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Gen Silent: would you go back into the closet to retire?

Thu 20 Oct 2011 In: Movies View at Wayback View at NDHA

Director Stu Maddux has quite a pedigree as a journalist, with six Emmys under his belt for reporting and anchoring for television. These days, he’s making something of a career out of focusing his lens on GLBT elders and their real-life stories. In 2006, he released “Bob and Jack’s 52-Year Adventure”, about an Army sergeant who began an affair with his commanding officer in 1952. The two men came out to the troops in their unit and are still together a half-century later. The Boston Globe labeled it a “love story to rival Casablanca”. With his latest work, “Gen Silent”, Maddux is hoping we can create a better future for our communities as they age through the telling of six stories. Lawrence Johnson and Alexandre Rheume became the first profiled. "We were an interracial couple with a 22-year age difference," Johnson says. "There's something very compelling about our story." Now in his early 60s, Johnson had in recent years been caring for Rheume, a man in his mid-80s. The couple remained together 38 years until Rheume's health declined to the point he needed professional care. "So much of my story was internal," says Johnson, who is based in the Boston area along with the other subjects of the film. "I hadn't shared it with anybody." Johnson searched for an assisted living home for Rheume, but things didn't go well. He'd been made to feel uncomfortable through even the simple acts of feeding Rheume or holding his hand. "It's bad enough that you have to put someone in a nursing home," Johnson explains. “Then to compound the fact there may be prejudices, and the person going into the nursing home might not be treated as well -- not in overt ways, but all these subtle things that let you know you're not wanted." Also profiled in "Gen Silent" are Sheri Barden and Lois Johnson. The lesbian couple became involved in the film through their support of Boston's LGBT Aging Project, which is a group of advocates seeking to help facilitate change in mainstream elder service providers. So much of Barden and Johnson's story traces how the couple had endured past indignities -- from narrowly avoided being outed by magazines that published names of suspected homosexuals in the 1950s to being tailed by FBI agents after rallies in the 1960s -- to get to the type of open relationship they enjoy now. Despite being out for decades, the couple admit they would "hide again if necessary to survive. But perhaps the most memorable subject featured in “Gen Silent” is KrysAnne Hembrough. A 59-year-old transgender woman dealing with a terminal illness, Hembrough became a woman in 2003, which led to total estrangement from her family. Even when diagnosed with lung cancer, she received no calls or visits. Part of this Vietnam War veteran's fears centered around how she would be treated in the care system. Would caregivers respect her as the sex she had chosen? Would they react with shock or revulsion when dealing with her body? As Hembrough's health worsens during the course of the film, she is finally able to gain some closure by reconnecting with her grown son. These men and women put a face on what experts in the film call an epidemic: gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender seniors so afraid of discrimination, or worse, in long-term/health care that many go back into the closet. And, their surprising decisions are captured through intimate access to their day-to-day lives over the course of a year in Boston, Massachusetts. It’s a terrible irony that oppression in the years before Stonewall now leaves many elders not just afraid but dangerously isolated. Many of our greatest generation are dying prematurely because they don’t ask for help and have too few people in their lives to keep an eye on them. Gen Silent brings these issues into the open for the first time. The film shows the wide range in quality of paid caregivers --from those who are specifically trained to make LGBT seniors feel safe, to the other end of the spectrum, where LGBT elders face discrimination, neglect or abuse – including religious conversions at the bedside. It’s a film that inspires action, as we see each subject cross paths with a small but growing group of impassioned professionals trying to wake up the long-term and healthcare industries to their plight. “Gen Silent” screens this Thursday October 20 at Rialto Cinemas in Newmarket, presented by Number 8 Films. The screening will be preceded by a showing of Number 8 Films’ award-winning short film “The Colonel’s Outing”. Tickets available to book online at the Rialto website:  


First published: Thursday, 20th October 2011 - 10:23am

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