The struggle for unbiased care

Marie Visca - December 2, 2013

A scene from Stu Maddox's film "Gen Silent."
A scene from Stu Maddox's film "Gen Silent."

In the late 1960s, the Government of Canada passed the Medical Care Act to ensure free and unbiased health care to all citizens. Today, debate continues about just how far this unbiased health-care approach actually applies when it comes to those in the LGBTQ community.

Dal’s Interprofessional Health Education (IPHE) initiative has been hosting screenings of the film Gen Silent to raise awareness about the issues plaguing LGBTQ seniors in health care — and to get students thinking about LGBTQ experiences in the health-care system. The most recent screening attracted just over 100 students. It started with keynote speaker, Cybelle Rieber, an employee of Pride Health and an active fixture in Halifax Pride, and ended with the sharing of new perspectives.

The critically acclaimed documentary, directed and produced by Stu Maddox, follows the lives of six LGBTQ seniors and focuses on the challenges they face while navigating the care system. Many of these individuals are facing the dilemma of going back “into the closet” to receive the unbiased care they need in hospitals or assisted living facilities because of discrimination from health-care providers. For most students, this was an issue they had never considered before.

Among the students was Jeff Wilson, a second-year social work student who helped organize the event.

“It was fun to see myself and other students having epiphanies,” says Wilson. “It was almost like we just assumed that older people stopped having sex or stopped having a sexuality. To see that finally be considered was enlightening.”

After the film, students were separated into groups and given the opportunity to talk to local LGBTQ community mentors. The idea was not only to make students aware of these challenges, but to help IPHE students realize how they can administer more equitable health care in the future.

A generation’s story


Jacqueline Gahagan, professor and head of the Health Promotion Division within the School of Health and Human Performance, was behind the idea of using Gen Silent as a teaching tool at Dal. Her program of research focuses on improving health outcomes through ensuring health equity and pathways to health approaches that are culturally competent.

Gen Silent is an extremely powerful example,” Gahagan said. “This is the generation of people who fought for gay liberation and now they're going back into the closet to get their needs met.”

Her plan to bring Gen Silent to Dal came after much discussion about the insufficient focus on LGBTQ content in students' class time. She hopes that the screenings have not only raised awareness, but will also spill into professional practice when these students from the health professions enter the workforce and begin giving hands-on care to LGBTQ seniors.

“I think Gen Silent, and looking at sexual and gender minority health equity issues, is a conversation that needs to happen in more places,” she said.

For Wilson, it's also a matter of understanding.

“The biggest thing is to know that you can ask questions from a point where it's not insulting, and that asking questions isn't a bad thing. There's the idea that our language and our understanding is constantly evolving, and as long as we're trying to get better and be equitable for all of our populations, that's all we can really hope for.”

Website: Gen Silent film site


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