Anyone else noticing the quiet, yet ugly exchanges between the generations in the last little while? Especially between seniors and millennials? Anyone else think that this isn’t right?
This article isn’t a story about a specific Community Response Network (CRN) project per se, although an intergenerational project did bring Nanaimo’s LGBTQ2S+ senior and youth communities together.
The real story goes beyond project boundaries, where two people from two generations – a queer white settler senior (pronouns: she/her) and a QT BIPOC millennial (pronouns: they/them/their) – whose goals of collective exploration, decolonized learning, and racial activism are creating common ground for connection, healing, and positive impacts in greater Nanaimo.
Jane Osborne, BC CRN Regional Mentor for Central and Northern Vancouver Island, and Quillenge Supulveda (pronounced: Key-EN-nah-hay), or Qui (pronounced: Key), the Youth Literacy Coordinator of Literacy Central Vancouver Island are colleagues and fast friends. Their conversations on community, safety, and advocacy frequently go deep. The exchange flows so freely that you wouldn’t think they started formally working together just over a year ago
A Senior Perspective
According to Jane, the question of involving Nanaimo youth in conversations about Nanaimo seniors started several years ago with Reaching Out, the seed program that produced today’s Vancouver Island Living Out and Visibly Engaged (LOVE) CRN.
Nicole Tremblay, a clinical social work educator with Island Health shared her goal to build LGBTQ2S+ competencies in staff, training them on how to engage with members of this community. Nicole also painted a picture of a fractured QT community. Even now, QT seniors and older adults hesitate to disclose their identities, which impacts the quality and type of health and social supports they receive in times of need.
“Since the focus of the BC CRN tends to centre on older adults, this is where we started,” says Jane. “After a few conversations, we realized we needed to engage QT youth and to have conversations about the whole community across generations. We began exploring why youth were not accepting our invitations to participate and learning about how to communicate with them more effectively.”
A Youth Perspective
QT youth are in hiding, unmotivated to participate in any kind of conversation for the same reasons why QT seniors stay closeted – oppression, lack of safety, and lost connection.
In Qui’s circles, they were also observing the generational and cultural disconnect firsthand.
“During the pandemic, youth were becoming disrespectful towards elders and seniors. I was hearing them call COVID the ‘boomer remover’,” they said. “I was also hearing they did not know their own history. Because they’re queer or gay and essentially disowned because of it, there were no parental figures to teach them about culture and family.”
Personally, Qui was on their own ongoing journey to reconnect with their culture and they were successful in doing so by connecting with elders. “Self-learning and exploration lead to discovery,” they continue. “Learning to heal, and learning from elders, other youth, the land, and the waters…teachings can come from everyone and everywhere.”
Jane first met Qui at their place of work. “I came across a magazine called PLACE, which was produced by Qui and Nanaimo QT and BIPOC youth,” says Jane. “It’s an amazing publication full of youth stories about lived experiences, concerns, and passions. These stories landed with me. I invited Qui to present to the LOVE CRN.”
Qui did take Jane up on the offer, which was the first of many intergenerational interactions to come.
An Intergenerational Perspective, A Collective Exploration
If wisdom is the conduit between older and younger, the Nanaimo Queer/Trans/BIPOC Intergenerational Storytelling Project was the onramp to that bridge connecting QT seniors and QT BIPOC youth in greater Nanaimo.
For Qui and Jane, they acknowledged that there were older adults in marginalized and oppressed groups who lost connection to the community. The same was also true for youth. Both generations were fearful of being victimized and of the pressures to conform to mainstream ways of doing and of being.
“We were asking an oppressed group to take on the burden to educate people of privilege and means, to make major social changes on the backs of people who feel the least safe,” says Jane.
The project started small. One person’s backyard became a safe space for BIPOC kids to connect and learn. “LGBTQ youth with families that support and affirm their identities are almost 50% less likely to attempt suicide than youth coming from unsupportive families,” says Qui. “At these backyard sessions, older queer adults were invited to share their stories of loneliness. Stories are powerful forms of learning and healing. And connections don’t have to be blood connections to be meaningful.”
Over time, more stories were shared between the generations. Connections became stronger as one generation learned about the other.
“These relationships protect QT BIPOC people and connect those without family ties,” says Qui. “Exploring and navigating the world collectively through safe conversation is healing. When we don’t connect to generations before and after our own, the only group who benefits is the one who oppresses.”
Eventually, the Nanaimo RCMP connected to the Vancouver Island LOVE CRN. The two teams collaborated to increase the safety on the street and in homes for LGBTQ2S+ youth and seniors alike. Police officers connected to the resources provided, also learning how to interact with QT people in safer, non-threatening ways.
“Intent is not the same as impact,” adds Qui.
“I’ve learned that the colonial perspective and values are very rigid and quite self-centred. We white colonizer types expect to be seen and treated as experts who know best, even if our intention is to do good in the world” Jane continues. “Our story is just one perspective. One story of abuse is just one story. There are many perspectives and many stories from seniors, youth, colonizers, and non-colonizers alike that espouse the same values. It’s not about one person, but about the community that makes lasting change for the better.”
Some Tips on How You Can Start Your Decolonization Journey and Create Safety for Others
- Learn your personal history. “It always starts with you and learning about your family, including the generations that come before and after you,” says Qui. “This is an ongoing, lifelong process.”
- Seek out and interact with more people who have different experiences and world views, including seniors, youth, and people who come from different cultures and communities. “Be intentional about your engagements,” adds Qui. “I was one of three brown babies my white mother raised in a white town. I didn’t understand my own racism and how I was perpetuating it until I understood my family’s pain. Hearing other people’s stories and understanding where I came from helped me reconcile my own feelings.”
- Really listen. “If you are a descendent of white settlers or adhere to colonial values and systems, park your opinions and listen,” says Jane. “It’s not just about you. Be humble, be vulnerable, and be open. Experts, research papers and best practices are fine tools for learning, but they’re also colonial. Decolonized learning and pedagogy are about storytelling, safe relationships, and caring. There is room for both.”
- And finally, don’t declare yourself an ally. “It’s that line between intent and impact. You may want to be an ally, but only the people in the group you are claiming to ally to can call you one. Self-proclaiming ally-ship has no impact. The person who calls themselves an ally is doing nothing more than maintaining their own privilege and power in the relationship,” says Jane. “Decolonization and anti-racism work are not quick transactions. Dissect your family history and culture, engage with other walks of life, listen, and do the work.”
 QT BIPOC: Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Colour
(Header Photo: Jane (left) and Qui connect at the Picnic en Blanc fundraiser event hosted by ROAR in July 2022. Photo by D. Chow.)