When leZlie lee kam went to visit Alf Roberts at his long-term care (LTC) home a couple of days after his 91st birthday, lee kam was devastated to learn Roberts had died the day before and no one from the home shared the news.
“There was this wall between anyone who cared for Alf and (the LTC home where he lived),” lee kam recalls. “It broke our hearts.”
lee kam and Roberts became good friends after meeting at a photo shoot for The 519, a Toronto agency that provides services for Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex and additional (2SLGBTQI+) people. Respect Your Elders is a campaign launched by the agency in 2015, to secure inclusive environments for older people. Before the first wave of COVID-19 hit LTC homes, lee kam visited Roberts regularly. Those visits stopped due to strict pandemic measures that only allowed for contact with biological family or essential caregivers – not chosen family.
With the arrival of COVID-19, lee kam says most queer seniors in LTC lost contact with all of their visitors because many have been disowned by their biological family members and only have their chosen family left. After losing Roberts under such devastating circumstances, lee kam shared with RNAO a touching tribute to an unforgettable friend, who finally came out as gay when he was 80 years old.
“Alf died of loneliness, isolation and possibly neglect, not COVID-19,” says lee kam. “Queer seniors…had no human contact. They were left in their rooms. Neglect (of residents) also went as far as not changing diapers, and not having showers or sponge baths. And the ones at the bottom of the ladder were queer seniors.”
lee kam has been advocating for the 2SLGBTQI+ community since first coming out as a queer dyke in 1976, and now identifies as gender mysterious. “It’s important for me to use my voice, privilege and power to speak up because (2SLGBTQI+ people) are everywhere and we’re falling through the cracks,” lee kam says.
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