DeVries says friends occupy an ambiguous position in North American society, particularly when it comes to those who care for one another but who are not formally or legally related. This ambiguity, he says, is often exacerbated in the case of gay men and lesbians, especially among the older cohort whose socialization experiences have been dramatically colored by being labeled as sick by doctors, immoral by clergy, unfit by the military and a menace by police.
DeVries will be presenting his research into the role of friendship in care giving at an international symposium being held at Trent University Peterborough in Canada between June 8 and June 10 2005.
The symposium brings together researchers from USA, UK, Holland and Canada and marks the midway point in a five year major collaborative research initiative funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SHHRC).
The $2.3 million project led by University of Alberta researcher Dr Janet Fast, was announced in January 2003. Its overall objective is to create a deeper understanding of the place in society of those currently characterized as 'dependent,' specifically older adults and adults with chronic illness or disability.
De Vries, who is based at San Francisco State University says the gay and lesbian community has had to think more about the role of friendship in care giving and developed systems and support networks for friends who assume the role of care giver.
"They have come up with creative solutions and there is a lot to be learned from their examples, especially now when there are more people who choose not to have children and may not be able to rely on family for their care giving," he says.