2 min

Not being the oldest in the room

519 opens seniors resource centre

Credit: Dean Tomlinson

Queer seniors in Toronto now have a home base in which to build a revolution. A new resource centre aimed at providing seniors with information, resources, community, skills and other services opened last month at the 519 Community Centre (519 Church St).

Dick Moore, coordinator of the Older Lesbian Gay Bi Trans [LGBT] Programs at The 519 says it will be up to users to give feedback so that the centre responds to their needs.

“We want to offer a variety of programs, talks, forums, classes, but we want the people who are involved to shape it,” says Moore.

Hershel Russell, a 58-year-old transgendered senior, is looking for a sense of community.

“I get sick of being the oldest person at events. I need some place where this isn’t the case…. There is now a whole generation who have been identifying as queer for a good segment of their adult lives,” says Russell. “It’s important to have a place so that we don’t just disappear off the margins.”

Russell feels that issues such as health, disability and financial survival are critical to seniors, and even more so to aging queers.

“As we get older the thought of being in a nursing home is such a fucking nightmare. It’s one of the places we differ [from straight seniors]. Sex is more important to older queers. We have been in a sex-positive community and plan on staying there. Seniors are not supposed to be sexy and we’re going to prove them wrong – our nursing homes are going to rock.”

Cheryl Miller, 48, identifies as a black lesbian woman and joins in The 519’s programs as a “young senior.” She’s also concerned about where she’ll end up living.

“I think most people would like to live in a country setting, but something near the train so we can still get to doctors’ appointments, the theatre, etc,” says Miller. “This group should focus on buying property for a residence for same-sex, same-gender, trans people.”

She also hopes that the centre will help integrate people of colour into the community.

“The 519 has answered my needs and I’m very grateful to them,” Miller says. “I hope that the resource centre will be a place where we can all have equal access to meet the needs of the community. Here in Toronto a lot of black people are just not out, they haven’t figured out how to come out.”

Moore has seen how other centres have helped to build community.

“I visited SAGE [Seniors Action In A Gay Environment] in New York City where discussion groups are the core of their program,” says Moore. “We hope to create a variety of conversation cafés on gay and lesbian issues, perhaps a monthly women’s group or a monthly mixed group.”

The United Way and the City Of Toronto will provide funding for the program.

* The resource centre is open every Monday from 1pm to 6pm in the east room of the 519 Community Centre (519 Church St). As well as offering several programs, staff and volunteers will be compiling a database of resources and will be available for other kinds of assistance.