OUTSaskatoon’s Coffee Row hosted a sharing circle for LGBTQ seniors to discuss the challenges faced in the past and the ones still ahead.
Jan Harvey and Erin Shoemaker will celebrate their 20th anniversary this year.
It wasn’t all that long ago when these women were forced to hide their true identities to avoid prejudice — not only in their everyday dealings, but also in federal government policies.
For decades, the Canadian government discriminated against the country’s LGBTQ community, imprisoning people for participating in consensual sex and sidelining or ending the careers of LGBTQ Canadians working in the public sector and within the military in what is now referred to as the “gay purge.”
Late last November, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a tearful apology for the government’s actions and earmarked $145 million to compensate people whose careers were affected and invest in community-led historical reconciliation, education and memorialization efforts.
Shoemaker and Harvey joined with other LGBTQ seniors in Saskatoon on Friday to share their stories of oppression and discuss ways they can continue making positive changes in their community through the Share Your Story event, which was funded using some of that government money.
“At the end of the day we will collect recommendations to the various levels of government for changes we feel need to happen,” Shoemaker said.
“Because a lot of what has happened now is we have equality on paper but it’s sort of like what do you do next?” Harvey said.
One of the big issues these LGBTQ seniors face is how to present themselves when entering a retirement or care home. Harvey said this decision is similar to the one she had to make when she was younger and renting a home — being forced to “straighten up” when the landlord would come by in fear of being evicted if her identity as a lesbian was discovered.
“That’s what we used to do when we were renting places before we had human rights — we’d talk about, ‘Oh, the landlord’s coming, we have to straighten up,’ ” Harvey said.
“We thought that day was over, but what we’re finding is when people go to get senior care they’re going back in the closet because you are in a very vulnerable situation and you don’t want to invite anything that makes you unsafe.”
Being part of this invisible minority also leads to a sense of erasure, Shoemaker said. Not only were they forced to hide, making their struggles virtually unknown to the general population, a large portion of their community also fell victim to the AIDS epidemic — silencing many voices from their generation.
In the end, Shoemaker said it’s all about education and exposure to create a society where people understand gay and lesbian culture and make the effort to grasp the different treatment they face.
“It’s true while we gained the rights to marry and those kinds of things, I don’t know if people understand that isn’t the beginning and the end,” Shoemaker said.
Source: Saskatoon StarPhoenix (http://thestarphoenix.com/news/local-news/federal-apology), Erin Petrow, May 2018.