The Commissioner recently met with representatives from HereNI, The Rainbow Project and Cara Friend, to discuss the issues faced by older people in the LGBTQIA+ community. This month’s words of wisdom is with Marie Quiery, a member of HereNI and activist for LGBTQIA+ rights, she shared her words of wisdom about ageing as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Name: Marie Quiery

Age: 72

Tell us a bit about yourself?

I was born in Newtownards, the third of six children. My father died three weeks after his 50th birthday, leaving my mother to rear six of us. I was privileged to have access to free education which enabled me to earn a decent living over the years. Sadly, free third level education is no longer available and, I feel, contributes to inequality in our society.

What did/do you work as?

I trained as a teacher initially and worked in adult education here and in England for nearly 20 years. I retrained as a psychotherapist in the 1990’s and now work part-time as a therapist and supervisor.

This weekend is Belfast Pride Festival 2023. What does Belfast Pride mean to you?

Belfast Pride has come a long way since 1991 when a small but enthusiastic group of people marched down Royal Avenue and through the city centre. I remember being spat at on one of the early marches!

Times were tough then for the LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) community. We faced harassment at work, on the streets and sometimes within our families, without recourse to legislation that could protect our basic human rights. ‘Coming out’ in the 70’s and 80’s risked our jobs and relationships with our families and friends. Not surprisingly many of my friends remained ‘closeted’, only open about their sexuality at weekends where we would meet in sympathetic pubs and clubs. Since those early days, I’ve seen Pride grow in both numbers and strength. It has become a parade of celebration as well as a march of protest. Yet, we still have a way to go in terms of our rights.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that older LGBTQIA+ people face?

As we grow older, like all older people, we are more dependent on health and social care. Our incomes get lower and health concerns increase. We have no guarantee, as we become more vulnerable, what provision is being made, or even planned, for our old age. Will we have to sacrifice our hard-won identity in a care home? How can trans people expect to be received or cared for? Will we become invisible again? Many older LGBTQIA people aren’t ‘out’ to their GP or other care providers, fearful of discrimination or negative attitudes.

For me, the important thing is that public services are still not planning for or even asking what our needs might be. We need to be represented on all organisations and bodies representing older people. I’m 72 now and still active in the struggle for visibility and our rights as older LGBTQIA+ people.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I’ve seen the toll that homophobia and transphobia has taken on our mental health, particularly on our young people. I spent 18 years supervising the councillors who work in our post primary schools and was shocked and distressed by the anxiety, depression and, too often, suicide caused by homo and trans phobia. All of us older queers carry some of the shame from those days when we were forced to hide our sexuality, our partners, and our families.

How will you celebrate Belfast Pride 2023?

As we move to celebrate Belfast Pride 2023, I think of those who have gone before us, their stories lost and the strength of community they have created. I will be walking with queer asylum seekers and my trade union Unison. I like to think that we older queers can lead the way in terms of inclusion and creating a society our young ones can thrive in. So, I’m delighted to be involved in a celebration of trans culture and community…Hoping for good weather this year. Happy Pride everyone!