Arts·Queeries

How do we bridge the divide in LGBTQ communities? Listening to this podcast is a very good start

Facilitated by Buddies in Bad Times, The Youth/Elder Podcast is a necessary addition to a necessary discussion.

Facilitated by Buddies in Bad Times, The Youth/Elder Podcast is a necessary addition to a necessary discussion

Recording The Youth/Elders Project. (Will Pemulis)

Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens. It won the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada.

It's becoming increasingly clear that as the LGBTQ community continues to expand and diversify in essentially every respect, we need to be having more conversations with one another. Buddies in Bad Times — the world's largest and longest-running queer theatre — has thankfully taken this on as a considerable initiative. In 2017, they staged The Youth/Elders Project, which brought together an intergenerational ensemble on stage in what was dubbed "part social experiment, part staged conversation, part performance art." And now, Buddies is making its first foray into the digital realm by adapting the ideas of The Youth/Elders Project into... The Youth/Elders Podcast.

Last fall at Toronto's Oakwood Village Library, queer youth, queer elders and a lot of folks in between gathered weekly to discuss everything from identity and relationships to activism and the loss and creation of community spaces. Their conversations were recorded and edited into a podcast series hosted by artist and community activist Vanessa Dunn, and the first episode was released last week.

"The Youth/Elders Podcast created a queer intergenerational space for folks to come and share stories and experiences and exchange knowledge," Dunn tells CBC Arts. "It was a really beautiful, exhausting and ultimately fulfilling experience. Each Saturday we set up a live recording station and invited anyone to come and join in on the conversation. There were weeks where we had special guests — including MPP Jill Andrews — and weeks where we consciously centred the bodies and voices, and thus, stories of certain community members, such as queer Black, Indigenous and trans non-binary folks. Our participant numbers grew each week and by the end, we almost didn't have enough room for community members!"

The Youth/Elders Project. (Will Pemulis)

From the start, Dunn wanted to develop a space that centred queer bodies and felt "truly intergenerational."

"There are so many queer youth who struggle with a lack of knowledge about queer history and feel an absence of mentors," she says. "Conversely, there are a lot of queer elders who feel alienated from the queer communities of today and lack opportunities to interact with youth. This podcast was truly, at its heart, about community development. It was about enriching and ensuring the future health and wellness of the queer communities. I hope that we achieved a sense of community and connection that can be felt from queers — and non-queers! — worldwide. These stories, these connections and these voices deserve to be heard."

LeZlie Lee Kam and Daniel Carter worked with Dunn as the podcast's co-facilitators, with Lee Kam representing the elder community and Carter the youth.

"We were encouraging conversations and learnings among youth and elders and in-betweeners," Lee Kam says. "And it was a huge success. People opened up with each other and shared stories and were so vulnerable. My main hope was for queer youth and elders to share and learn from each other and to try and support and understand each other. And now the podcast will help to support queer youth and elders who are living outside of Toronto and who are isolated and lonely."

"I think what's special about this podcast is that it gives access to a community despite geographical barriers," adds Carter. "When I think about my queer learning, I think about how many people I've talked to and learned from to gain knowledge about queer history, activism, terminology and so much more. I think the podcast gives queer people access to knowledge who may not have this type of community around them; and a way to access knowledge that is not based on the internet and media that could be so negative and damaging." 

Podcast host Vanessa Dunn. (Buddies in Bad Times)

As we try and move forward into a queer future where divides in the LGBTQ community are less stark, Dunn, Carter and Kam all have thoughts on how we as individuals can help achieve that. 

"Listen, connect, challenge your biases," Dunn says. "Challenge your assumptions. The generational divide is only one of the ways in which the 2SLGBTQ community — or 'communities' as our elder LeZlie likes to remind us — is currently divided. There are racial, economic, cultural, gender-based and a multitude of other divisions that need to be addressed. In a very simplistic way, the podcast showed us that getting in the same room, talking and listening was an important first step." 

Carter adds that another important first step is just acknowledging the reality of how divided we are.

"Forgiving yourself and others for not knowing something or not being up to date with the current discourse and working together to learn is vital," he says. "Allowing yourself to fail or to get it wrong, and allowing others to fail and get it wrong in a safe environment. And learning together. Listening to each other's individual experiences will really move us forward. And being honest with what we know, what we don't know. And challenging our knowledge and our presumptions."

Carter also feels that if you do have a desire to connect with an elder or a youth, a practical question is where to find the right space to let you do this.

"Whether that's at the podcast, at Buddies, other programs in the city — there are a lot — volunteering at events or community centres, and then saying hello and then listening, there's so much knowledge to gain from each generation." 

The Youth/Elders Project. (Will Pemulis)

Lee Kam says the divide is really "only as 'considerable' as we let it become," and she is doing her part beyond the podcast by joining Carter, throughout the rest of 2019, in a series of intergenerational community chats on stage at Buddies in Bad Times. The next edition of the series called In Conversation takes place on October 5th, with two more sessions in November and December

"There was a hunger and need expressed by the participants for a continuation of these conversations," she says. "We can continue learning, growing, sharing and supporting each other. Just by being kind, caring, compassionate and respectful."

About the Author

Peter Knegt has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and playing integral roles in the launch and production of series The Filmmakers and Canada's a Drag. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also a stand-up comedian, the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.