her own Shared Lives experience during this time.


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Issues faced by LGBTQ+ people in social care

It’s difficult for LGBTQ+ people with a social care need, many feel as though they cannot be open with their family because they cannot afford to be kicked out of their home. When moving into adult social care, it isn’t always an accepting environment of LGBTQ+ people, so again people can feel trapped and isolated.

In terms of working with social care staff, in my experience it’s been very inconsistent and feels like you’re having to ‘come out’ day after day, so in the end some people don’t bother to tell support workers or social workers because it’s tiring to have to go over the same conversation time and time again. Many social workers are agency staff, who don’t know you or understand your support needs, or how you identify, and because you don’t know their views on the LGBTQ+ community, you end up keeping this to yourself.

It’s also important to highlight that many gay or LGBTQ+ community spaces are not accessible, so we need to be able to feel comfortable to ask carers or other support workers to take us to these places, but there is sometimes the unknown of how they would react.

Another example would be the various Pride festivals which take place across the UK, again most of the time they aren’t accessible events, so the LGBTQ+ community who have a social care need, cannot be involved when they want to be. Adult social care providers can do more to support people to such events.

A lot of the time partners aren’t respected in adult social care; in most settings you can’t live with a partner and if you explain that someone is your partner, it’s still treated like a friendship, which can be demeaning and minimising. One time I was discussing with a development worker that I was going to my girlfriends for the weekend and specifically used the word girlfriend and was asked “How long has this friendship been going on?”. This made me feel angry and upset and that I wasn’t listened to. I wasn’t sure whether they didn’t respect my relationship because of my support needs or because it was with another woman.

Considering the needs of LGBTQ+ people

Unfortunately, in my experience and friends’ experiences – our needs are not usually considered. When I was going through the assessment period for Shared Lives, I put in that I was gay, but I was never told if where I was going was LGBTQ+ friendly or not. I don’t know whether it was safe to mention that or not.Many carers in adult social care are cis-straight couples and therefore they don’t necessarily have the knowledge or tools to support a person in the LGBTQ+ community fully. I think it is important that adult social care as a whole and social workers, do more to train carers in how they can best support us, our social lives, and relationships.

When I was making my care plan, the scheme worker I was working with was queer, so I felt comfortable disclosing my needs, but we should feel comfortable no matter who we are working with or being supported by.

How Shared Lives can further support LGBTQ+ people

We should all be comfortable to have open conversations, whether that be LGBTQ+ people supported in Shared Lives, or scheme/support workers and Shared Lives carers. A carer may feel out of depth and need more support and information, and they should have this easily accessible by their scheme.

Moving forward, it would be beneficial for schemes to have a dedicated LGBTQ+ point of contact, for both supported people and Shared Lives carers. Knowing that there is a safe person to go to, will build confidence for both people supported and carers.

Training for schemes and carers will also be helpful, around areas such as how being queer or trans can impact how content you feel in a social care setting, and how they can make us feel much more comfortable and our needs supported. Schemes could also support us more with connecting and networking with others in the LGBTQ+ community.

I was lucky that I had a great scheme worker who supported me well, but not everyone has this consistent support at present. It’s about time we got more creative, open, and honest– to better support the LGBTQ+ community in adult social care.