Despite its reputation as one of the most progressive and inclusive queer communities in Canada, Toronto still lacks cultural spaces intended to foster meaningful engagement between younger and older generations.
Ty Sloane recently moved to Toronto from Alberta. He says one of the drawbacks of growing up gay outside a major city is the absence of a queer community and the knowledge that can be gleaned from older generations.
“Growing up gay, for me and I think a lot of my generation, if you’re not from some place like Toronto or Vancouver, you really rely on Netflix movies or any TV shows,” Sloane says. “I found that there was no elder, or there was no fairy gay godfather or godmother, or what have you, to teach you anything.”
Sloane is one of the youth involved in the The Youth/Elders Project — an upcoming series of performances happening over five days at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre that aim to inspire change with its intergenerational cast. The ensemble consists of 13 players — six youth and seven elders — and is a partnership between Buddies, the Senior Pride Network and The 519.
Through a series of performances, The Youth/Elders Project will use Buddies as a temporary venue for younger and older queers to come together. The performers and creators hope the project will inspire local community builders to acknowledge the importance of intergenerational venues.
According to Sloane, the first part of addressing the issue is starting a dialogue between generations.
“I just think we need to start talking to each other more and engaging each other more as people. We’ve run away, sometimes, from a lot of heteronormative and conservative places and then all come together,” he says. “We don’t talk to each other, which defeats the purpose of trying to seek out a community.”
Lezlie Lee Kam is one of the elders performing with The Youth/Elders Project. She says the youth and elders involved in the project stand to mutually gain knowledge of each other’s vocabulary, perspective of queer history and identities. As the only differently-abled elder of colour, Lee Kam hopes to act as a mentor to queer youth experiencing forms of oppression.
“I would like to be able to support queer youth because what queer youth are going through now,” Lee Kam says, “especially queer youth of colour, trans youth, indigenous youth.
“I keep telling people that are my age that we need to be working with queer youth to support them because we’re going to be needing them as we get older.”
The project, which utilizes elements of performance art and partially scripted dialogue, is focused on creating a positive space for LGBT people to engage audiences — and one another — on intergenerational issues within the queer community.
While significant progress has been made in recent LGBT history and younger activists continue the efforts of their elders, recording one another’s stories and personal histories still remains a vital issue.
Jordan Campbell is another youth performing with The Youth/Elders Project and says one of the main benefits of bringing younger and older generations together under the same roof is that it helps repair a broken timeline of queer history.
“Things have changed a lot, and that’s not to say it’s easier or harder now to be queer. I mean, institutionally, we’ve made a lot of strides with legislation and with different rights that we’ve secured legally,” Campbell says. “But, what I’m saying is, a lot has changed and a lot has happened very quickly, let’s say, over the last 60 years.”
“So, it’s really important for us to know the history and to know what’s going on now and to continue to track what’s going on. Queer history isn’t always as well-documented as it can be.”