Town hall explores LGBTQ aging

Guest researcher focuses on older male gay populations in rural areas

A researcher and facilitator will meet with the LGBTQ community in Powell River because it matches an important criteria for his particular area of study. Robert Beringer will conduct a discussion and interactive evening town hall event on Thursday, March 16, focusing on aging, male, gay populations in rural and small town areas.

“I am studying older gay men in basically non-metropolitan areas,” said Beringer. “The reason for studying in rural, small town areas is the bulk of the research on LGBTQ, in general, has been done in urban centres.”

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Beringer said he wants to collect data from lesbians and transgender people who are willing to participate, but will not be able to use that content in his research because of limited resources.

When conducting literary reviews, Beringer said he has found thousands of academic studies and articles, but once aging is included in search parameters the number of articles drops dramatically. When further focus is narrowed by adding rural to the mix, the research shrinks even further. Out of all those papers, Beringer said he found two relating to the subject he is studying.

“Some of the research never looked at an idea that there’s a heterocentric masculinity that dominates the landscape in non-metropolitan regions and it’s more so here than in a metropolitan area,” said Beringer.

Beringer said he wants to learn more about gay men in small, rural towns. On one hand, he said, they may have a harder time deciding to live in a small town they grew up in or, on the other hand, if they came from the city they actually might have a lot more character of resilience living in areas such as Powell River.

Jason-Tully Barr, a young filmmaker studying at Powell River Digital Film School, began shooting a documentary about the adult LGBTQ community in Powell River on March 8.

“The reason I decided to focus on older LGBTQ individuals is because of the distinct generational gap I’ve noticed in my own experiences as a young queer person,” said Tully-Barr. “I haven’t had much contact with older members of the community and, as far as I can tell, this is a common experience. It’s important to me that we hear their stories and guidance. They were there for parts of history that no one wants to tell us about.”

The life course of older gay men is different and important to know, according to Beringer.

“For older gay men, in the time they grew up, homosexuality was illegal,” he said. “In Canada it was a mental illness until 1973, and even after those things were removed, we still had the bathhouse raids in Toronto and Montreal in the late ’70s, and then the AIDS crisis.”

Because older gay men came out during those tumultuous times of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, they are the ones who might be more estranged from their families, which presents other problems in aging, said Beringer.

“It often meant saying goodbye to their families forever and a lot of them have never gone back to them,” said Beringer. “They have to rely on networks of friends and family, and families are limited because many gay men don’t have children or grandchildren.”

Beringer said that in the heterosexual community support in aging comes from the spouse first, which is not the case in the gay community.

“We know gay men are less likely to have spouses or full-time partners, compared to heterosexuals,” he said.

With aging gay men, they often turn to friends for support first, he added.

The message Tully-Barr said he hopes to convey in his film is the importance of community and relying on one another.

“The LGBTQ community has been around for a lot longer than a lot of people acknowledge, and we’re not going to go away any time soon,” said Tully-Barr. “It’s reassuring seeing people who have been around so much longer and been through so much worse than people my age have, but it also makes the negative side of our history feel a lot more recent. I want to give other people that feeling, that we have a need for action and that we have hope. We’ll see things become better if we keep fighting for it.”

LGBTQ Community Town Hall takes place 7-9 pm Thursday, March 16, at Edie Rae’s Cafe in the Old Courthouse Inn.

Copyright © Powell River Peak

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