Hiding their sexuality at work, the potential threat of abuse and losing friends will be themes in an upcoming documentary about LGBTI seniors living in central Victoria.
Bendigo Queer Film Festival committee member Noel Hourigan and independent LGBTI documentary filmmaker Issie Soudy are hoping to find participants for their film Untold Histories.
The film will screen in October as part of Seniors Week and will document the lives of people who lived through a time where there have been fundamental changes in society’s perceptions towards them.
Mr Hourigan said the idea came after discussions with the City of Greater Bendigo positive ageing committee.
“That idea of recording the voices from our LGBTI seniors was really important,” he said.
“Everyone (in Bendigo’s LGBTI community) has a unique tale of their own and a life story about how they coped being same-sex attracted or questioning gender of identity.”
Everyone (in Bendigo’s LGBTI community) has a unique tale of their own and a life story about how they coped being same-sex attracted or questioning gender of identity.Noel Hourigan
Mr Hourigan hopes to attract a mix of people who were active in the LGBTI community during the 1980s and 1990s as well as people who felt they had to get away from certain environments.
“I’d imagine for a lot of people who were from rural areas, they would have moved to Melbourne to get away from small town, homophobic environments,” he said. “That happened to a lot of people, but now you see people returning to places like Daylesford and other central Victorian towns with good community spirit and acceptance.
“We also know stories of people who set up the first gay and lesbian group in central Victoria or interview did a lot of activism with the HIV and AIDS causes as part of a group of nuns called the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.”
Ms Soudy is a filmmaker from Geelong who has shown films at the Bendigo Queer Film Festival.
She said a lot of LGBTI seniors would not have had a chance to tell their stories before.
“Our generation has got it pretty easy compared to Noel’s generation,” she said.
“It’s important people hear these stories because we will never know how easy we've got it until you hear those stories.
“(Many) elders and seniors haven’t had a chance to tell those stories. They've been in the dark and a lot are probably still closeted in some way.”
“In a rural area (being LGBTI) can be very limiting, even more so for seniors.”
Mr Hourigan recalls the regular physical and verbal abuse he suffered as a gay man in the 1980s.
“Sadly there was that threat. The threat of violence was around a lot and ‘poofter bashing’ was the unofficial national sport,” he said.
“I remember being punched in the head and told there was no cure for AIDS. That sort of stuff was always there.
“Even just verbal abuse in the street is quite confronting. You couldn’t freely come out at work and had to hide your sexuality a lot because of that (homophobic) stigma. (Being gay) just wasn't accepted.”
Bendigo Queer Film Festival committee member Jo Comerford is considering taking part in the documentary.
She said it was extremely important to tell these stories.
“We can shine a light on the historical aspects of it and the personal testimonies carry enormous weight,” she said.
“We want to encourage the youth to see where things have been but also help illuminate where to go in the future.”
Ms Comerford, who came out as a lesbian in her late 30s, said there were still challenges in being open for LGBTI members young and old.
“The consequences of being shut out from your crowd are enormous. Whether it is bullying, losing mates or parents disowning you. Those are things that still happen.
“It’s the case for a lot of women, not me personally, that they have gone through marriages and children and then later on felt comfortable about coming out.
“That’s not the case anymore. Teenagers are more comfortable coming out because there are supports there. But if there are any feelings of hostility in any environment, heads stay down and people become very private again.”
Ms Soudy said she understood it would be difficult for some people to talk about their histories.
“Having to hold it in for so long, it will be difficult for some people to revisit the traumatic aspects of their younger days,” she said.
“Outlets such as social media and internet exist now for questions but the older generation had no access to that and (homosexuality) was frowned upon.
“There would be a lot of internalised feelings, so it might be difficult to talk but they are important stories.”
Ms Soudy and Mr Hourigan are hoping to document about 10 stories for Untold Histories.
“We have a handful of people interested but are looking for more,” Ms Soudy said.
Mr Hourigan said there was also the option to remain anonymous if it made people more comfortable.
“For some people they still might want to not be ‘out’,” he said. “People can remain anonymous if it gives them the freedom to speak if they choose to. We just want to hear their stories about how they coped.”
To register your interest in Untold Histories email Noel on firstname.lastname@example.org