Why Toronto's Long-Term Care Homes Need to be LGBTQ Friendly
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Why Toronto’s Long-Term Care Homes Need to be LGBTQ Friendly

Of 10 long-term care homes in the city, only Fudger House is fully LGBTQ friendly.

Fudger House is a nondescript building, perched on the corners of Sherbourne and Wellesley streets. Despite renovations, brown brick walls betray that the home was built in the 60s. Nothing about the building’s architecture is particularly inviting, but a certain comfort exists here. For Alf Roberts, Fudger House is home.

It’s also where he came out as gay, at 80 years old.

Roberts is among several LGBTQ residents living in the downtown long-term care (LTC) facility. While there are a total of 10 LTC homes in Toronto where all staff receive inclusivity training, Fudger House is the only one that brings LGBTQ issues for seniors to the forefront, according to both residents and community members.

“I waited so long [to come out] because I didn’t want relatives to know, but it just came to me when I was here,” says Roberts, 87. “I started seeing the openness here and decided it was time.”

Roberts first came to live at Fudger House as a return visitor. He broke his shoulder and stayed at the home for a 90-day period of convalescence. Upon going home Roberts realized he could not manage well without the help and support he received at Fudger and made it his first choice when applying to Toronto LTC homes.

Fudger houses about 250 residents, and has been in operation since 1965.

Not only is the home a stone’s throw away from the Church-Wellesley Village, the culture at Fudger is queer- and trans-positive, with activities and services geared specifically toward LGBTQ residents. Roberts, for instance, took part in decorating a Pride Parade float during his first year in residence.

“I had always wanted to [go to the Parade],” he says. “But I was never able to before.”

For Roberts and other queer and transgender seniors, these activities and services are essential. Many lived in an era when being gay was illegal, and both societal oppression against the LGBTQ community was the norm. Gay and lesbian Torontonians could be fired for their sexualities, and could lose their homes if landlords were anti-gay. Even electric shock treatments for curing homosexuality were considered legitimate. To receive support, love, and acceptance late in life is key.

“When you end up in a nursing home you still carry that fear, that shame of being gay even when 20-year-olds today might not know what I’m talking about,” says Nancy Irwin, a writer and strong supporter of LGBTQ-friendly LTC homes.

The City of Toronto has recognized this. In 2008, the City created an LGBTQ toolkit to help administrators and workers improve the culture of acceptance and support in their LTC homes. Included in the toolkit are ways to make a space more queer-friendly—from making LGBTQ literature available and broadening the definition of family to include not just blood relatives but “chosen family” to resources to establish gay-straight alliances—and a vast LGBTQ history of Toronto for context.

That toolkit, now eight years old, is in the midst of an update by a team of people including Jane Simms, the Manager of Program & Strategic Support. Simms did not elaborate on how the new toolkit will differ, though she claims the 2008 version is “still valid.”

Based on the success of Fudger House, the City used the toolkit and subsequent training to improve the culture at the remaining nine homes.

But Irwin says the toolkit and training is not enough. “The City is trying to tell us that we don’t need to worry about [discrimination] anymore because there’s this new handbook, because there’s this toolkit, therefore it’s safe,” she says. “But if someone goes to a four-hour session on anti-discrimination, that does not mean that they don’t discriminate.”

Even worse, some LGBTQ-friendly homes are at risk of closure. Fudger was on the chopping block early last year until the community showed strong opposition and that plan was put on hold. The City responded with a Long-Term Care Homes & Services Capital Renewal Plan, and announced that “Fudger House, a 250-bed home, will remain in operation until all other redevelopment projects are complete (estimate 2029).”

For residents like Roberts, this is a relief. Roberts says he can’t imagine himself in another home, where his gay identity might not be as celebrated. “Not every home is gay-friendly,” he says. “Not all are as good as Fudger House.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that only two other homes have rolled out training and implementation of the LGBTQ toolkit. Torontoist regrets the error.

This story has also been updated to clarify statements regarding the training and inclusivity of City staff at LTC homes.

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