Listening to the elders.

I fear that the Laramie cast and crew will be in technical rehearsals when this event happens, but I want to promote it anyway.

All too frequently the mainstream media discussion of “gay rights” pits older Americans against younger citizens. Those under 30 are categorized as “open” and “tolerant” whereas retirees are identified as “conservative” (read: homophobic) and “traditional” (read: heterosexual). Amidst this narrative it might be difficult to remember that the large population of baby boomers include those who founded the modern LGBT movement. They were some of the first to live openly and insist and fight publicly against discrimination, for equal rights and protections. It seems inconceivable that such trailblazers would cede their sexual identity after flinging open their closet doors, but Stu Maddox’s 2010 documentary Gen Silent argues that LGBT seniors often return to the closet due to overt and covert discriminatory practices by senior centers, retirement and nursing homes, and medical facilities

On April 2, 2011 UNC’s School of Social Work will host: “Breaking Generation Silent: Facing the Needs and Challenges of LGBT Elders.” The event, which is free and open to the public (though pre-registration is requested), will happen at at the William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education beginning with a 1pm screening of the film followed by a panel including the filmmaker Maddox and

  • Mandy Carter,  a co-founder of the National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights organization for black LGBT individuals and their allies dedicated to fostering equality by fighting racism and homophobia. Carter is on the Advisory Board of SAGE, the nation’s largest and oldest advocacy group for LGBT elders, and has helped support training for North Carolina’s Area Agencies on Aging via the North Carolina chapter of the AARP.
  • Debi Lee,  the lead regional ombudsman for the Centralina Area Agency on Aging. Lee hosts the “Gay and Gray” program for Charlotte’s Lesbian & Gay Community Center.
  • Connie Vetter, an attorney and mediator in Charlotte, whose practice focuses primarily on legal services for LGBT individuals and couples. These services include estate planning, relationship documents, and adoption.
  • Dee Leahman, director for Community Partnership for End of Life Care, a program of Hospice & Palliative CareCenter in Winston-Salem. Leahman has worked closely with LGBT families on end-of-life issues. He is the 2010 recipient of the American Hospital Association’s Society for Healthcare Consumer Advocacy Award.

(I pulled these biographies from the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work site for this event.)

Gen Silent was screened a couple of weeks ago in Winston-Salem, its showing sponsored by Northwest Piedmont Area Agency on Aging. It is gratifying to see a state sponsored senior services agency involved in the promotion of this film, especially considering that discrimination for LGBT seniors  (and juniors) will be exacerbated by the bill (SB 106) that’s working its way through the North Carolina legislature. The bill seeks to amend the state constitution to both prohibit same-sex marriage (something that is already prohibited by North Carolina law) AND to deny any equivalent relationship status and any benefits (such as health insurance) that might be offered LGBT couples by public or private institutions.

The wonderful folks at In the Life Media, who provided us with the counter-narrative to the 2004 20/20 episode about Matthew Shepard, screened Gen Silent and talked to Maddox in November of 2010. Check it out there if you can’t get over to the Friday Center next Saturday.

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