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Victoria drag show uplifts 'underrepresented' senior 2SLGBTQIA+ community

Amica Jubilee House resident says July 16th fundraiser show could help like-minded seniors connect

A seniors residence is organizing its largest drag show to date in Victoria, to create an inclusive, supportive community, an organizer said. 

On July 16, residents, families and healthcare partners will gather at Amica Jubilee House for a '50s and '60s vintage-themed drag show. Special guests include Canada’s Drag Race Season 3 finalist, Vivian VanderPuss, and local drag queens, including Anya Mar – performed by Maxence Arignon, community relations director at Amica Senior Lifestyles.

"LGBTQIA+ seniors face higher rates of isolation and are often underrepresented in queer communities, which creates innate fears of embracing who they are when entering senior living facilities," Arignon said. "This makes it crucial to emphasize why Pride matters in senior care. Through creating meaningful senior programming and events of this kind, Amica Jubilee House’s staff aims to educate its residents and ensure they are within an inclusive, supportive senior community where they aren’t afraid to be themselves."

Gay resident John Bowes moved into Amica Jubilee in December 2023, after moving to Victoria around two years ago from Chicago. Bowes will be attending but admits when he saw the poster for the event, he had thoughts about if it would work.

"Would anybody come out, particularly in an old folks' home?" Bowes questioned.

In his experience, people in the senior community tend to be more closeted and less open about sexuality. 

"I think a lot of the more elderly folks resonate back to the early days of gays not being particularly out. And the older that they are, that might be an increasing tendency," Bowes said. "[Being gay] was almost a jailable expense for some of us."

Bowes' first marriage was a straight marriage, which he attributed to the time he grew up in and feeling like he had to be someone he wasn't. He never came out to his parents directly and recalled in his later life being harassed by a few individuals while he was an openly gay university professor.

His second marriage was with a gay partner, and they were married for 36 years before his partner passed away last summer.

He is unsure how many gay seniors are in the residence but is looking forward to the drag show as a chance to meet more like-minded people.

"I suspect that there is a fair number of queers out here. But my feeling is that the closet door is still there," Bowes said.

He agreed with the sentiment behind the event, which is that LGBTQ seniors are often underrepresented in queer communities. Coming from Chicago, he has found it difficult to find a gay community here in Victoria.

"I think that's as much fault as the aging queer folk as it is the balance of the community. I think that it has largely been a youthful enterprise, so when you're getting the other end of the age spectrum, it's an unknown territory."

Arignon, community relations director, empathized with Bowes' hesitation about how the event would be received in the residence but also offered words of support.

A drag performer for over a decade, Arignon has performed at drag shows with Amica for the last two years, the first of which was at Amica's residence in West Vancouver.

Amica Senior Lifestyles community relations director Maxence Arignon performs as drag queen Anya Marx at a past Amica drag show in Vancouver. Courtesy Amica Jubilee House

"And we were really nervous and cautious, like John, about how that was going to go over. And in fact, a lot of [the residents] said it was the best entertainment they'd seen all year. It had well over 50 to 100 people in attendance," said Arignon.

The show at Amica Jubilee is its first in Victoria and will be the biggest drag show Amica has done to date. To increase support, Amica has extended an invitation to workers from the local hospital as well as a call out to all the private senior residences in Victoria to invite queer residents.

"Because I, like John, am curious as to how many others there might be and perhaps an event like this might draw a few people out of the woodwork," Arignon added. "Ultimately, I think it's important for everyone, especially John, to know that Amica is not going to let the decisions, the opinions of a few backwards people govern the kind of entertainment and celebration that we do at Pride for our gay and queer residents."

The HIV epidemic led to many deaths in the senior gay community and is a reason there aren't many gay seniors left, Arignon explained.

"But in 20 or 30 years, we'll see an explosion of gay seniors in proportion."

For Arignon, this event created in partnership with Victoria Pride Society is a significant display of respect. Funds raised will go towards creating programs to support queer seniors in Victoria, whether that's pairing them with younger queer people to have companionship in communities like this, or creating meeting points for queer seniors to get together across Victoria.

"It's a real shame that we almost turn our backs on our queer elders simply because we are a very youth-oriented community," said Arignon. "One of the reasons we're putting this on is because as a younger gay man, I feel an immense responsibility to thank people like John who fought their entire lives so that I could live and be visible and free. We can care for them as the heroes that they are."

Sam Duerksen

About the Author: Sam Duerksen

Since moving to Victoria from Winnipeg in 2020, I’ve worked in communications for non-profits and arts organizations.
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