Thursday, March 24, 2011

Public screening in Newfoundland emphasizes acceptance for community at large

Documentary focuses on aging LGBT population

By Ryan Belbin

Media, politics, and pop culture have made great strides to eliminate the social oppression of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) community over the past few decades, but stigmas still persist. For Andrew Bennett, a second-year medical student at Memorial University, this is particularly true for aging LGBT members.

“While the world is making many advances in accepting and giving equal rights for LGBT individuals, I think there is still lots of work to be done,” he said.

“There have been studies that have shown that LGBT older adults may be as much as five times less likely to access needed health and social services because of their fear of discrimination by the very people who should be helping them. I believe part of the reason is lack of awareness, and that it’s not a very open issue within our society.”

According to Bennett, the difficulties of being an elderly LGBT citizen is a particularly pertinent issue that people in St. John’s should be aware of. It’s because of this that he, along with fellow medical student Kelly Monaghan, are spearheading a public screening of the documentary Gen Silent next month.

“Basically, my goal for screening this film is to create an event where health professionals and the general public can come together to watch an amazing documentary on issues that are very important to everyone [in our] community,” he explained.

Gen Silent, the most recent project for award-winning director Stu Maddux, follows six LGBT seniors from Boston living in long-term healthcare units. As the film makes clear, these individuals do not only have to face their illnesses, they have to deal with psychological fear, loneliness, and oppression because of their sexual orientation. Struggling with these issues, some eventually end up going back into the closet.

It’s a shocking look at the realities of being an LGBT senior, some of whom are threatened by their paid caregivers and even pressured to assume a life of heterosexual orientation.

One of the things that Bennett is hopeful will come from this event is a frank discussion between members of the community, as well as with healthcare professionals.

“When I thought this film would be a wonderful idea to raise awareness and education towards the importance of these issues, I was trying to seek out local resources within our community here in St. John's for older LGBT adults and was surprised to find very few,” he admitted.

“Everyone is invited, and it will hopefully be a great opportunity to raise awareness of issues surrounding aging and acceptance within our city.”

This screening of Gen Silent is even more special for audiences because the film has not yet been released on DVD. All costs associated with securing screening rights were sponsored by Flower Studio here in St. John’s.

Gen Silent will be screened at the auditorium of the Health Sciences Centre on Tuesday, April 12, beginning at 8:00 pm and followed by a discussion. Admission to the event is five dollars, with all of the proceeds being donated to Planned Parenthood’s “Ageless Intimacy,” which offers seniors relevant sexual health information.

Bennett is optimistic that this event will be successful and is already looking into making it a regular event.

“Hopefully this is a successful run,” he said. “If so, I would like to make it a monthly or bi-monthly occurrence, with various films on a variety of LGBT health-related issues.”

For more information about Gen Silent or the screening, contact Andrew Bennett at

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

From Melbourne, Australia's Gen Silent screening

Posted by: Nicki Russell

So, y'all probably won't appreciate me telling you that a film you missed out on seeing was awesome. But Gen Silent, the documentary offering from U.S. director Stu Maddux that screened yesterday, was definitely a film that needs more talking about. Focussing on issues faced by the ageing LGBT community, Gen Silent is a moving reminder of a community that many never consider exists. An educator of aged care providers explained that many service providers and care facilities argue that they don't have any queer patients or residents, that they would know if they did, "as if [queer elders] would have a mohawk or pink hair."

Though I can't help but hope that somewhere out there there's a pink-haired nanna still hitting on the pretty young nurses in her retirement home, the subjects Maddux chooses for his documentary are reflective of the many and varied stories and issues faced by those reliant on care in the queer community.

Alexandre and Lawrence have been together over 38 years. With an age gap of more than twenty years, Lawrence was Alexandre's sole caregiver until he was forced to admit him to a care facility when he was no longer able to cope with Alexandre's worsening condition alone. Mel and his partner spent their whole lives in the closet, and through the support of a generous and accepting caseworker that he was able to acknowledge the life they lived together. Sadly this celebration of their relationship was only possible after his partner's death. Sheri and Lois, a married couple who lived through the 50s and were politically active (and continue to be), discuss their hopes and fears for their treatment when they inevitibly must rely on others for care. (Sheri: I don't want to be in one of those places with all those old people! They're all straight, I don't want to have to live with them Lois: But you don't want to live with lesbians either! You're always saying, "Oh, I couldn't live with lesbians. I know them, most women are too much trouble")

Perhaps the most affecting story is that of KrysAnne, a 59 year-old transwoman whose family abandoned her after her transition, rejecting her attempt to reconnect with them and returning her letters with abusive messages on the envelopes:

Now with terminal lung cancer, she has no-one close to help take care of her at the end. Trans people have a specific set of challenges when it comes to ageing and care. Stu Maddux found this out with KrysAnne, who was quite aware of the negative reaction many people would have to her: "Primarily [problems] revolve around making sure that you are treated as the sex you have chosen: making sure the hospital places you in a room with women or the caregivers aren't shocked by your body (your genitalia). It's tough. Right down to making sure your chosen name is on your grave marker. Krys Anne is a Vietnam veteran who plans to be buried at the Massachusetts National Cemetery."

Maddux has done a wonderful job by all his subjects, whose stories he tells with care and respect. At times tragic and upsetting (I know I wasn't the only one in the cinema with salty discharge on their face), but ultimately uplifting and with moments of great humour (Ohhhhh, Sheri and Lois. They're great), this is not only an important film, but an interesting and engaging one. Admittedly the director has seemingly spent too much time making powerpoint presentations in his day, and has superimposed words such as "ISOLATION" and "LIFETIME OF FEAR" onscreen at the start of relevant chapters in the film; but that doesn't diminish its otherwise excellent execution. Each subject is given the time to represent themselves and their experiences exactly as they see them, and to be seen as sexual and human; an opportunity too often denied to senior GLTBI people. Attention and thanks is paid to those who work tirelessly providing support, and who educate and train others ("All together now: G is for GAY, L is for LESBIAN, B is for BISEXUAL, and T is for TRANSGENDERED. Now that we've all said the words at least once...") Gen Silent is enlightening and informative, but more than that it's beautiful and a fascinating film in its own right, independant of educational goals or otherwise.

Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria and the {also} foundation presented this session. {also} provides a resource for people providing care to older GLBTI Victorians in the form of Val's cafe, which runs workshops and provides support. More information on the documentary can be found at the director's website, and information on aged care in the GLBTI community at the National LGBTI Health Alliance website or Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria. Currently surveys for queer-identifying seniors can be found in the festival lounge at ACMI. If you or someone you know is 60+, pick one up, they'll help guide the implementation of services in the public health sector.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Today's screening in Winston/Salem shows how communities use Gen Silent to start people talking:

Documentary brings focus to discrimination against elderly gays

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Frank Benedetti, 71, and Gary Trowbridge, 70, have been a gay couple for 46 years, and they know that hospitals, assisted living centers and even nursing homes may be a part of their future.

"If one of us is put in the hospital, we would be dependent upon the kindness of emergency room personnel" to let the other know what is going on, Benedetti said. "And who wants to deal with this when in crisis?"

Because the two men can't legally marry in North Carolina, they have none of the benefits that heterosexual married couples take for granted, he said.

The two men will speak in a panel discussion tonight after the showing of a documentary on the rights of elderly gays at Aperture Cinema in downtown Winston-Salem. The documentary, titled "Gen Silent," profiles older gays who have dealt with homophobic caretakers in nursing homes and assisted-living centers. The film showing was coordinated by the Northwest Piedmont Area Agency on Aging.

"We are bringing Gen Silent to our community to educate professionals, family caregivers, and our neighbors about the unique challenges and biases that LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) elders face," said Holli Ward, a family caregiver-support specialist with the agency. "Making people aware is the first step in changing the atmosphere and promoting a good quality of life and dignity for all of our population throughout their aging journey."

Another member of the panel will be David Piner, CEO and president of Arbor Acres, a retirement community in Winston-Salem affiliated with the United Methodist Church.

Arbor Acres accepted its first same-sex couple in 2000.

"There were questions when we first admitted an openly gay couple, but not controversy," Piner said. "And my board dealt with it with considerable grace."

Since then, the retirement community has welcomed several same-sex couples; Piner declined to say how many.

Arbor Acres does not publicize that same-sex couples are welcomed, but "the message has gone out that Arbor Acres does live by its United Methodist motto of 'open hearts, open minds, open doors,' " Piner said.

Same-sex couples have trouble throughout their lives in different ways, "but the problems are particularly pronounced for seniors," said Ian Palmquist, director of Equality North Carolina, a gay advocacy group.

Heterosexual couples can pay a small sum, go get a marriage license and automatically have access to more than 1,100 rights and privileges at the federal level, and hundreds more at the state level, he said.

"Same-sex couples have to acquire these rights one by one, paying an attorney for each of these and for every piece of documentation setting up those rights or privileges," Palmquist said. "Even after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, same-sex couples still don't have the rights that heterosexual married couples do."

Benedetti and Trowbridge, as an aging gay couple, say they are most concerned about three things: taxes, benefits and health care.

Experiences for gay couples in hospitals, nursing homes and health-care centers are all over the map — some good, some bad, they said.

A couple of years ago, Benedetti had prostate surgery at Wake Forest University Baptist Hospital.

"The personnel there were extremely helpful and allowed Gary to spend the night in the room with me," Benedetti said. "It was a great experience."

But the two know of an elderly lesbian couple who had been together for years. After one of them died in her sleep, the family of the deceased entered the home and stripped it of nearly all the furnishings, leaving the surviving partner with almost nothing.

Benedetti said he and his partner have put nearly everything they own in both their names, so that whatever they own together will be passed along to the surviving partner when one dies.

Gays are more likely to grow old alone, because many do not have children, and sometimes their families have abandoned them.

"Sometimes we get discouraged," said Benedetti, who added that both he and his partner are veterans (Benedetti served in the Army, Trowbridge in the Air Force). "We are sometimes treated like second-class citizens, and it's hard not to be bitter. But we try to keep good humor, even when things are stacked against us."

Benedetti receives a pension from Wachovia Corp. where he worked, but when he dies, that's it — it's gone.

"If we were legally married, Gary could continue to receive my pension," Benedetti said.

Wachovia simply did not set up the plan that way, he said.

"It was not done out of meanness, but it just never occurred to them," he said. "Wachovia has been good to me, but this just wasn't on their radar."

Steve McGinnis, co-founder of Equality Winston-Salem, said shedding light on the issues will help.

"In Northwest North Carolina, there's not a lot of exposure of gay and lesbian issues," McGinnis said. "In the United States early on, we were the melting pot. It was important for all these cultures to blend in together and be Americans."

But McGinnis prefers to think of the U.S. now as a "cornucopia."

"We are all part of that basket but we shouldn't lose our identity," he said.

If the country needs more exposure to these issues, that means that gays and lesbians have got to step up and discuss these things, McGinnis said.

Meanwhile, Benedetti and Trowbridge hope that the time has come that "the culture won't see the harm in two people trying to take care of each other in their old age."

"We are God's children, and American citizens, and are just as deserving and capable of love as anyone else."

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