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Cultural Awareness Alive and Well at Kendal

Priscilla chairs the Cultural Awareness Committee.Kendal’s Cultural Awareness Committee recently presented a screening of Gen Silent, the critically acclaimed documentary by filmmaker, Stu Maddux.  The documentary explores the concerns and fears that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) older adults have about the care system as they age. 

These individuals, many of whom were at the forefront of the first battles for equality, now face so much fear of discrimination, bullying and abuse, that many are hiding their lives to survive.  Many are dying earlier than their straight counterparts because they are isolated and afraid to ask for help.  Their general mistrust is borne of past experiences and documented incidences of friends and partners, in hospitals, with home health care, and in nursing homes.  Keeping in mind that Kendal’s values and practices include encouraging and welcoming all people without regard to race, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, national origin or social or economic background, the Cultural Awareness Committee enthusiastically sought out this film.

The film focuses on the real life stories of Lawrence, a gay older man, looking for a nursing home, where he can openly hold hands with his partner, while caring for him.

KrysAnne, a transgender senior estranged from her family now, is searching for people to care for her as she faces cancer.  Sheri and Lois spent their lives fighting for LGBT rights.  Sheri says she will never hide again.  Lois now says she will hide if necessary to protect herself.  Mel’s partner is ill and they are getting help from a welcoming agency.  It is making Mel feel safe to talk openly about their 39 year relationship for the first time.

The screening, which was open to the public, drew a crowd that filled the auditorium.  Immediately after the film was shown, there was silence.  The heartbreaking and real stories depicted, left the audience speechless and starkly aware of the injustices that continue. Having dinner at Kendal, which many of the attendee did, helped the transition to discussion, which was meaningful and lively.  People mixed freely, sitting at tables with others they didn’t know, sharing stories and generally feeling comfortable in a setting that felt safe.

Facilitator, Sharon Soucy, enjoys dinner conversation with an attendee

The program continued after dinner, when the group reassembled with facilitator Sharon Soucy, Oberlin Council Vice President, for further conversation.  Sharon lead the audience with questions about thoughts on personal aging; the ways that circumstances of LGBT persons are different from their straight counterparts; and what actions can make a difference.  The mother of a gay man spoke about her desire to be involved, so she is aware of the challenges her son faces.   A lesbian couple mentioned the need to have legal documents in order to protect your rights.  A middle aged gay man stated that there is work to be done, and it can be as simple as “looking in on each other.” Another woman mentioned the right of everyone to feel safe, loved and cared for during illness and at the time of death.

There are a growing number of people, who are fighting to keep their elders from being silenced.  Stu Maddux’s groundbreaking documentary is his attempt to bring to light this step backwards in the ongoing struggle for equality.  Education is a step forward in dealing with the misunderstandings, prejudices and insensitivities, and this film provides that at the grass roots level.  It is education of healthcare providers and the general public that can make a difference.

Programs like this at Kendal, which includes the larger community, have the potential to effect change, change that can deliver culturally competent care to the aging LGBT population.  It is through discussion and dialogue at the community level, that the groundwork is laid for social change.

The conversation continued for a full hour, and yet people remained afterwards talking of the impact of the film and sharing ideas and information.  Sharon ended the program with the words, “Go forth and change the world.”