‘When you come out everything falls into place’

David Lee-Bastable. 'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (142707-1)
David Lee-Bastable. 'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (142707-1)

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Research has found older lesbian, gay and bisexual people are fearful of how society views them. Reporter Ben Fishwick spoke to a support group that works with people aged over 25 to see what problems they face.

People coming to terms with their sexuality can find it a difficult process.

For older people, telling colleagues, family and friends about their sexuality after years of silence, it can even more troublesome.

Research from the charity Stonewall found 41 per cent of lesbian, gay and bisexual older people live alone, opposed to 28 per cent of heterosexual people.

It also found 65 per cent of older LGB people feel they would need to hide their sexuality if they moved into a care home.

Some couples have even been forced to live separately as they fear prejudice.

With an estimated one million LGB people aged over 55 in Britain, the issue is one that needs addressing.

And in the area a lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans support group is doing its best to do so.

Chatterbox LGBT helps people in Gosport, Portsmouth and Fareham come to terms with their sexuality.

The group was set up in 2011 to help people aged over 25 – and does help people in their 70s.

The Rev Tom Armstrong is chairman of the group.

He said: ‘The perception they still feel is very much the same perception that LGBT people have back in the 1960s.

‘They’re stuck in that generation, isolated from the community.

‘Our role is very much to encourage them to come out and actually say that things have moved on and it’s perfectly acceptable to be who you are and get involved with other people in an environment they feel safe in.

‘A lot of them still suffer from mental health issues brought on because of the prejudices of society.’

Chatterbox has members in their 50s, 60s and 70s who need support.

It holds regular coffee mornings, social events film screenings and reading groups.

David Lee-Bastable helps out at the group after he turned to it for help.

He said older people can fear society’s views on LGBT people.

‘It’s the stigma – older people feel very frightened because they’ve suddenly discovered they’re gay, lesbian or transgender,’ he said. ‘It’s particularly hard for a transgender person.

‘They realise and all the stigma starts coming into it.

‘They get embarrassed and they don’t know where to turn to. Chatterbox has really filled a little void.

‘We can’t cure everything but we try to be there so people can have a focal point so that we can help.

‘We’ll signpost people on to somewhere that can.

‘People we deal with at Chatterbox have got a lot of personal difficulties but we do signpost them to services.’

- Call Chatterbox LGBT on 07910 403 337 or see chatterboxlgbt.org.uk for support. The group is also on Facebook.

David’s story

WHEN David Lee-Bastable was in his forties he was in a very bad place.

Despite knowing he was gay from a young age it was only later in life that he came to terms with his sexuality following a change in his life.

Facing homophobic comments in the street, the 51-year-old, of Gosport, was close to committing suicide before he later contacted Gay Switchboard who directed him to Chatterbox LGBT.

He said: ‘I was suffering from severe depression.

‘I’ve been shouted out and I’ve had all sorts of things thrown at me.

‘I suffered a lot of mental abuse. I felt nobody cared about what I was going through.

‘Now I’ve come out and been with this group it’s the best thing that’s happened to me.

‘I realised I’d been hiding behind a bit of a veil.

‘I think I’d knew since the age of 16 I was gay. I was scared – you have to conform in society.

‘I felt there was a lot of pressure on me to do that.

‘It’s not easy for a gay person, it can be very hard when you’re coming out and it was very hard when I was coming out to my family.

‘Looking back at that I’m much more confident now.’

David has made friends with other people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans who attend Chatterbox LGBT.

He says finding the group’s poster on a library wall could well have saved his life.

‘If I hadn’t found the group I think I would have done something stupid,’ he adds.

‘I found the information through the library. I was very apprehensive at first.

‘Being a gay person it’s not the easiest thing to try and do.

‘I went along to one of the coffee mornings. It was very non-threatening and it was a great success.

‘Within 10 to 15 minutes I was talking away like I’d known the person forever.

‘From there I was going to the social events and meeting other people. People were shy and some were very open.

‘For me it’s been a fantastic success and I want to encourage people to go and get in touch with Chatterbox.

‘Anything you say doesn’t get shouted from the top of a hill, it doesn’t go any further.’

Now David has a clear message for anyone else who is coming to terms with coming out. He adds: ‘Once you’ve got over the initial hurdle of coming out everything falls into place.

MP’s message

SOCIETY has changed and older people should not feel they cannot come out.

That is the message from Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt who said that prejudices against lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people in society have changed.

She said: ‘I think in part it’s the younger generations that have changed that attitude.

‘When people have family members they love, if they have prejudices they soon change them. I think that is what people will find.

‘But taking those first steps can be very daunting.

‘Because there’s no going back people get very anxious about it.

‘But it’s something to be encouraged and be positive about whatever time of life you are in.

‘You should be able to feel you can live your life as you want openly and clearly any prejudice that is out there should be combated.

‘People will very quickly find there’s a fantastic support network out there and they’ll wish they’d done it years ago.’

She urged people to get in touch with support groups if they need help.

Research carried out for the charity Stonewall by YouGov found older gay, lesbian and bisexual people face different difficulties to heterosexual people.

The organisation carried out a survey of 1,050 heterosexual and 1,036 lesbian, gay and bisexual people over the age of 55 across Britain.

From this it was found that two in five lesbian and bisexual women have been diagnosed with depression, and one in three with anxiety – more than their heterosexual counterparts.

Gay and bisexual men are twice as likely to have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety compared to straight men.

And 49 per cent of LGB people worry about mental health compared to 37 per cent of heterosexual people.

To read The News’ view on this click here.