The lobby of the Vancity Theatre is filled with women hugging goodbye and the sounds of their laughter as the eighth annual Bold, Old(er) Lesbians and Dykes (BOLD) festival comes to a close in Vancouver on Sept 9.
The four-day celebration of senior lesbians and dykes offered workshops, musical performances, speeches and social events.
The idea for this year’s theme, Bold Voices, came from an off-the-cuff suggestion for karaoke made by one of the participants at last year’s festival.
“It was just a random suggestion — ‘Oh, let’s have karaoke!’” says co-organizer Claire Robson, sitting next to the conference’s founder, Pat Hogan. “And then we thought around the theme, we thought of standing up, speaking out, finding your voice.”
This spontaneous, fun-first approach to organizing the festival seems to be what keeps Robson and Hogan sane on the trial-by-error learning curve of organizing a multifaceted annual conference. Robson says she’s learned a lot over the years the “hard way” — making mistakes and learning from them.
Participants this year came from Canada, the United States and Australia. Robson estimates that up to 175 people attended the workshops focused on storytelling and truth-speaking, such as the Old Lesbian Oral Herstory Project and Creating an Archive of Dyke Memorabilia.
As in previous years, BOLD included workshops on serious topics, such as homo nationalism and the suppression of LGBT history, interspersed with lighter workshops on topics such as sex after 50. “You have very spiritual space in one workshop room and in the next you have giggles and raucous laughter,” Robson says. “We like to mix it up.”
One of the highlights of the conference occurred right before it even began, when presenter and participant Marion Lay was awarded the Order of BC on Sept 6 for her work in eliminating barriers for women in sport. Social highlights included a musical performance from Canadian-Australian duo Sugarbeach and a dance party on Saturday night featuring duelling DJs.
Sitting quietly by herself on one of the couches outside the conference rooms on the third day is 69-year-old Vancouver resident Nina Povarchook, originally from Edmonton. The soft-spoken self-identified femme with an outdoorsy streak says she feels comfortable wearing her makeup and being herself at BOLD.
“I’m a bit isolated where I live, but I’m pleased to be connecting with other lesbians and dykes,” she says.
Povarchook’s quiet demeanour betrays a life filled with challenges. She came out at 22 in the 1960s and remembers a time when the only word she knew to describe herself was “gay,” as terms such as “lesbian” and “dyke” weren’t even whispered yet widely. It was only when she began going to an underground bar with working-class lesbians in Vancouver that she learned about the diversity of identities within the lesbian community.
“It’s wonderful to meet older dykes, and here at the conference, so far, I’m accepted,” she says with a faint smile.
This feeling of acceptance and inclusion is one of the key reasons Hogan created BOLD in 2005.
“We want this to be a space where older lesbians are seen and recognized and that the specific issues that we’re looking at are addressed,” Robson says. Older lesbians face greater challenges in society as targets of heterosexism, sexism and ageism, she explains.
The lesbian community is not immune to its own ageism from within, Robson says, adding that older lesbians don’t always feel included even in spaces that are supposed to be lesbian-friendly.
While the conference is intended primarily for older lesbians, it is open to lesbians and dykes of all ages, she notes.
Asked if they have anything special planned for the festival’s 10th anniversary coming up in 2014, Robson’s face lights up with excitement. “We don’t know what it will be, but it will be special, absolutely.”