'Gen Silent' documents LGBT senior hardships

You’re old, ill and in a nursing home. How can you survive discrimination?

That’s the subject of “Gen Silent,” a new LGBT documentary from award-winning filmmaker Stu Maddux. He’ll visit Milwaukee to present and discuss his work as part of the 24th annual Milwaukee LGBT Film and Video Festival Oct. 20-23.

The documentary chronicles the lives of six LGBT seniors as they deal with a care system that’s often hostile to their lifestyles.

“There is this generation of people who have decided to be silent rather than be out there anymore, because they’ve been forced back into the closet,” says Madddux, who lives in San Francisco.

“It’s happening everywhere,” he says. “The problem is that even LGBT people around the world don’t see it. Their eyes aren’t open to it.” 

“Gen Silent” premiered in Boston in 2010, and has been widely praised.

“This film is critically important to our movement,” says Loree Cook-Daniels, program and policy director for the Milwaukee-based FORGE Transgender Aging Network. FORGE is co-sponsoring Maddux’s appearance, with SAGE/Milwaukee (Senior Action in a Gay Environment).

“I’ve been working on LGBT aging issues for 37 years, and there were facts in this documentary that I’d never known,” says Cook-Daniels. “More importantly, it introduces us to real people who get under our skin, who make us laugh, and who move us to tears. It’s unforgettable.”

Maddux’s films include the critically acclaimed “Bob and Jack’s 52-Year Adventure,” about an Army sergeant who began an affair with his commanding officer in 1952. The two men came out to their unit and are still together.

It was while making that film that Maddux became interested in the struggles of older LGBT people.

The subjects of “Gen Silent” were all drawn from the Boston area. They include Lawrence Johnson and Alexandre Rheume, an interracial couple with a 22-year age difference. When Johnson searched for an assisted living home for his partner, he was made to feel uncomfortable even for feeding Rheume or holding his hand.

“It’s bad enough that you have to put someone in a nursing home,” Johnson says. “Then to compound the fact there may be prejudices, and the person going into the nursing home might not be treated as well – not in overt ways, but all these subtle things that let you know you’re not wanted.”

Also profiled in “Gen Silent” are Sheri Barden and Lois Johnson. Their story traces past indignities, from narrowly avoiding being outed by 1950s magazines that published the names of suspected homosexuals to being tailed by FBI agents after rallies in the 1960s.

Another subject, KrysAnne Hembrough, a 59-year-old transgender woman dealing with a terminal illness, is now deceased. She transitioned in 2003 and afterward was estranged from her family. Even when diagnosed with lung cancer, she received no calls or visits.

Making the film was sometimes emotionally grueling.

“Very much so,” Maddux says. “The most emotionally difficult part for me was being a caregiver for KrysAnne, shooting that, and then having to go back and look at the footage of all those hours of caregiving again, and her hope that her family would come back into the picture.”

“Gen Silent” has been shown at film festivals throughout the United States and Europe. It’s received audience and jury awards at 10 of them, including the Rhode Island International Film Festival, the Sacramento Film and Music Festival, the Charlotte Film Festival and Outflix Memphis Film Festival. In November, PBS excerpted more than 20 minutes of the documentary as part of its program “In the Life,” which focuses on social injustice within the LGBT community.

Maddux is looking forward to visiting Milwaukee for the first time.

“What’s really cool about this screening is that there are some leaders in LGBT aging work right there in Milwaukee,” he says. “Anything I can give back in a small way, I’m delighted to be of service.”

“Gen Silent” will be shown at the Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival at 3 p.m. on Oct. 22 in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Union Theatre, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd.

A talk-back with Maddux and an in-depth discussion will be held afterward. Snacks will be provided.

Parking is available beneath the theater.

Festival ticket prices vary.

For reservations or more information on the festival, call the box office at 414-229-4308, or visit

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