By: Shannon Ralph
A new documentary by filmmaker Stu Maddux, entitled Gen Silent, takes a look at how elderly LGBT people —many of them gay right pioneers— are heading back into the closet. There are an estimated 2 to 7 million LGBT individuals over the age of 65 in the United States. In the film, LGBT Aging Project Director Lisa Krinsky reports that 50 percent of nursing home employees believe “that their colleagues would be intolerant of LGBT folks.”
LGBT elders are more likely to age alone. They often do not access adequate health care, affordable housing, or other social services that they need due to institutionalized heterosexism. Existing regulations and proposed policy changes in programs like Social Security or Medicare, which impact millions of LGBT elders, are discussed without an LGBT perspective engaging the debate. LGBT elders are oftentimes without children, some had poor relationships with their families of origin, partnerships often go unrecognized, and nursing homes often reject their LGBT peers. This often leaves LGBT elders with no support system whatsoever.
The stories portrayed in Gen Silent are both heartbreaking and enraging. Residents at religiously-affiliated nursing homes report instances of staff forcing residents to read the bible and pray for forgiveness. Gary Shepard, a director at LGBT retirement center Spectrum, says he remembers a gay woman who was given a “feminine makeover” by staff after becoming senile.
This is the generation that paved the way for myself and for all openly-LGBT people in this country. Because of them, I am able to live happily as an out lesbian partner and mother. Because of them, my partner and I are both the legal parents of all three of our children. Because of them, I have never in my life faced discrimination in the workplace. Because of them, I am able to talk openly with my children’s school about LGBT families and my partner is able to volunteer openly in their classrooms. These people are living history. Invaluable resources. And civil rights warriors. They deserve better than this.
Gen Silent will be showing at film festivals and special screenings from now through mid-November. If it’s not coming to a city near you, you can opt to be notified when it’s made available for online streaming sometime this fall.