In this interview, Gloria Gutman, Jen Marchbank, Makaela Prentice and Claire Robson (authors of the just published book Elder Abuse in the LGBTQ2SA+ Community) discuss the neglected issue of elder abuse in the gender and sexual minority community.
We are four researchers who come to the problem of Elder Abuse in the Gender and Sexual Minority (GSM) community from different perspectives but the same mission – to raise awareness of this neglected issue and to generate positive change in the provision of care to this vulnerable population. The members of our team are all affiliated with Simon Fraser University in Burnaby BC. Dr. Gloria Gutman is a Gerontologist, Dr. Jen Marchbank a Social Scientist, Makaela Prentice is a young scholar who is interested in a career working with the elderly, and Dr. Claire Robson is an arts-based researcher.
The project team sought out and interviewed nine survivors of elder abuse from the GSM community. Their stories have been published, along with a literature review, an overview of the histories of queer elders, and some analysis, in our book with Springer: Elder Abuse in the LGBTQ2SA+ Community: The Impact of Homophobia and Transphobia.
In the 21st century, at least in most neoliberal Western countries, it is generally accepted that GSM people are protected by various laws. In our work and our lives, we often hear people argue that ‘things are much better now’ for GSM individuals. Though this is true is part, our participants have shown that this does not mean that homophobia and transphobia no longer exist. Our project will serve draw attention to the existence of subtle underground forms of homophobia as it supports those that it has impacted.
In addition, two of our research team are long time advocates for GSM rights. Jen Marchbank is co-founder of the 2SLGBTQIA+ group Youth 4 A Change and has been raising youth activists for over 11 years, she is also past president and current VP of the Surrey Pride Society organising social events and festivals in the City of Surrey, BC and currently runs the Rainbow Seniors' Social Program to reduce social isolation and raise awareness of the needs of 2SLGBTQIA+ seniors. Claire Robson has worked extensively with queer elders as an arts facilitator and was co-ordinator of BOLDFest, an annual conference for old and older lesbians for 10 years. Currently, she is leading a circle of women who are bringing LGBT Afghan refugees to Canada.
Our study took a deep dive into the personal and individual. We listened to our participants without judgment and supported them throughout this process by both individual and group therapy offered by a counselor with experience in trauma work. For many, this was the very first time they had been able to speak openly and at length about what happened to them. They felt heard, and also, they felt that their stories might make a difference when they were published. Rather than seeing themselves as victims, they began to see themselves as resilient survivors, speaking out against injustice in order to change the world.
This is Pride.
The rainbow Pride flag has many colours, and much gay celebration has focussed on the bold reds and sunny yellows. This project brought much needed attention to the ‘blues’ as our participants came to believe that they were not alone, and that their experiences, though painful, might serve to help others. They feel great pride in these achievements.
Our short-term goal was to find participants willing to go on record about their abuse – a challenging task in itself – and thus check our hypotheses about how abuse might play out similarly and differently in the LGBTQ2SA+ population. We hoped to publish these accounts and were delighted that Springer was enthusiastic about our project and has moved so quickly to publication. Our next hope is that the book will be read, not only by researchers, but by practitioners involved in elder care as medical practitioners, therapists, caregivers, police, and administrators in institutions supporting the elderly, such as hospitals and residential care homes. Our long-term goal is that this may change practice. Another long-term goal is to generate further research. We need quantitative longitudinal studies that draw distinctions between the experiences of different sections of the GSM population and their vulnerability to abuse. We feel optimistic that our book will serve as a catalyst for this research and for systemic change.
Our project was conducted in partnership with QMUNITY, a provincial resource center supporting queer, trans, and two-spirit people in the Province of British Columbia. We made this choice for several reasons. Firstly, when it comes to recruiting people who have been marginalized, it is important to ally with organizations that are trusted in the community. Secondly, it raised awareness within that organization, which might have been otherwise unaware of the special needs of GSM elders or uncertain how to address them. The collaboration has been successful in that QMUNITY has sought and found the funding necessary to establish an ongoing advocacy/support program for survivors of Queer Elder Abuse.
Our earlier project, Raising Awareness of Elder Abuse in the LGBT+ Community, funded by the BC Council to Reduce Elder Abuse (CREA), produced training materials (videos and posters) that have been taken up by local, provincial and international organizations, including the City of Vancouver Seniors Advisory Committee, BC Community Response Networks, The Network to Eliminate Violence in Relationships. This fall our project will be the focus of a Townhall style meeting of practitioners, policy makers and public hosted by the Surrey Pride Rainbow Seniors’ Social Program in Surrey, BC.
We expect that our new book will generate interest across a broad range of organizations as it reaches beyond the academic community and into discussions about policy. We believe that accounts of lived experience are an effective way to engage readers and to offer nuanced understandings of those experiences.
As we circle back to our introductory remarks, we suggest that it is time that the conversation about the rights of LGBTQ+ people might move beyond consideration of outright and identifiable homophobia and transphobia in order to take an informed look at the ways in which systemic cultural violence lingers, not only in the hearts and minds of the members of the straight community (including carers), but in the hearts and minds of queer folk themselves. Its effects are subtle and difficult to identify authoritatively, but they still exist, particularly when it comes to elders. Our recommendations in the book include the following:
Dr. Claire Robson is a writer, researcher, and arts activist. Her awards include Xtra West Writer of the Year, the Joseph Katz Memorial Scholarship (for her contributions to social justice), the Lynch History Prize (for her contributions to better understanding of gender and sexual minorities), and QMUNITY’s Honouring Our Elders Award (2022, for her work on the Indigo Project).
Dr Jen Marchbank is a professor of Gender, Sexuality & Women's Studies whose publications include work on LGBTQSIA+ elders and youth and gendered violence. She is the holder of several awards including the YWCA Woman of Distinction (2022); Shakti Society for Academic Excellence (2020); and University Teaching Excellence Award (2019).
Dr. Gloria Gutman (Order of Canada) is immediate past President of the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and recipient of their prestigious Rosalie Wolff award for her long term advocacy work on behalf of victims of elder abuse in her role as president of the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics.
Makaela Prentice recently completed her Bachelor’s in Psychology at Simon Fraser University and has supported the Indigo Project as an intern. She is passionate about helping individuals in our community who are marginalized, particularly seniors and members of the LGBTQ+ community.