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Pink Ambassadors: A Growing Network

by Jos Verstegen in Lifestyle & Fashion , 26 december 2013


Senior homosexuals and lesbians: it is a group that wasn’t very visible for a long time. Gay emancipation was not their thing. They saw it happening, but often did not feel comfortable with it. The advocates of emancipation were a lot younger and more direct and confrontational than they were. A lot has changed in just a few years. In 2006, some organizations (COC Netherlands, the Netherlands center for social development Movisie, the seniors association ANBO, and the disbanded gay health organization Schorer) decided to do something for this “forgotten group” of homosexual seniors.

They founded the Consortium Roze 50+ to get more attention paid to homosexual and lesbian seniors, and to improve their quality of life. To do so, the Consortium wrote a master plan.


Education in Homes for the Elderly

“After seven years, pink seniors are a hot item in the media,” according to Manon Linschoten of COC Netherlands, one of the people working on the implementation of the plan. “On radio and television, in printed media, the subject is surfacing everywhere. There is a kind of openness that until recently, one could only dream of.”

What happened after 2006? Firstly, the “Roze Belweken” were organized: two weeks in which gay and lesbian seniors, their relatives or their friends could call to talk about their life. “It turned out that many pink seniors were not happy about their living conditions,” says Margo Niestadt, who is working on the implementation of the master plan on behalf of the ANBO. “They felt uncomfortable in homes for the elderly: they did not fit in, they could not talk about children or grandchildren, and they were even bullied. If they were in a relationship, they would often hide the fact. The ambassadors of Roze 50+ addressed this problem with the management and client advisory boards of nursing homes. In order to do this, they visited homes throughout the country.”

Creating awareness, that is what it was about. “You can point out the over ten percent of the population that is homosexual to the management of these homes,” Manon Linschoten says. “This percentage is not dramatically different among seniors. This means that there are gays and lesbians in all nursing homes, a fact that management often did not consider at all.”

“One improvement in the situation of pink seniors in homes starts with the intake,” Manon Linschoten adds. “It is wise not to ask: ‘How is your husband’ or ‘How is your wife?,’ but to use the word ‘partner.’ This is neutral, and is also correct when it refers to the male partner of a homosexual man or the female partner of a lesbian woman. It gives the new resident the feeling that the nursing home does not only think in straight terms.”

A movie is one of the means of providing information on homosexuality in nursing homes. The film shows that pink residents can be very miserable there. In front of the camera, a woman tells that she only wants to go to a nursing home that is gay friendly. If that is not possible, she wants euthanasia. And if that cannot be arranged, she will end her own life. “Things can be that intense,” Margo Niestadt responds.

After the film, there always is a subsequent discussion at the home. “The film leaves a big impression with managers, care givers, actually with everyone,” Manon Linschoten says. “Once you have seen it, you realize how important the subject is, and that you cannot leave pink residents out in the cold. And the residents are happy they can talk about a subject that is so important to them. It turns out that the film, and becoming aware of sexual diversity, is also of importance to the straight residents of homes. They can finally talk about their gay son or their lesbian granddaughter. You can say that it has opened up a topic of conversation for straight residents. This outcome was not anticipated, but is very positive.”


Pink Ambassadors

Margo Niestadt and Manon Linschoten are not the only ones working on the implementation of the Consortium’s plan. Niestadt: “We get help from ‘Roze 50+ ambassadors,’ or ‘pink ambassadors’ in short. Those are usually seniors, often retired, and often gay or lesbian themselves. People who are trying to find out what pink seniors in their own city and region need. They visit the management of nursing homes, give information at secondary vocational education for care and welfare, or they present ideas to start groups to meet other people. The objective of such a group can be going to the movies or going for a walk together.”

“The group of pink ambassadors is very diverse,” according to Manon Linschoten. “Men and women, from (retired) bus drivers to psychologists. The oldest one is 82, and the youngest is 30, so it is not just seniors. And not all of them are gay. The number of straight pink ambassadors is increasing, and that is a good thing. It is even more convincing when heterosexuals are doing their best for homosexuals, because they do not act out of self-interest.”

The work of pink ambassadors can be very diverse. Ton van Steen from Amsterdam, for example, takes a very active part in the website www.roze50plus.nl. “That website,” he says, “was one of the goals in the master plan by the Consortium. There is a lot of information on the website for and by gay men and lesbians over fifty, for example articles on emancipation, on a gay friendly policy at nursing homes, and on homosexuality and religion. And events are announced on the website. It is my job to manage the website. I have a critical look at the articles, edit them if necessary, and make sure they are published.”

Recently, the number of pink ambassadors has quickly increased to a total of eighty. “This explosive growth was a good time to give some structure to the group of ambassadors,” Margo Niestadt states. “We have divided the country into five districts, and every district now has a ‘tandem’ of two ambassadors. They keep in touch with their rank and file and give us information about what concerns them. For example ideas for policies and projects.” A new activity is the Tompouce High Tea meeting. They are supervised by such a tandem, trained by the center for social development Movisie in Utrecht. Its purpose: to empower vulnerable pink seniors.

The second Roze Belweek, which took place in 2011, showed that pink seniors were a lot happier about their living situation, including nursing homes. The efforts of the Consortium 50+ seemed to be paying off. By now, dozens of nursing homes have received a quality mark, the so-called Roze Loper. “With the Roze Loper, a home communicates that it is tolerant when it comes to gay and lesbian residents,” Margo Niestadt states. “Meaning: there will be no bullying here, so pink residents can be themselves, and the subject can be discussed.”

Just as the number of pink ambassadors, the number of homes that has been awarded with the Roze Loper is increasing. “At the moment, there are eighty-four,” according to Manon Linschoten, “and in the middle of last year, there were only sixty. Nursing homes also keep a close eye on each other, see what is happening there, and do not want to fall behind. The Roze Loper and pink ambassadors are slowly becoming household names.”



 







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