“There’s solittle happening for gay and lesbian people over 50 in the mainstream. It’s like we’re ignored,” says Vancouver producer and dreamer Pat Hogan.
After visiting the annual Golden Threads celebration for older lesbians in Provincetown, Massachusetts and a Senior Action in a Gay Environment (SAGE) conference in New York, Hogan decided Vancouver needed its own special celebration for lesbians over 50.
Her brainchild, the West Coast Gathering and Conference of Lesbians 50 Years and Over, will be a four-day gathering based at the Coast Plaza Hotel in the West End. It will feature a series of workshops, social activities and entertainers, but mostly it will be a chance for like-minded people with commonalities to connect and have some fun.
“So far it looks like it’s going to be pretty successful attendance-wise,” says Hogan. “There are women who have signed up from all across the United States and Canada. They’re coming from New York, Texas, California, Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and of course BC.”
Hogan says there are a lot of women coming to the conference from the United States who are interested in living permanently in Canada. “They want to come to Canada because they think it’s a better place to be,” she says. One of the conference workshops will focus specifically on immigration issues.
“I’m doing a workshop on the history of lesbian communities and particularly creative communities,” says writer and workshop facilitator Margo Dunn. “I’ll be looking at Paris in the ’20s, the Harlem Renaissance, maybe the Sewing Circle in Hollywood and a little bit on women’s communities in the Middle Ages and how those arose in myth.”
Dunn has high praise for Hogan’s efforts and vision in bringing this conference to fruition. “Pat always looks to making things financially accessible,” she says. “You can’t do everything for free, but all her life as an organizer, Pat has always presented things at the rock bottom and offered sliding scales and tried to make things accessible to everyone.”
For example, this conference coordinates ride and hotel room sharing for those who don’t have enough disposable cash to cover the full costs. There are ways for anyone who wants to participate to do so regardless of how fat their wallets are.
“It’s high time that the West Coast had a conference like this,” says Vancouver comedian Jackie Haywood who will be performing at the event. “I have a lot of respect for the work that Pat does. I’ve been asked over time to do things and never really took advantage of them, but Pat’s a really great person to work with.”
Dunn says invisibility is just one of the special challenges that arise for people as they age and Hogan’s event is one way to overcome those challenges.
“We’re all invisible. As we age, we get more and more invisible,” she says. “If you’re a sexual minority, as a lesbian, as a women who still faces issues of inequality and discrimination, if you’re an ethnic minority, if you’re disabled, if you’re poor you tend to be more and more invisible.”
Hogan says there are lots of economic issues for older women like housing, paying expenses after you’ve stopped working and building communities where older lesbians want to live.
“There are health issues for sure,” she adds. “Some healthcare givers can be homophobic.
“Just because you’re older doesn’t mean you’re heterosexual,” continues Hogan. “It’s one of these issues that has had a blind eye turned to it. There’s a lot of work being done now, but it’s still not at a place where people are comfortable.
“Women are concerned about their bodies aging,” says women’s music pioneer Cris Williamson who will be performing at the conference. “The fear of breast cancer, the fear of losing one’s mental capacity, or losing a partner you’ve lived with for 20-30 years-all these are things that come with age.”
Williamson sees musical expression as a great tool to bring women together.
“What mirror will you look into in order to see yourself reflected as you see yourself in your mind’s eye?” asks Williamson. “Music is a huge part of the mirroring for women.”
There are many serious issues facing older lesbians, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Hogan’s conference will provide a forum for women to talk about these things, but perhaps the most valuable part of this conference will be the time the participants get to simply enjoy being in each other’s company.
“Where can you meet older women who aren’t necessarily going out to the bars and stuff?” asks Hogan.
“Get yourself to this conference,” encourages Haywood. “Have fun. See friends you haven’t seen for a while. Come to the banquet. Don’t be afraid to have a good laugh and enjoy a time to celebrate who we are and that we still got it.”