Heath Ed lecturer and Cinema alum co-direct documentary on the challenges of older lesbians

Friday, June 28, 2019
Sally Geahart in jeep in scene from A Great Ride

A scene from "A Great Ride," a documentary that features LGBTQ activist Sally Gearhart. Gearhart was the first open lesbian to obtain a tenure-track faculty position in the U.S. — a distinction she achieved while teaching at SF State.

'A Great Ride' spotlights pioneering SF State Professor Emerita Sally Gearhart

by Kent Bravo

Aging can be rough for anyone. But when you’re part of a marginalized, often underrepresented community — LGBTQ seniors, for instance — it can be extra tough. San Francisco State University Lecturer of Health Education Deborah Craig and former San Francisco State student Véronica Duport Déliz shed light on those barriers through a short film that has a humorous yet poignant take on aging.

Co-directed by Craig and Déliz, the documentary "A Great Ride" looks at older lesbians who live in several different communities in Northern California. The film features SF State Professor Emerita Sally Gearhart, an LGBTQ activist who was the first open lesbian to obtain a tenure-track faculty position in the U.S. — a distinction she achieved while teaching at SF State.

In commemoration of Pride Month, Craig (pictured) sat down recently to share her vision for "A Great Ride" and to discuss how the film celebrates deep friendships, the importance of community and the beauty of aging.

'A Great Ride' recently became available for streaming via Amazon Prime. Where else have people seen it?

The film premiered at Frameline, San Francisco’s LGBTQ film festival, in June 2018. Since then, it has screened at over 30 festivals in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia, winning five awards so far including Audience Award for Best Short Film at the Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival. The film has not only been featured at LGBTQ film festivals but also women’s film festivals and documentary festivals. I’m also pleased to share that "A Great Ride" is streaming on Alaska Airlines flights through June and July in honor of Pride Month.

Aside from these successes, it makes me so happy to see the film reach broader audiences, which was my goal as co-director. Although the film focuses on several lesbians and is concerned with aging, my hope was always to develop a film with a wider appeal. We’re all human, we’re all aging and we all need support in making our way through this crazy and sometimes tumultuous world. The characters portrayed in the film are wonderful examples of how to do that with humor and verve.

The film sheds light on the unique challenges older lesbians face. Why do you think it is important to create more awareness for their experiences, especially among broader audiences?

Older lesbians are some of my favorite people, plus I’m an aging lesbian myself! We are too often invisible, and I believe it’s because we are women, because we are gay and because we are older — identities that each are underrepresented. It’s a huge loss not only for us but for others too, given how much people can potentially learn from us.

The film highlights the many challenges of growing older as a lesbian. For example, we often lack family support because of homophobic family members or because of not having children. Many of us are not wealthy because women earn less. Many older gay folks — both men and women — also fear being out when they are sick or otherwise vulnerable because caregivers and assisted living facilities may not be gay friendly. Those challenges aside, I wanted to show that we are aging well, enjoying life and supporting each other as we grow older together. Everyone can learn from us because there are too many older people in this country who do not have the community support they need to thrive.

What is it like working with Sally Gearhart?

Sally is fun, flirty, brilliant, unpredictable and iconoclastic. You never know what is going to come out of her mouth, so it’s always important to keep the camera rolling. She loves to be with people and likes being on camera too, but in many ways she is surprisingly modest. Sometimes we need to get her friends and colleagues to jump in and help brag about her brilliance and accomplishments.

What message did you want to get across with this film?

Embrace aging! We have such a screwed-up relationship with aging in this country. We adulate youth, which in my experience — and from what I can tell from the experiences of my students — is a very difficult and stressful time. We also undervalue or even demean aging and older people. But old age can be such a rich and rewarding time.

I always loved and sought out older people when I was young. Not only did they give me cookies and attention, but there was also a calm, self-acceptance and sense of humor that I really loved. I hope my characters convey that.

Republished from SF State News