5. Your rights
As an LGBT person, the law protects your right to equal treatment, to not be discriminated against, and to privacy. It is important to know the laws that exist, to know your rights and what to do if they are not being respected.
Stigma and discrimination
Many LGBT people, especially older LGBT people, will have experienced some form of stigma and discrimination in their lives. You may have had previous negative experiences with health and social care services.
After a diagnosis of dementia, it may feel like a double stigma. This may mean you don’t want to access services now. You may be worried about how you will be treated. However, the law protects your rights and those of the people you support in the following ways.
- It is illegal for someone to be treated differently or discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This applies to areas like health and social care, meaning all service providers including GP surgeries and hospitals must treat you equally. In England and Wales, this law is called the Equality Act 2010. In Northern Ireland, it is a combination of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 and the Sex Discrimination (NI) Order 1976.
- These laws also apply to the people close to you. It can reassure you to know that they cannot be discriminated against in relation to things like visiting rights, should you need to go into a care home or hospital.
- If you are trans and choose not to disclose (tell people) about this, your right to privacy is protected by the Gender Recognition Act 2004. This applies throughout the UK and means that someone providing care or medical services to you – for example, a doctor or care worker – cannot tell other people about your trans status without your permission.
- It can be helpful to know that the term ‘next of kin’ has very little meaning in law. People often think it has to be a blood relative or a husband or wife, but this is not true. If a hospital or care home asks for details of next of kin to be contacted in an emergency, you can choose whoever you want. You don’t have to be married to them – they can be a same-sex partner, friend or someone else you want to be contacted.
- Those close to you often have the right to be consulted about your treatment and care. This doesn’t have to be blood relations or married partners. If you are in a same sex relationship, this would apply to your partner.
Equality doesn’t necessarily mean being treated ‘the same as everyone else’. Everyone is different and everyone should be allowed to be who they are. Equality means that you have the right to express your sexual orientation, gender identity and your relationships just as heterosexual and cisgender people do. You shouldn’t feel like you have to pretend to be the same as everyone else in order to get the care and support you need.
Everyone should be treated and respected as an individual, and encouraged to express their identity. People shouldn’t assume that your gender identity or sexual orientation doesn’t make any difference, or that it doesn’t make you any different to anyone else. They should allow you to be the way you are. The care and support you receive from friends, family or professionals should be based around this idea.
What to do if your rights are not respected
If you feel that you have been treated unfairly because of your sexual orientation or gender identity – for example, at a service, care setting or hospital – you may want to make a complaint.
The process you should go through is as follows:
- Try to resolve the complaint locally. For example, if you have a complaint about the care you have received, ask the organisation for their complaints procedure and follow the steps listed.
- If you follow this procedure and still don’t feel your complaint has been properly addressed, you can take the complaint further. The complaints procedure should explain what to do next. If not, you can contact the relevant Ombudsman to make a formal complaint. These are listed on pages 48-50. Which one you talk to will depend on what the complaint is about and where you live.
- If you need advice or support when making a complaint, there are lots of organisations that can help and support you through the process. These are listed in the Other useful organisations section.
- In some cases, if you feel you need more help with the process, you might need to talk to a solicitor to get legal advice.