“Sell-Bi Date”: UK Study Will Look At Poor Health Amongst Older Bisexuals

imageedit_1_5866484131We often hear that Britain has an ageing population. General practice is being encouraged to do more to support older patients, and to provide more services out in the community, away from hospitals. Tackling inequalities which contribute to poor health is an important component in responding to the needs of an ageing population. Despite this, there is very little research which considers how to support older LGBT people within general practice healthcare, and even less which considers the specific needs of bisexual people. “LGBT” research often includes relatively few bisexual people, and frequently doesn’t consider ways in which bi people’s needs might differ from lesbian and gay people’s needs.

This is despite the fact that analysis of general practice survey data and household survey data suggests that bisexual people, particularly women report worse health than lesbian, gay and straight people. The report “Complicated?” produced by the Equality Network, suggested that bisexual people may experience specific types of exclusion in healthcare: health service providers may hold specific prejudices about bi people, while LGBT support services and networks intended to help address inequality may themselves not be bi-inclusive. General practice survey data suggests that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are also likely to have lower levels of trust in healthcare staff than heterosexual people, and report more communication problems, meaning that it may be harder to raise concerns.

Older bisexual people may be particularly likely to be overlooked by health services. Some service providers assume that issues around sexuality are too sensitive to discuss with older people, or see sexual identity as not being relevant when working with older people. Research into issues around sexuality and inequality may use data sources which don’t include older people – for example, the National Survey on Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyle initially only included people up to the age of 59, and even the most recent version didn’t include anyone over 74, while research on financial exclusion often focuses on salary and workforce data. These assumptions about sexuality and ageing are likely to exacerbate the problem of bi invisibility in later life, and make it harder to have open, inclusive conversations about what services and support a person needs as they age.


“Health service providers may hold specific prejudices about bi people… or assume that sexuality is not important later in life.”

It is however important to point out that many older bisexual people have good experiences relating to healthcare. Many have built up strong support networks, which they can rely on in times of need. Experiences of activism and campaigning can make people more knowledgeable and confident about advocating for their own health. There are also plenty of excellent healthcare workers who make a real difference by supporting their bisexual patients. Because research into LGBT ageing and LGBT healthcare often focuses on negative issues such as prejudice, discrimination and social isolation, there is relatively little research which captures potential strengths and resilience of LGBT people, and the examples of great practice within health and community services.

I am a PhD researcher at the University of Lincoln, currently doing interview based research looking at the general practice and community health experiences of LGBT people aged 60+. This has grown out of my background in working with LGBT groups, including volunteering on a switchboard support service in a semi-rural area. At the moment, I’m particularly looking to speak to more bisexual people aged over 60, in order to try and ensure that my research does address bisexual people’s needs. I’m interested in hearing a wide range of experiences – the good, the bad, the neutral and the mixed. Participating involves taking part in a one-off confidential interview, at a time and place convenient for you (I’m very happy to travel!) You will be sent the transcript to check after the interview, and can change your mind about participating for up to 3 months after the interview. For more information, please visit https://mtozelgbt.wordpress.com/ or get in touch at mtoze@lincoln.ac.uk or ring 01522 835443.

The articles and research referred to in this article are:
Elliott, M. N., Kanouse, D. E., Burkhart, Q., Abel, G. A., Lyratzopoulos, G., Beckett, M. K., Schuster, M. A. and Roland, M. (2015). “Sexual Minorities in England Have Poorer Health and Worse Health Care Experiences: A National Survey.” Journal of general internal medicine 30(1): 9-16.
Rankin, S., Morton, J. and Bell, M. (2015). “Complicated? Bisexual people’s experiences of and ideas for improving services”. Edinburgh, Equality Network.
Uhrig, S. (2014). “An examination of poverty and sexual orientation in the UK”, ISER Working Paper Series.
You may also want to read:
The Stonewall Research website, which has a number of relevant reports including “Unhealthy Attitudes” “Prescription for Change” and “Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People in Later Life”
Age of Diversity’s report “Appropriate Treatment”
The LGBT Public Health Outcomes Framework Companion Document

Michael Toze is a PhD researcher at the University of Lincoln

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