Senior pride event in Wellesley

Jun 15, 2024 | GTA/Local News

It was Barbara’s destiny to bring Pride culture to what is believed to be the first rainbow-inclusive long-term care home in the world.

“You could put a sticker on the door, and you can wave a flag. But if we’re not prepared to deal with the trauma, if we’re not prepared to deal with issues that may arise in the home, how can you continue?” she said.

Barbara Michalik, director of community and academic partnerships at the Rekai Centres, said the rainbow initiative started with Gordon Sharp. He was her inspiration.

“Sharp disclosed he was from the (gay) community, and this was in 2008. What gripped me the most was his hand on my shoulder, saying ‘Please don’t tell anyone’,” that he was gay. she said.

That is what inspired her to start the rainbow initiative at the centre.

These seniors have rich stories to tell and not just about a march. But stories about their lives, how they grew up, what were their positives, what were their negatives, how were they able to be successful and how they’ve made it easier for the generation today.

“Without these stories, you don’t know where you fit.”

leZlie maria lee kam, co-chair of the Pride Toronto board was instrumental in bringing the Senior Pride event to Toronto’s Rekai centre.

“Pride Toronto was not doing an event for rainbow seniors before me being on the board,” said lee kam. Rainbow seniors are the elderly people of the 2SLGBTQI+ communities.

lee kam decided to “infiltrate” the board to bring about positive change from the inside.

The Wellesley centre hosted its Rainbow Seniors Pride event June 15.

The event was co-organized by Pride Toronto and the Rekai LTC Centres in collaboration with Senior Pride Network and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

The aim was to champion and uplift older adults from the 2SLGBTQI+ communities and celebrate the first rainbow wing at the Rekai centre.

The free event, which was open to the public, included performances, activities, food and prizes for about 500 attendees.

“Many of us don’t have children. Many of us are alone. Many of us have been thrown out of our families. I’m one of those people. My mother disowned me,” said lee kam. “So for us to have something like this is our chosen family. This kind of event just shows that we are welcomed and we can be our true selves.”

It also served as a valuable resource fair, connecting attendees with advocacy and social organizations that support Toronto’s 2SLGBTQI+ communities.

Michalik said some of the residents have dementia and revert to a time when it wasn’t OK to be open about being gay, to be themselves and had to live in fear.

She said there weren’t events like this, on this scale, four years ago. “Of course inside, where they were safe.”

“Many of them don’t feel comfortable going to the parade because now it’s become this glitz glamour. Pride was a protest. It was a march. It was, ‘I am here,’ and now it’s all these naked people, and they don’t feel comfortable with that.”

Michalik said it was important for the younger generation to show up in support of senior pride events.

lee kam added that there is always progress to be made and is needed in terms of respect. That is why the fight is never over.

“It’s a protest and a celebration,” said lee kam.