Being gay and grey in Vancouver better than ever

Queer seniors recall hard times growing up

While many of the upcoming 35th annual Pride celebrations will focus on the young buff men and women of Vancouver cue the Pride Parade and floats filled with tight bodies, and wrinkle-free faces a whole generation of LGBT baby boomers are fully entrenched in their senior years.

"The queer community is and has been very youth-focusedand driven and that will change only very slowly," says 66-year-old Adriaan de Vries, "Queers of my age though, are not very likely to accept getting pushed out of the way very easily as our freedom has been too hard won."

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Statistics Canada data shows there were close to 307,000 seniors living in Vancouver in 2010, the latest date for which there are statistics. There are no statistics kept on the number of LGBT seniors in the city, but two per cent of Canadians over 65 identified themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender in 2012, according to a survey by Forum Research.

In 2013, being gay and grey in Vancouver has its advantages according to Don Allison, 69, former chef at the Dr. Peter Centre who is now enjoying his retirement.

For Allison, who lives downtown, things are better than they have ever been. "Grey hair doesnt mean there isnt fire in the tummy," says Allison.

He says he has been with his current boyfriend for seven years and they have a passionate and "fantastic " relationship. He says he is enjoying the best intimacy of his life.

His fulfilling relationship was hard fought. In the summer of 1976 Allison remembers being chased by three men along Seymour Street as he walked holding hands with his then boyfriend in the middle of the afternoon.

"A car stopped in middle of road, they got out, opened the trunk of car and took out pool cues to come after us. The only thing that saved us was a police car happened to pull up behind and told them to move on and didn't even question them or us as to what the incident was about," remembers Allison. He says other attacks followed with little or no support from local authorities.

Though he was happy with his orientation, he carried the "shame" society inflicted on him into the bedroom where he says he was unable to fully relax and enjoy his sexuality.

Fellow Vancouverite de Vries, agrees that growing up homosexual in a more closed time hurt his self-image.

"Queer men of my generation grew up as teens in the 60s. There was no acceptance. I was scared stupid by my sexuality and had nowhere to look, seek advice and see anything that resembled acceptance or a model of how I should be," says de Vries.

Both de Vries and Allison say it was hard to be fully themselves in those days when gay men couldnt feel safe or accepted in the wider Vancouver community.

Allison says his younger years were also filled with a lot of pain as many around him fell to AIDS. "Most of my friends died," he says.

For de Vries the AIDS epidemic of the 80s made him further internalize shame over his sexuality.

"That also impactedmy generation adding more unconscious guilt not to mention trauma and sheer survival panic," says de Vries.

Allison says today, with gay marriage legalized, and homosexuality openly talked about in the media, it is a very different culture. So, as a senior, he has gotten to enjoy a freedom and openness in his sexuality he never had before. That, he says, contributes to the great relationship he now enjoys.

"People underestimate our age group," Allison says, "we have a lot of years left."

De Vries says it has been his experience that seniors of all orientations are generally less prejudiced.

"They have seen a lot and often come to realize that those big differences are really not very important in the overall scheme of things and that everyone has a right to kindness, acceptance and happiness," he says.

And yet both men agree all is not yet rosy for LGBT seniors, especially when it comes to very advanced age and homecare needs.

"Queer seniors do go back into the closet when they need to go into care for fear they will be judged and not get their needs met. Yes, that happens," says de Vries.

Though even in this area things are evolving. In 2012, Century House in New Westminster started a Gay-Straight Alliance for seniorsin their facilityto benefit everyone. For Allison and de Vries, its about time.

Thuncher@shaw.ca

Twitter: @Thuncher

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