New LGBTI Carer Services Network

Considering LGBTI carers

Carer Associations across Australia exist to improve access and equity for carers within the community and across a range of service sectors. A carer is someone who provides unpaid support to a family member or friend who needs assistance. This may be a frail older person, someone with a disability, chronic illness or mental illness.

Carers often feel invisible and may be excluded from formal care planning. Over two decades of policy and advocacy, key Australian initiatives have started to address carers’ rights and role within the care team. These include the National Carer Strategy and state and federal Carer Recognition Acts.

In addition to their caring role, LGBTI carers often face multiple invisibilities and lack of recognition of their sexuality, their relationships and their gender identities. In recent years, Carer Associations have recognised the imperative to build rapport and trust with LGBTI carers and people who care for LGBTI people and to advocate for their specific needs.

An inaugural meeting of Carer Associations and carer support services was held on 27 October 2014 as a satellite activity of the National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Conference in Melbourne. The aim of this meeting was to build a national response to LGBTI carer needs and inform our core work of support for all carers.

Other plans include a joint presentation by Carers NSW and Carers Victoria at the National Carers Conference in November, which will explore what we know about LGBTI carers and highlight activities (local, state and national) to build partnerships and understanding of the specific needs of diverse LGBTI communities.

Carer Associations use the term ‘unpaid family carers’ to distinguish informal care from the formal care provided by paid care staff (‘care workers’) and other health professionals. This is a common source of confusion. While the term ‘family’ is defined broadly to include same-sex partners and a diverse range of ‘family of choice’ relationships, we recognise that ‘family’ can be a loaded or alienating term for many LGBTI people.

The confusion in terminology is intensified by the fact that many people don’t identify with the label of ‘carer’ (‘I’m not a carer, I am a partner/son/sister etc.’; ‘I don’t want to think of my partner as my “carer”’). It can sometimes be helpful to talk about ‘people in care relationships’ instead.

Anne Muldowney
Policy Advisor
Carers Australia (Vic)