Celebrating Volunteers’ Week 1-7 June, Eva Monxy writes about their experience volunteering with older LGBT+ people at Opening Doors London (ODL).

About a year ago, I lost my beloved nan with whom I was very close. Apart from the huge loss, I found that I really missed the time I would spend with her and her friends. There is a specific richness that comes with spending time with older people - swapping stories and having a laugh.

So last year, I started volunteering for Opening Doors London (ODL). As well as wanting to fill the social void left by my nan, I decided to volunteer for ODL specifically because I wanted to put my money where my mouth is regarding LGBT+ community building. ODL is one of very few charities who give support and provide social opportunities for LGBT+ people over 50 – a group that is so often forgotten in a scene very focused on pubs and clubs, and in which more accessible LGBT+ venues are disappearing.

As a non-binary transperson in my late thirties, I wanted to expand my community beyond my peers and the younger queer kids coming up, to include LGBT+ people of the older generation. If we can’t support those in our community who paved the way for us to exist, then that’s not the queer community I want to be a part of!

Our scene is so obsessed with youth and being able-bodied, that we can unthinkingly discard those in our community that cross some invisible line. It is easier to build and hold on to LGBT+ community in the age of anti-retroviral combination drugs and PrEP, of intersectional awareness, and legal protections. We must turn to the generations before us, who sacrificed so much, and support and include them in our queer families. They opened the door for us - we have to keep it open for them.

I joined ODL as group volunteer, and I absolutely love it. I love being social and enjoy converting my trashy bartenders’ personality into facilitating social groups. We chat, tell stories, and put the world to rights. It’s an opportunity for our members to be really honest with each other, to build social connections, expand their point of view, as well as tell bawdy stories and share a cuppa.

It’s genuinely my favourite day of the month. Us volunteers try to make sure that we give the members a space where they can be unabashedly themselves, in whatever form that takes - I’m really impressed and delighted with how open and fun our group members are. They are such a great bunch!

I gain so much from my groups. I have really interesting conversations, I receive so much warmth and kindness from the members, plus I get to support older members of my community who are so often isolated, marginalised, and sometimes forced back into the closet. Not on my watch babes! I’m also conscious of all the people who aren’t able to be in those groups because of further intersectional marginalisation or disability.

I really feel that it is our duty to support and include older LGBT+ people - to make sure that we don’t accidentally construct a community in which they can’t participate. Our communities must include our older family - we need their knowledge and their grit. Plus, they remember all the best drag acts and their worst jokes!

It’s been really interesting to put my identity and the in-the-moment community politics and dramas that always seem to be swirling around to the side for an afternoon, and listen to and facilitate another point of view. I’ve learned a lot about listening with intention, and what Paris was like in the early 70’s. I never thought I’d feel lucky to be coming up as a queer teen in the 90’s, but the members in my group have told me stories that made my hair curl - both of horrifying violence and breath-taking liberation. And, I have learned a lot about growing tomatoes! I feel very lucky to have been part of those conversations and to have expanded my community through volunteering.