Interviewed by Celeste Pang
matthew heinz (he/they) is Professor in the College of Interdisciplinary Studies at Royal Roads University on Vancouver Island. A communication scholar with a PhD from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, heinz has studied the intersections of gender, language and culture from transdisciplinary perspectives for over 20 years.
Q: You led the Aging with Dignity: 2SLGBTQI+ Seniors in British Columbia needs assessment, which was published earlier this year. What led to this project?
A: About a decade ago, I led (with Devon MacFarlane) a community-based, applied needs assessment for transgender people on Vancouver Island in British Columbia (Island Lives: A Trans Community Needs Assessment for Vancouver Island – Matthew Heinz, Devon MacFarlane, 2013 (sagepub.com). I was interested in an opportunity to contribute a similar piece of applied research for the 2SLGBTQI+ population in British Columbia. Coincidentally, I had joined a non-profit organization based in Vancouver in 2021. Dignity Seniors Society seeks to support British Columbia’s 2SLGBTQI+ seniors and those who work with them. The society was interested in conducting a survey to assess priority needs, so I saw a good opportunity to align my research skills and interests with the organization’s needs. I also was able to recruit Dr. Robert Beringer, my co-author, to the project and to the organization. Dr. Beringer is an assistant professor at the University of Victoria in the School of Public Health and Social Policy and specializes in 2SLGBTQ+ gerontology.
I interviewed 51 individuals in one-on-one settings, using the medium that best worked for the participant, between January and September 2022. We then launched an online survey, which 155 individuals completed between September and December 2022.
Q: What was one of the main findings?
A: The interviews and the online survey generated consistent results: Our seniors are concerned about many of the same concerns as heterosexual and cisgender seniors, but these general concerns manifest differently for 2SLGBTQI+ seniors. For example, many seniors in Canada worry about access to health care, but for the participants, this is heightened by concern about access to health care that is culturally safe, competent, and inclusive. In interviews and surveys, participants voiced a strong need for access to housing and long-term care options that are either specifically dedicated to 2SLGBTQI+ seniors or explicitly welcoming to us.
Q: One of the top concerns among participants was loneliness and social isolation. Was there a difference in what participants in their 50s and early 60s shared, as compared to those in their 80s?
A: The interviews and surveys were based on snowball and community network samples; we therefore cannot analyze statistical differences between age groups. However, within our pool, age brackets did not appear to align with specific needs. It’s important to keep in mind that about half of the participants said they had sufficient, or more than sufficient, social contact. These participants spoke about their family relationships with significant others and families; they referenced volunteer work and serving on organizations’ committees and boards; and they were active in recreational groups. But for the other half, loneliness and social isolation were strong concerns. These participants were more likely to live alone, to live away from metro areas, or to be affected by health and/or mobility issues.
Q: What can be done on the governmental level to address the concerns of 2SLGBTQI+ seniors in British Columbia?
A: The Board of Directors of Dignity Seniors Society generated 25 recommendations in the areas of governmental responsibility, training and education, social inclusion, and long-term care/housing based upon the findings of our needs assessment. Many of our recommendations reflect that the creation of services and programs that are inclusive of 2SLGBTQI+ seniors also has the potential to create services and programs that are of benefit to all seniors, regardless of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Several of the recommendations address the need for coalition work across Canada, and Dignity Seniors Society is involved in such an effort to advocate for our seniors at a national level now.
Q: Where can people find the needs assessment?
A: You can download the report here!