50 years. 50 queers.

Thomas Krever

Thomas Krever

May 24, 2013

Name: Thomas Krever
DOB: 1968
Occupation: Executive Director, Hetrick-Martin Institute

Movement has always been a big part of life for Thomas Krever. He was a professional dancer for over 20 years, performing on Broadway and with companies that toured across America. He is also someone who has been part of the LGBTQ equal rights and youth movements for just as many years. As the Executive Director of the Hetrick-Martin Institute, which is the home of the Harvey Milk High School, this man of motion shows no signs of slowing down as he enters his mid-40s.

“You know how a lot of people say 50 is the new 40 or 35 is the new 50,” Krever says pondering new attitudes about aging. “I absolutely feel that way. I hope five years from now when I turn 50 that I continue to feel that way. I think back and I marvel at the generation that turned 50 before me, and what a dramatic difference.” Like many of us when we were younger, the prospect of aging was either something never thought of, or it was something to eye with fear and trepidation. “When I was a little kid, 50 was a death knell, it was just so old,” Krever continues. “Now, as an adult, it is so not the case. I know so many 50-year-olds who are so vibrant and relevant and frankly doing more than I could hope to do at 44,” he says with a laugh.

Like many gay men currently in midlife, Krever saw the devastation AIDS wrought on the gay community. Being in New York and being in the arts, many of his peers and community were hit particularly hard by the disease. Like many queer people in those days, it wasn’t a question of when you turned 50 it was matter of if you turned 50. “I was a professional dancer and I witnessed losing a lot of loved ones, a lot of colleagues, other dancers, to AIDS,” Krever recalls. “There was just the wiping out of a whole generation. Particularly in the arts community, and in the field of music, art, dance, so many brilliant lives lost and that weight that that created.”

“I think one profound difference is that when people over 50 who were so relevant and vibrant are part of the fabric of the mainstream right now.”

Fortunately, through education and a host of new and effective treatments, more people are living long, full lives—and that is changing the landscape of the community. “Now with life-sustaining drugs we are living longer and filling a void and having an opportunity, particularly for LGBTQ youth, who disproportionately have less role models,” Krever observes. “There really is a whole opportunity now for people over 50 to contribute in a meaningful way in the life of young people, especially after the initial years of AIDS crisis hit.”

Krever sees many opportunities for building bridges between the generations in the queer community, especially through his work at the Hetrick-Martin Institute (HMI), where he works with many gay youth who enjoy the benefits of the Harvey Milk High School. ‘I’ve been very fortunate at HMI to have a lot of opportunities to be around a lot of individuals who are over 50 to educate, mobilize and inspire this new generation,” Krever says. “I don’t think HMI is an anomaly, I think there is an opportunity to have things like that around. We need more things like [HMI] whether it’s intergenerational pieces, or programs or services or just opportunities for young people to engage with individuals in the community over 50. I just think it’s so relevant and important.”

“I think one profound difference is that when people over 50 who were so relevant and vibrant are part of the fabric of the mainstream right now, that 50 is really the new 40,” Krever continues. “Also, post-AIDS, in terms of drug treatment, you have this generation assuming a new role of leadership and mentorship that I’m hopeful that turning 50 or 60 or 70 will not relegate them to a dark corner somewhere and will keep them very relevant. People are working longer; managing their healthcare better; having access to care. As a result people will be able to share their knowledge, experience, skill sets, with a new generation. I find myself hopeful.”

Krever sees these advancements and achievements as ways of not only providing leadership and mentoring for younger queer people, but also for older members of the LGBTQ community to impart their life experiences and wisdom across the generations. However, he also sees a need to keep pushing issues of aging into the queer mainstream lest they fall to the wayside. “It’s so easy to turn your back or to not focus on that and I think whether it’s HMI or other organizations like SAGE (an action and advocacy organization for LGBTQ elders), we have to make sure that they don’t become a forgotten or unheard voice,” Krever states. “It’s so critical because as these barriers come down, like marriage equality, it doesn’t mean that everyone adjusts and that everyone enjoys or reaps the benefits.”

While there are challenges to aging for the general population, there are perils for queer people entering their senior years who may be facing loneliness and isolation. In this, Krever sees opportunities to keep people connected. “We’re in the new world of technology and instant access and some of it’s not as complicated as we think it might be,” he asserts. “Even if it’s a Smartphone or setting up a chat, technology allows this generation to have unprecedented access, but it’s access to what? We have to make sure that there are organizations or institutions that are focused on this population and what they have access to.”

“We have to make sure that with youth-centered or youth-centric society, particularly in the gay community, that people are reminded of our seniors and understanding what role they can play.”

Krever sees real possibilities for the development of apps that cater specifically to the needs of older queers. “The challenge is to make sure the technology is friendly for seniors or people who are younger, over 50,” Krever says. “It’s hard for me to keep up with it let alone older or more mature people,” he says with a laugh before taking a serious turn addressing some of the health perils that are facing gay and bisexual seniors. “Elders need to stay educated and informed because the world is rapidly changing and I use the example of HIV and how it’s actually expanding in senior communities because there are seniors having unprotected sex. Now with the advent of Viagra and other drugs, it’s something to be really careful about.”

Beyond the technology that can keep people connected, Krever sees the need to ensure that bridges are built and barriers are broken between generations as the queer community expands its demographics. “We have to make sure that with youth-centered or youth-centric society, particularly in the gay community, that people are reminded of our seniors and understanding what role they can play,” he says. “Whether it’s mentor or volunteers or a maturity that they bring to the workforce, it’s just really important to keep that conversation alive.”

Another inspiration Krever had for building friendships and networks for older folks in the queer community came from a group called The Red Hat Society that his 83-year-old mother joined after his father passed away. “The Red Hat Society is an organization, a worldwide non-profit, for women over 50,” explains Krever. “The premise is simple: it provides a social outlet for women who refuse to go off into the corner or into the sunset quietly. They get together in these formal events, they join clubs and they wear these bright and loud red hats and purple dresses. It started from the premise that when men would pass away, in heterosexual marriages where women usually outlive the men, so they were kind of relegated to the corner and these women refused to do that, they said ‘my life doesn’t end because my husband died or because I’m 60’. I would love to see something like that in the LGBTQ community.” The Lavender Caps, perhaps? “I see it as a brilliant opportunity for a visionary,” Krever concludes. “Society is aging and living longer, there are lots of opportunities for something there.”

As Krever begins to ponder life in his 50s and beyond, certain role models and personal inspirations come to mind—people whom he acknowledges as those who were pioneers both in his personal life and for queer people en masse. “Joan Miller is a choreographer and dancer I danced with in the Joan Miller Dance Company for almost 20 years,” he says with a tone of admiration. “She’s just a huge source of inspiration. I danced with her from about the age of 19 or 20 to about five years ago. Alvin Ailey, the same thing, he was just a huge pioneer.”

He also cites two men who were unlikely heroes in the advancement of queer people. “Sir Ian McKellen, I think he’s amazing. What a gutsy man. And Barney Frank, a finance guy who is so not the epitome of the cliché gay man and I think it’s so refreshing to have that.” He also calls out Jane Lynch, Audrey Lord and Martha Graham as women he admires and has been influenced by. But of all the people whom Thomas Krever is most inspired by, it’s the woman closest to his heart, his mom, Mickie Krever.

One comment

  1. Awesome.

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