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Credit: Kirsty Chan

Vancouver's LGBTQ seniors were front and centre at QMUNITY's annual International Day Against Homophobia breakfast

Vancouver’s LGBTQ community waves their colourful rainbow flag proudly, but this year’s annual International Day Against Homophobia breakfast was all about going grey. B.C.’s queer resource centre, QMUNITY, hosted the breakfast on May 16 at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. Titled Gay and Grey, the event focused on the issues facing LGBTQ seniors.

It’s been 45 years since Canada decriminalized homosexuality, but the fight for same-sex equality is far from over. Many of the people who were at the forefront of the movement’s formative years are finding themselves increasingly at risk as they age into residential care. Discrimination in the care home system is a rarely examined problem that, according to a survey conducted by QMUNITY, 77 per cent of LGBTQ seniors face. 

Among these seniors is keynote speaker Don Allison. Allison came out of the closet in 1972, a dark time for the LGBTQ community in Vancouver and across the country. He recounted stories of the discrimination that he encountered in earlier years. Just one of his moving examples was the time that he and his boyfriend were chased by teenagers with pool cues. Their attackers only backed down when a police officer told them to move on because their car was blocking traffic. Allison has survived being a victim of abuse and inequality, and emerged as a pioneer of the movement, but now he fears he will have to face these struggles again as he moves towards assisted living.

A beacon of hope to people like Allison is the province’s first Seniors’ Advocate, Isobel Mackenzie, who gave her first major public address at the event. Mackenzie confirmed her support of LGBTQ seniors and her dedication to celebrating the diversity present in Canada’s community of seniors.

Gary Patterson, the first gay moderator of the United Church of Canada, spoke passionately about the church’s historical and ongoing support of LGBTQ rights. QMUNITY’s executive director, Dara Parker, concluded the dialogue with a short address. Parker discussed QMUNITY’s commitment to seniors through their Generations program and the Aging Out Project.

QMUNITY’s Aging Out Project is a two-year project based around public education and policy development to improve the lives of B.C.’s LGBTQ seniors. Their report on the issues and needs of seniors will be made available in the coming months. They also offer resources for all ages such as workshops, social events, support groups, and more. More information can be found on their website.