All photography by Sarah Pannell

It's Time to Listen to Your LGBTQ+ Elders

Advice on life, love, and the same-sex marriage survey. From people who know the struggle better than anyone.

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Oct 17 2017, 10:09pm

All photography by Sarah Pannell

The LGBTI Elders Dance Club meets monthly at the Fitzroy Town Hall. Co-organised by performer Tristan Meecham and choreographer Bec Reid, it provides support for a marginalised section of an already marginalised group.

LGBTI elders have a "lifetime of discrimination" to contend with, Meecham explains. The current same-sex marriage campaign is just one of many public and private struggles for recognition and freedom they've been forced to face over time, and the internalised bigotry "takes decades to overcome."

Going into it, this felt like a feelgood story. Being invited into a community's safe space is a privilege, and watching retirees tango to the tune of "I Will Survive" is life-affirming. Especially in the context of an immensely painful national debate over marriage rights.

It's the sadness that sticks, though. The lesbian couple in their sixties who have been in love for almost 40 years, and who politely and apologetically decline to be photographed together because they're worried about work finding out. The implicit acknowledgement that even if Australia legislates to allow same sex marriage this year, the new law will come decades too late for many. The overall sense that change comes slowly and painfully to this country, that it always has and maybe always will. The realisation that our lack of compassion is deeply ingrained.

Gordon, 81

I'm a people person. I like people, and I like to help them. I came out when I was 14, and my family took it well. It was 1950, and I told my parents I wanted to be a dancer. My father said, "But people will call you a sissy!" and I said, "But I am. So what?'"

I'm worried, at the moment, about this bloody stupid "No" campaign. Not for me; I don't care, because I'm old. It's the young people who have to put up with all this crap. About being gay, safe schools. Look at the young people in gay families, hearing all this that goes on. I find it absolutely obnoxious. And I don't like the way it's being done. We elect our politicians to create legislation, and they just pass it off because Tony Abbott doesn't want to do it. To me, if you elect somebody to do a job, they're supposed to bloody well do it.

I've followed politics all my life. And I think this lot of people, both sides of the house, are pretty bloody shocking. They're not doing anything for the people. It's very frustrating, and it's the younger people who are going to suffer for all the decisions they make. Like about climate change. It's not happening, according to some of the idiots up there. I feel very, very annoyed.

I've always thought young. I've tried to think of the people coming along, who have to put up with the damage we've caused. What my generation did to this world. Our generation are the worst generation, the ones who made the world what it is. It's true. But nobody mentions it. And you've got the generation behind me, who are in parliament right now, who have benefited from it and are keeping it going. Nobody has done anything about trying to stop it.

Kostas, 72

This dance club is inclusive of LGBTI people. Which is good because a lot of the groups are just for men and women. I do like ballroom dancing, although I can't do it that well now. I come for the friendly atmosphere, and the people who run it are very welcoming. In the "LGBTI", the "B" isn't very well promoted. And the "B" is what I am more interested in. But it's invisible, and most people are meant to be either one or the other.

I'm 72 and I don't know if I'm out or not. It's just one of those things. We're all different and it's like everything in life—you're learning. I don't know what people mean by "out". I keep coming out. I'm constantly trying to improve, like I'm trying to improve my garden.

I don't think there needs to be this vote, or whatever it's called. Of course I voted "Yes" because hopefully it might reduce some discrimination, but people who have already made up their minds… I don't know if they'll change them.

Michelle, 64

It's wonderful how many young people, even primary school aged kids, are getting involved in the trans movement now. This year at the Pride march it was all children. It was so heartwarming for us, as transgender elders.

The noise that the conservative opposition makes is out of all proportion to reality. I don't have trouble going anywhere in Melbourne and doing what I want, what I need to do. I go swimming in the baths, I'm welcomed. I want to go dance in a club, I'm welcomed. Go out to a restaurant? I'm welcomed. There's no problem.

The noise that the minority are making is particularly offensive in terms of the marriage equality survey. Of course the conservatives are making their campaign about anything but marriage. It's clearly a vote on the LGBTI community's validity. And particularly what's happening from the trans point of view is that the "No" case is picking on transgender and gender diverse children. Which is quite wrong and also frightening.

The big fear is that once marriage equality is gained, and this happened in the US, people will assume the fight is over. What's happened in the US after marriage equality is that all the money has evaporated, all the opposition to the conservative voices has gone. So they're attacking the trans community. There's a real feeling that this could happen here.

So what I'm personally about is working with allies; trying to build alliances with gay, lesbian, and bisexual groups. With multicultural groups, multi faith groups. We'll need allies in this coming fight.

Janet

My partner and I have been together 35 years. We met at a party, but then we met again ten years later. We knew we'd be together eventually, but Robyn used to cruise with the cool crowd, and I was really uncool!

I think the marriage survey is a huge waste of money. An embarrassment to our country. The politicians are extraordinarily gutless, it just rocks my socks. There are so many other things—aged care, health, education—where that money could be spent. I'm disgusted. But given their stance on refugees, and on asylum seekers, it's not surprising. Don't get me started.

The survey gives the opportunity for those who look for something to hate, something to cling onto and stick the boot in regardless of what their thoughts or whatever are. It's been done so poorly.



You've got to look after yourself. We've all been in situations where we've been abused, attacked, whatever. Look after yourself, and get that support that's in the community. It's so important. We've lived through a time when you could get sacked for being gay, you could get attacked in the street for holding the hand of our partner, your family and the church could disown you.

In the 80s a lot of my friends passed away with AIDS. The television, the media, everybody was saying, "It's because you're gay and this is God's retribution on gay people." We had to live through that. We've had to live through a lot.

Max, 64

Growing up, identifying as gay when I was 24 years old back when it was illegal, there was always this fear of being trapped, that fear of landing in prison. That is not the case now, and to see those changes is fantastic.

Young people should get out there and embrace life, just be who you are. Don't worry about what other people think. Just embrace the world and forget about what anybody says and ignore the crap that goes on out there. You've got it so good now, but we cannot stop this movement, that's the thing. My biggest fear is that the younger generation won't persist in saying, "We're here, and we're visible!"

It is an absolute insult to me that people can tick a box to say that I can get married. I didn't agree with marriage for 30 years, but now I think it has been so politicised I'm determined to make the bastards pay for what they have done to us. I am in a relationship and we want to get married. My mum keeps saying that she would like to see me get married, and she's 85 now.

Equal marriage will be good for the younger generation but also people like me who've changed their mind about marriage.

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