Social work with older sexual and gender minorities in New Zealand.
Thesis DisciplineSocial Work
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Social workers aim to support all individuals within society, but not every individual or community is afforded the same recognition, validation, and protection. One such group of individuals are older members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQ+) community. Older people from this community have lived through times when they have been treated with hostility from members of the public, ‘helping’ professionals, and politicians. In this research I have explored the experiences of older sexual and gender minorities; noting their reflections on legislative changes, supportive social relationships, contemporary accounts of stigma, alongside their concerns about the future. The findings in this thesis present a varied set of lived experiences, demonstrating strong community networks alongside experiences of inadequate social services. The research reported on in this thesis has focused on presenting the findings in a manner that can be used to inform social work practice, policy, and education in order to support the wellbeing of this cohort.
This qualitative based research is informed by the theoretical framework of critical social theory and critical gerontology. At the heart of this theoretical approach is the need for recognising and challenging hidden forms of social coercion that position older adults with diverse sexual and gender identities as minorities. The framework adopted in this research uses social capital as a model to identify the relationships and connections that older sexual and gender minorities prioritise, as well as the benefit these relationships can have for the wellbeing of this population. The design of this study incorporates semi-structured interviews with 31 older sexual and gender minorities from around New Zealand, and the collected data was then analysed using applied thematic analysis to present findings to answer six distinct research questions.
Analysis of the data suggested that older sexual and gender minorities have distinct forms of social capital, and highly value the role emotional support plays in their interpersonal relationships. Participant accounts suggest that while legislative changes in New Zealand regarding the rights of sexual and gender minorities have impacted on legal protection and feelings of safety, they have done little to alter experiences of discrimination for this population. Additionally, this research reports on findings that interpersonal relationships within the LGBTQ+ are filtered through social constructions of identity that mean not all sexual and gender minorities have the same level of access to social networks and social support. The development of these findings are used to present a conceptual model outlining the forms of social coercion impacting older sexual and gender minorities, as well as a paradigm of practice that social workers can use to support this population.