British Columbia·Photos

LGBT seniors gather to celebrate Pride in Vancouver

Some elderly members of Vancouver's LGBT community gathered Thursday afternoon for the annual Aging with Pride event.

'I'm proud of being old, and I'm surviving, and proud of being queer,' says senior

Pamela Leaman, 75, enjoys herself at the Aging with Pride event on Thursday afternoon in Vancouver's West End. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Events celebrating the LGBT community abound in Vancouver as Pride week hits its stride, and for several dozen seniors, there was a special event in the city's West End: the annual Aging with Pride afternoon social.

"I came on down because I, as a person who's aging, really wanted to plug into and honour the community that I know exists out there, of elders of lesbian and gay and transgender and queer elders," said Ginger Mason, 60, who recently retired.

"I'm too old for the nightclub scene and I figured, well maybe I should check this out," she said. "It's in the afternoon so I can probably stay awake for this."

Ginger Mason, 60, says she's too old for the nightclub scene, so thought she'd check out the Aging with Pride social. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Mason was one of the younger people at the event, aside from the organizers. Representing the other end of the spectrum was 87-year-old Neil McGillis.

"I can now say I like younger people because there's nobody older," he said with a laugh, sitting at a round table in the corner of the Barclay room at the Coast Plaza Hotel.

Neil McGillis, 87, was one of the oldest people at the event. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

McGillis said he came to the event to socialize, but didn't get any of the food.

"They ran out before I could get into the line up," he said.

Brandy MacKinnon got a little plate of food, but complained that not enough was left by the time she got to the buffet.

"This is usually what happens," she said. "I find the old gay men are the worst ... They'll take so much and then take some of it home."

Brandy MacKinnon, 80, enjoys a small portion of food at the Aging with Pride event on Thursday afternoon. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Stuart Alcock, 72, was the emcee for the afternoon, introducing speakers, singers, and various other acts.

"Too often, in my view, the gay community, the gay lesbian community, the LGBTQ2 community is portrayed as a young community, when in fact there are those of us who have been around a very long time," he said, recalling that he carried the banner at the 1982 Pride parade.

Stuart Alcock, 72, served as the emcee. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"I suspect in 1982 there were no more than 100 people in that parade," he said. "I think it's important to acknowledge those people and their contribution, because in many ways, the changes that have occurred have occurred because large groups of now older people were visible."

Chris Morrissey, 73, is one of the people credited with pushing for social progress over the years.

Chris Morrissey, 73, was one of the people at the event who can be credited with pushing for social progress and LGBT rights over the years. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"I'm proud of being old, and I'm surviving, and proud of being queer," Morrissey said.

Morrissey used to organize events like Aging with Pride, but is now retired and just enjoys them. But she still spends a lot of time and effort volunteering for a group she co-founded called Rainbow Refugee Society, which provides support for LGBT asylum seekers and sponsors LGBT refugees.

Elderly members of Vancouver'ss LGBT gather for the annual Aging with Pride event in the city's West End. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"It's nice to be recognized for all the years of work that we've done and how we've participated in bringing about the changes," said Morrissey, noting that her peers were to credit for a lot of social change. "It is the generation, yes absolutely."

For Mike Black, 72, the event felt a little different. Black considers himself a bit of an outsider in the Vancouver LGBT community.

"It took a lot for me to come down here," he said. "I don't know anybody."

Mike Black, 72, felt like an outsider at the Aging with Pride social. "It took a lot for me to come down here," he said. "I don't know anybody." (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Black came out as bisexual when he was 66 years old, after being married five times.

"I got tired of secrets and I got tired of the double life," he said. "I would sneak out at night and go to steam baths and places like that, but everything was in the shadows."

"All of a sudden, I started to celebrate it, you know. My shorts got shorter. I started to meet different people," said Black. "My fear is I'm going to get this down, get it all figured and then die. You know, wake up with a toe tag on."

Mobility scooters are parked outside the Barclay room at the Coast Plaza Hotel while elderly members of Vancouver's LGBTQ community socialize inside. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Martin Boyce, 68, didn't know many people at the event either. He was invited from New York to Vancouver's Pride week to do a little speaking.

Boyce took part in the famous Stonewall riots in New York in 1969, when members of the LGBT community fought back against a police raid on the Stonewall Inn. The riots are generally regarded as a turning point on the struggle for LGBT rights.

"I was out in [Greenwich] Village since 1966, so each and every one of knew someone that was either hurt by the cops or damaged psychologically by the cops or mistreated," said Boyce.

Martin Boyce, 68, is visiting Vancouver from New York, where in 1969 he took part in the famous Stonewall riots, which helped usher in rights and respect for LGBT people. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"Everybody wanted their rights, but we just didn't think we could have them, that's why we rioted, and out of that we achieved them, which was strange in a way."

Boyce told the elderly crowd at the Aging with Pride event that he was "used to hanging out with queers, but not with his peers."

"I'm sure each one of them has a story that's very, very important," he said.

For Dennis Josey, 69, a lot of his story now has to do with coping with the aging process.

Dennis Josey, 69, is celebrating Pride, as well as a recent double lung transplant. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"I'm celebrating the fact that I got a double lung transplant," he said. "I can move around now without oxygen, before I was on a scooter and I couldn't walk from here to the next table."

Josey says people should celebrate Pride at at any age. 

"I think that many of the seniors here are the foundation of where we're at today."