Promoting understanding of sexuality and ageing: enhancing voice through co-production with older lesbian and gay people

Method deck

Researchers at BU conducted a series of innovative participatory interventions with older lesbians and gay men, who are often subject to discrimination and are ‘seldom heard’ in research or policy. The team adopted methodologies that would engage with their ‘voices’ to promote inclusive knowledge development and address health and mental well-being needs.

The Gay and Grey Project, funded through a Big Lottery Grant and led by Dr Lee Ann Fenge, adopted a novel, participative approach to explore the experiences and needs of older lesbian and gay people.

Key findings included:

  • The fear of heterosexism and discrimination from health and social care providers;
  • Inappropriate responses from agencies working with older lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people;
  • Issues relating to identity, mental well-being and ‘coming out’. This links to an underlying fear of being treated differently, highlighting the constant dilemma of who and when to tell, or when to ‘come out.’  The anxiety caused can be detrimental to long-term health, well-being and quality of life.

This project was the first in the UK to amass a sizeable sample of older LGBT people. The methodology is acknowledged as offering an inclusive approach to sexual orientation research  (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2008: 427).

The project was at the forefront of developing understanding of the health and wellbeing needs of older LGBT communities using ‘insider’ perspectives, and fed into policy development by key stakeholders. Age UK confirmed that the Gay and Grey Report was valuable in contributing to the national debate given the relative lack of research on the topic.

Findings have been used by agencies to develop policy and guidance concerning the health and well-being needs of older LGBT people. For example:

  • Equality and diversity training for Adult Social Care (Poole Borough Council);
  • Changes to admission processes and guidance (Dorset NHS);
  • Development of specific older LGBT bereavement support (Silver Moments).

Subsequent research, through the New Dynamics of Ageing Programme, built on the themes of identity and ‘coming out’. Specifically the project aimed to empower older LGBT people in rural areas through a collaborative multi-method participatory action research design, which embraced the principles of a Performative Social Science in its dissemination plan. The main output of the project is a short professionally made film called ‘Rufus Stone’ led by Dr Kip Jones, which has become a key tool for engaging with practitioners to facilitate understanding of the issues facing older gay individuals. The film is a key tool for engagement, and moves impac beyond the written word, to engagement across a broad audience base through performative social science.

Through further Big Lottery funding, Dr Fenge developed the ‘Methods to Diversity’ Method Deck tool, for health and social care agencies to develop awareness of LGBT needs and facilitate practice change. The tool is currently being used by local government departments, voluntary sector agencies and health providers who have reviewed their policies as a result of the findings, and the use of the Methods to Diversity tool for staff development. Feedback indicates the method deck helps facilitate changes in thinking and practice at organisational and practitioner levels.

Collectively the research has contributed to the debate about ‘co-production’ in public policy (Needham, 2009), and its underlying participatory methodology evidences the important role of lay people in generating knowledge which influences both policy and practice.

Filming Rufus Stone

Research references