Tackling loneliness and social isolation for LGBT+ older people

Sam Higgins, 20 July 2022

At Re-engage, we have recently launched rainbow call companions a free telephone befriending service for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender plus (LGBT+) people who live alone and feel they would benefit from a friendly phone call every week or two.

This initiative is part of our commitment to ending chronic loneliness and social isolation for people aged 75 and over. For many older LGBT+ people, a desire to live independently whilst also having companionship is an important basic need that is often forgotten about.

We know that older LGBT+ people are vulnerable to loneliness as a direct consequence of decades of privacy and self-concealment. Housing associations provide homes and support services for older people to enable independent living for older and vulnerable people who may experience loneliness and isolation.

Providing an inclusive, respectful befriending service at Re-engage is so exciting. Rainbow call companions has helped create a safe environment where older people from the LGBT+ community feel comfortable having open conversations.

My personal experience

I grew up in the South Wales valleys where I was raised by two mums in a same-sex relationship. I have memories of other children making fun of me because my mums were “weird.” Other parents refused to invite me to sleepovers or let their children come to my home because they worried they might not be safe in a gay house. It was confusing and I felt isolated because of something that I considered completely natural.

As a gay man today, people assume because my mums were both understanding and accepting, coming out must have been easy for me. But they’re wrong. At that time, there were very few LGBT+ faces in the media who were open about their sexuality or gender identity, and very few who seemed to be either in a meaningful relationship or accepted by their family.

The media had us believe only people in heterosexual relationships could lead happy lives. For me, coming out and living my life as a gay man meant signing up to a lifetime of bullying, humiliation and worst of all, loneliness, and social isolation. 

Social stigma and isolation

Now at 34, I try to put myself in the shoes of LGBT+ people older than me. This is a generation who grew up when their very being was deemed outrageous and illegal. Imagine the stigma they experienced and the anxiety they may have felt, and still feel today.

For LGBT+ people over the age of 75, a historical culture of secrecy and shame has resulted in many becoming socially isolated. Research shows they are less likely to have children or build intergenerational relationships and as a result more likely to live alone.  

For those who are open about their sexuality or gender identity, there is a real fear of growing older and having to live in a care home, where they worry about having to “go back into the closet,” or risk being rejected by others.

No one should feel they are too old, or that they have to hide their authentic self, to make friendsI’m very proud that this year at Re–engage, we introduced rainbow call companions, a telephone befriending service specifically for older LGBT+ people who live alone and would benefit from a weekly friendly chat with a younger volunteer who is also LGBT+.

The friendships that develop as a result of these calls provide older people with vital social connections and an opportunity to be themselves, without fear of judgment. Rainbow call companions is an important milestone in our commitment to reaching deep into communities and finding the older people who really need us.

What does the service include?

Rainbow call companions is a telephone befriending service for older people who: 

  • Are aged 75 and over.
  • Are members of the LGBT + community.
  • Live alone.
  • Are experiencing social isolation and loneliness.
  • Have access to a landline or mobile phone. 
  • Can hear and are able to make themselves heard over the telephone.
  • Can commit to receiving calls at an agreed time each week with their call companion.

Calls last for half an hour or so and older people can chat about anything that interests them. What's great is that the same volunteer phones them every time, so they can get to know each other and share stories and laughter for as long as they both want.

As a charity, we exist to provide social activities for older people at a time when social circles may be diminishing. We are supported by over 15,000 volunteers, who come from different backgrounds and have various skills, knowledge, and experience. Each one of our volunteers receives training from us.

If you know an LGBT+ older person who lives alone and feels lonely you can refer them to our rainbow call companions service online.


Find out what our rainbow call companion older people have to say below.

“It definitely helps that he is gay. It’s like we’re speaking the same language.”

“All of the aggression I used to feel has disappeared since I was put in touch with your organisation.”

“Many older LGBT+ people have been ‘in hiding’ for years, and this shouldn’t be the case.”


If you know anyone who would benefit from having their own rainbow call companion, you can refer them to our service by calling 0800 716543 or apply on our website.