Carey Candrian, PhD, knew the statistics.
“Almost 50% of older LGBTQ adults say their doctor doesn’t know they are LGBTQ, and the stress of hiding takes their lives off for up to 12 years,” says Candrian. “Seventy-six percent of older LGBTQ adults are afraid of receiving adequate support in old age. Thousands still experience discrimination, harassment and abuse when looking for or living in senior housing. Those are big numbers. “
But when Candrian began interviewing older LGBTQ women in Colorado about their healthcare experiences two years ago as part of a project supported by the Lesbian Health Fund and the Colorado Health Foundation, she began to see beyond the statistics. She met women, ages 60 to 84, from across Colorado who had jobs, partners, hobbies, passions, and lives. Urban women. Rural women. Black and Hispanic women. Trans women. Disabled women.
Women whose stories Candrian wanted to tell.
“It’s easy to look away or disconnect when you hear general numbers about groups of people, but harder to do when you actually meet someone,” says Candrian, associate professor in the Department of General Internal Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “These women were quiet enough to stay safe and hidden, but they are also really strong and brave and want to be heard.”
Candrian tells her stories in “Eye to Eye: Portraits of Pride, Strength, Beauty”, an exhibition that opens on Thursday, October 14th, in the Fulginiti pavilion for bioethics and humanities on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. The show features Candrian’s photo portraits of 20 different women, accompanied by quotes about their struggles as LGBTQ at a time when coming out could mean the loss of your job, your home, or even your family and friends.
“I denied myself for 40 years. I became who I am by the next 40. Now I have a life to live. “
“The hardest part was when she died and I couldn’t tell that we were married. We were together for 33 years. “
“The purpose of the exhibition is to meet people behind these numbers and show how real people’s lives are affected by these statistics,” says Candrian. “When you visit the exhibition, you will actually have the feeling that you are on an equal footing with these older women. And the quote will give you a feel for their story. “
Health Care Concerns
These stories include struggles with health care providers, be it concerns about hospice and assisted living, obstetrics / gynecology, or family support with a difficult diagnosis.
“It really doesn’t just affect their lives, but it also affects their health,” says Candrian. “If you worry that if you talk about who you need in the room, who your lawyer is, who can speak for you, who needs bereavement care, it will have serious consequences for your mental health, physical health and grief counseling the actual health health consequences. “
Carey Candrian, PhD
It’s an area that has long been a research focus of Candrian, with publications in The Journal of Women and Aging, The Gerontologist, The Journal of Palliative Medicine, and elsewhere on LGBTQ women’s unique experiences in the healthcare system.
“Many of them have told stories, whether it was direct discrimination they experienced with the health system or fear of coming out,” she says of her recent studies, carried out by the Lesbian Health Fund, the Colorado Health Foundation and the National Health Institute. “Many have a distrust of the health system. By 1973, they were told by the American Psychological Association that they had a mental illness. As a result, many of them postpone routine care, which has health implications.
“If you are already afraid of breaking into the health system when providers start asking, ‘Name of the woman?’ ‘Husband’s name?’ ‘Is your family in the waiting room?’ they close pretty quickly, ”continues Candrian. “It burdens them to have to be the one who keeps coming out. I think people underestimate how difficult it is and how important it is, especially when you are sick and anxious. “
Similarities and differences
Because of this, Candrian is keen to teach her palliative care practitioners the importance of being sensitive to potential differences in patients, and that’s why she put together the Eye to Eye exhibit to remind people that differences are all around us are even if we can’t see them.
“I hope it stays with the people,” she says. “This exhibition is not going to return 12 years to anyone, but after seeing these women, after reading their quotes, I hope people think differently when interacting with patients, co-workers or friends. Because that’s a good start. “
“Eye to Eye” opens with a reception from 4–6 pm on October 14; an RSVP is required. The regular opening times of the gallery are Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit the Exhibition page for more information and to RSVP for the opening reception.