Gen Silent illuminates the hidden struggle of LGBT seniors
As a society, we must always take the time to remember who has paved the way for us, whatever that way may be. History and context are always relevant, but alas, we tend to forget what is not the present, the this-very-moment.
Gen Silent, a documentary by Stu Maddux screening Saturday at the Milwaukee LGBT Film Festival, paints an intimate picture of life as a senior citizen in the LGBT community, and presents a little-known epidemic plaguing elderly LGBT people.
These individuals and couples are growing older and beginning to face serious illnesses. As is fairly standard in American society, there comes a time when loved ones can no longer provide the care needed, and moving to a nursing home becomes inevitable.
But the seniors of the LGBT community have been in the closet most of their lives, and there is a great, rational fear of discrimination and bullying by caregivers — so much so that many of them hide their sexual identity just to survive. Gen Silent explores this heartbreaking issue for a year through the eyes of six LGBT seniors: gay couple Lawrence and Alexandre, transgender person KrysAnne, lesbian couple Sheri and Lois and gay man Mel, caring for his ailing partner Walter.
Each person or couple’s struggle is different. Lawrence grapples not only with having to put his partner Alex, diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, in a nursing home after admitting he could no longer take care of him on his own, but also with finding a nursing home where he could feel comfortable being affectionate with Alex when he came to visit.
Sheri and Lois, activists who spent their lives fighting for LGBT rights together, must cope with watching their friends and fellow LGBT community die alone and in fear of heterosexism.
Mel’s struggle is in never being able to publicly acknowledge his 39-year relationship with partner Walter until Walter passes away.
These people—and many, many others—never wrote their real names and addresses on cards and letters, for fear of being “outted.” Some never took photos with their arms around each other, for fear of looking like a couple. Some contemplated or attempted suicide at least once for fear of life without their partner.
The elderly LGBT community has engrained in their minds the oppression they have faced from young on, and they have lived their entire lives accordingly. Gen Silent quickly shows that the home is often the only safe space for these people and couples — the only space where there is “no closet.” They have accustomed themselves to a life of isolation. Anything that threatens to change that threatens their entire being.
Gen Silent catches more, however, than just poignant, tearjerking clips — many smiles and laughs are also shared, as these brave, inspiring individuals and couples speak candidly of their lives and memories. The LGBT Aging Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to equal access for LGBT elders in all life-prolonging benefits, protections, services and institutions, plays a major role in the happy moments of the lives of not only the people featured in the film, but also in the senior LGBT community at large.
But as you smile through your tears, you realize that the wild roller coaster of emotions Maddux has crafted has a purpose: to make you feel like the people depicted in Gen Silent could be your next door neighbor or your grandparent’s best friend. Without a doubt, Gen Silent is the “Aha!” moment the elderly LGBT community has been waiting for.
Gen Silent screens at 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22 at the UWM Union Theatre. Admission is free with three non-perishable food items, or $9 and $7 for students, seniors and UWM campus community members. For more information on this or the other shows in the festival, visit the film festival’s website.