‘Film is something you can mirror to. Older queer people have not always had it easy in the past. Film shows that (now) things can also be done in a different way. It’s nice to see what has changed.’ Hans van Gemmert is coordinator of the rainbow group 50plus COC Midden-Nederland. This is an enthusiastic group of volunteers who organize a variety of activities and represent the interests of LGBTQ+ 50-plus people in the Central Netherlands.
50plus COC Midden-Nederland organizes many activities for LHBTIQ+ 50-plus people, among other things to combat loneliness. The main difference between queer elderly and non-queer elderly was traditionally that queer elderly did not have children and grandchildren. Then loneliness was more likely. This is changing now, though. But still, loneliness among queer elders is common.
‘Meeting people is one of our main drivers. We want to bring people in contact and connect them with each other. We do this with various activities such as a walking group, dinner tables, the Sunday afternoon café, movie nights, museum visits and much more.’
A family of volunteers
‘There are about 20 of us in total, a large and enthusiastic group of volunteers. I always prefer that a lot of people do a few tasks than that a few people (have to) do a lot. I’m very enthusiastic about COC Midden-Nederland. It feels like a family. People really look out for each other, everyone is very involved. If someone is sick, for example, that person is showered with cards and visits.’
Hans explains that, in his view, there are two distinct groups among queer elders. You have the group who know how to find clubs like 50plus COC Midden-Nederland and who participate in all the activities. But there are also people who don’t find their way. ‘We worry about people we don’t hear and we don’t see. People who are in nursing homes, for example. Those are harder for us to reach. We are putting a lot of effort into that now.’
‘For the first Danspaleis in Utrecht, for example, we are going to approach different nursing homes in the region. Danspaleis—supported by VWS, among others—originated in Amsterdam. They are dance afternoons for queer elderly people. We now managed to bring this to Utrecht and we have received a subsidy for two editions.’
The activities are organized in the Silokerk in Utrecht—’but is otherwise completely separate from the church, mind you.’ Almost all the activities of 50plus COC Midden-Nederland are there. They have found that the following motto works best: a fixed location, a fixed time, and the activity never gets canceled.
Since the start of 2023, the group has a new direction. In the near future, there will be a big push for more diversity; for example, they would like to involve more women, more transgender people, more people with disabilities and more people of color. Dolly Bellefleur was at the kickoff, where about 130 people attended. “We put a lot of energy into it and the great thing is that it works!
Representing LGBTQ+ 50-plus people in film
Film is important to the group. ‘Film is something you can emulate. Queer older people have not always had it easy in the past. Many experienced real struggles. Film shows that (nowadays) things can also be done in a different way. It’s nice to see what has changed in that regard.’
In terms of representation of queer over-50s in film, there is still a world to be won. Hans dug in and was able to come up with just a few good examples. Supernova (2020) is a film about two older men, one of whom has dementia. Together they take one more trip. And they seek out many friends and acquaintances. ‘It’s very relatable. A very nice film. We should have more of those.’
Swan Song (2021) is also worth seeing. About an old man who used to be a hairdresser, including to a famous actress. With her, however, he quarreled. That woman is dying and invites him to talk things out.
During QFFU, Gerontophilia (2013) will be shown, about a young man’s love for a (much) older man. Sexuality in later life sometimes seems to be a taboo subject. Or it is laughed at or giggled about. ‘Sexuality is of all ages. It may be changing more toward intimacy and friendship. But it plays a very important role, even with older people.’
Back to the closet in the nursing home?
You do read stories that queer elders in nursing homes get back into the closet. According to Hans, there are two sides to this story: “You do hear stories that queer people are bullied in nursing homes. That is very bad, and we should all do something about it. But I also hear other noises. You certainly don’t have to portray queer elderly people as pitiful. Then you are selling them short. Certainly not all queer people allow themselves to be pushed back into that closet. I heard of a queer man who was scolded by a fellow resident. He immediately talked to the director. That director had the entire nursing home come together to discuss it, under the guise of “this is not how we treat each other.” Stories like this also need to be heard.’
Text: Joris van den Ring-Bax
Images : 50plus COC Midden-Nederland, Hans van Gemmert