Gentlemen of a Certain Age

Publish Date: 19/09/2011

On Saturday 20th August, the LGF hosted an event in partnership with Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust (NHS), Manchester City Council and Zest to look at the needs of older men who have sex with men.

At the event, Chief Executive of The Lesbian & Gay Foundation Paul Martin OBE, spoke about how important it is to recognise the needs of 'men of a certain age'.

"Like so many of my friends of a certain age, I've noticed that I spend increasingly more time these days talking about getting older. And even if we're not talking about our age, we're thinking about it and certainly on some mornings feeling it.

The truth is that we are never going to be any younger than we are today, but rather than enjoying ourselves in the here and now we can often commiserate about failing eyesight, losing teeth and hair, gaining weight, rusty joints and various bits and pieces falling off and needing replacing.

I tell myself that what is important is my health, my home, my partner, my family, my friends, my job and maintaining a positive attitude to life.

Age is a part of life that we simply cannot change. No matter how much we try to turn back the clock physically, we have to accept it, move on and look towards our future.

In certain societies men acquire a certain value as they become more mature, but sadly this is not always so in the West, where we are clearly part of a culture obsessed with youth. The gay community particularly so. But we can change that!

Fortunately, I'm lucky to be Chief Executive of an organisation that embraces experience as well as youthful exuberance, and I am all to well aware of the fabulous contributions that are being made in our communities by men over 45 - by several LGF Board members, by leaders and volunteers of other agencies, and though you might not see them bragging about it we would certainly be a much poorer community without them and their expertise.

Look at Icebreakers supporting men for over 25 years and still making a huge difference to men's lives. We also have The Forty Plus group that meets every Thursday evening here at LGF, which has been going strong for a decade. Gerard Gudgion, who with me nearly twenty years ago set up Healthy Gay Manchester, and his extraordinary work with GBBB. Councillor Paul Fairweather, a community activist for nearly 40 years, one of the original members of the GLF, and over the last decade as a member of the establishment in his role as lead member on gay men's issues at Manchester City Council.

The truth is there are so many brilliantly vital, vibrant gay and bisexual men in their middle years and older, and we just forget or we simply do not always acknowledge the fantastic achievements and what they continue to achieve today. In the name of one of LGF's current campaigns these men are all Homo Heroes.

Age Concern in Greater Manchester, inparticular, does fantastic work with older LGB&T people. It is Age Concern, who tell us that for up to 75 per cent of older gay and bisexual men, social isolation is a real issue. What people really need are opportunities to get together with others, where they can be themselves, support each other and share experiences and that's why some of the social and support networks I've mentioned are so important. But there are more needs that must be met.

There are many unique issues that affect older gay and bisexual men such as the double discrimination of ageism and homophobia. This is very real and it is only when we have the support of others that we can face such issues and begin to fight them and overcome them.

The vitally important work that Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust (MMHSCT) are doing in partnership with the LGF, particularly in the sexual health and harm reduction team, encouraging men who have sex with men over 45 to think about their health, is absolutely something that we should all be championing.

There are many things we can do to make sure we stay healthy and why it is important that we remain in good health so that we can continue to enjoy fulfilling lives, and continue to make our contribution to the society we live in.

I hope that in the years ahead the LGF, MMHSCT, David Regan and his team at Public Health Manchester continue to work together to ensure that the needs of older gay men continue to receive a priority focus, issues such as good physical, mental and sexual health are essential to our continued health and wellbeing, and we know from the evidence that LGB&T people can often experience some of the greatest invisible and unmet need.

I would also like to give special mention to Robin Nicholson (see below) who had the idea to encourage men to feel positive about getting older and embrace getting older as something that can be celebrated, through a photographic exhibition of older gay and bisexual men which launches officially in October.

This fantastic project shows us that life doesn't end for gay and bisexual men once they have passed the age of 40. These men are an inspiration to all of us.

We have built up tremendous friendships and important networks over the years and it would be churlish of us to hide our light under a bushell. Just look at our history.

All those men who fought for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the 1950s and 60s are now in their sixties and seventies and older. All those men who spearheaded the Pride movement, who fought for an equal age of consent.  Some of those men are in this room and we simply wouldn't be here without them.And today all those men in civil partnerships who probably don't even realise how valuable their contribution is just by staying together... and we know how hard that can be sometimes!

We must remember also our friends who didn't live to see an older age and it is because of them and honouring their memories that we have to live our lives and support one other.

Many of us feel invisible and would sometimes like to fade away into the background, but it's time for us to come out all over again. Ageing as a gay or bisexual man is not easy, but there are many positives. We're old enough to learn from our mistakes and while it's true that we're perfectly capable of making the same mistakes again, experience is something that you just don't realise you have until you are in a position to use it, so let's use it for the benefit of ourselves and each other.

We must address ageism within our own generation and community, and also the 'reverse ageism' that stereotypes and dismisses younger gay and bisexual men too.

When we are younger we don't think about getting older, and when we're older we might think there's not much point in looking after ourselves when society might think we might be past our prime. However, it is truly up to us to ensure that the best years of our lives are ahead of us, not behind us."

Gentlemen of a Certain Age

A brand new photographic celebration of older gay and bisexual men launches officially in October.

Photographer Rob Martin is giving his time to capture the portraits to show, 'integrity and strength in growing older and encapsulating positivity and a celebration of the older gay man.'

The idea comes from Robin Nicholson a BA Hons social work student currently on placement with The Lesbian & Gay Foundation.

"I want older gay men to see this exhibition and identify with the images and see themselves in the narratives." says Robin. "The exhibition aims to encourage men to feel positive about getting older and embrace growing older as something that can still be celebrated".

Grahame Robertson, editor of Outnorthwest says: "Contrary to the myth, life doesn't end for gay and bisexual men once they have passed the age of 40. This amazing photographic exhibition captures the lust for life and the wisdom that only comes when you reach 'a certain age'. These men are an inspiration to all of us."

If you would be interested in taking part in this project and in return receiving a free portrait by Rob Martin please contact: grahame.robertson@lgf.org.uk or  robin.nicholson@lgf.org.uk  Tel:  0845 3 30 30 30 and ask for Robin or Grahame.

To see some of Rob's other work checkout: www.robmartinphotos.co.uk