Legacy of Voices is an oral history project created in 2008 by Lara Spotts and Brian O’Donnell, inspired by their realization that to better understand their own lives, they could turn to LGBTQ+ community members who had gone before them. From 2008-2012, Lara and Brian recorded interviews with gay and lesbian elders over age 70 in New York, Pennsylvania, and Montreal. Hearing the stories of these elders with their passions and beliefs, failures and successes, and reflections moved Brian and Lara deeply, and helped them chart their own paths forward. Meanwhile, the actual interview tapes sat in a box in Brian’s closet for over a decade, until Brian discovered OUTWORDS—a unique opportunity for these remarkable, nearly-lost stories to be seen, heard, studied, and celebrated by queer people and allies around the globe. OUTWORDS thanks Lara Spotts and Brian O’Donnell for their visionary work, and for donating thirteen Legacy of Voices interviews to OUTWORDS.
Bernard Talbot was born on March 15, 1928 in Saint-Grégoire-de-Montmorency, a small town neighboring Quebec and located right under the Montmorency Falls. His father was the town physician, so Bernard grew up knowing everyone around him. His parents taught him that “the worst ignorance is not to know what you don’t know.” This motivated Bernard from a young age to learn about and dedicate his life to helping the most disadvantaged. He was interested in education reform in Quebec as well as medicine, and completed formal training in physical medicine and rehabilitation in 1962.
From a young age, Bernard knew that he felt out of place in the crowd and that he wanted more intimacy with men around him. However, his father thought homosexuality was a disease, his town’s priest said it was a sin, and his local police deemed it a crime. As a result, Bernard struggled with suicidal thoughts in his late teens. Later, when he left town to study and finished his residency in Yale University, he discovered queer hookup culture, but found he preferred committed relationships. During that period, he had his first romantic relationship with Jerry Kiapa, where they traveled and wrote poetry together. Bernard’s mother and sister were accepting about the gay relationships that he was having, but his father struggled more to understand.
Upon graduation, Bernard worked in the Rehabilitation Institute in Montreal for 6 years, then helped organize and run the Rehabilitation Center at McMaster University for 4 years, followed by working for other Rehabilitation centers around Ottawa. Throughout this time, he was also working as a professor of medicine. He focused his career on helping people with disabilities improve their quality of life through collaboration with other health specialists.
During the interview, Bernard also reflected on differences he observed in how people respond to medical conditions between genders, the importance of holistically looking at the human experiencing a symptom, the role of family in medicine, the necessity for community learning, and the impacts of positive thinking around health. Throughout his life, Bernard also committed to traveling to nearly every continent. Looking back, he reminded us that people everywhere are driven by the same basic values, but are disproportionately impacted by injustices such as ageism, sexism, and racism that social change must continue to address.