Justice

What LGBT Seniors Want Younger People To Know

The month of June is dedicated to honoring LGBT persons.

While many advances have been made in securing the rights and protections of LGBT people, the current status of the community is not something that happened over night: there was a long road toward acceptance.

Growing acceptance of the LGBT community is great, and it's a very recent phenomena.

Contemporary LGBT history began less than a hundred years ago with the foundation of the Society Of Human Rights, the first gay rights group in America. In this time, the view of LGBT persons went from the majority of people believing gay and lesbian persons were "morally wrong" to "morally acceptable." Even the majority of Christian groups have grown to accept homosexuality. 

For many older LGBT persons, this news is somewhat shocking since so much of their lives were lived in the closet. The differences of acceptance and the political, social contexts of these queer generations' lived experiences may be why there is little interaction between older and younger LGBT persons.

Still, as is general knowledge, there is much to be learned from our elders, particularly those who fought and overcame struggles in the hopes of helping future generations.

In the hopes understanding how far queer acceptance has come, ATTN: spoke with a few LGB seniors for advice. Here's what they had to say.

Richard S. is 64, identifies as a gay man, and lives in San Francisco. He wants younger people to know times are changing—and will continue to.

“Prepare for the future,” Richard—a community member with Openhouse, a San Francisco based LGBT senior service organization—says. “As much I believed in the future, I don’t think I was actually ready. Prepare financially. I came out at 16. I dealt with bigotry, isolation, not having support...This took a lifetime of work."

Richard is very impressed with younger generations and wants them to continue their fight.

“I never dreamt that my rights would be protected by the federal government,” he said. “Your job is now to ensure that we keep them! Do not back down. Remember that we will all get old—even you. When you get old, that doesn’t mean your life is over. You want to be valued and seen. It goes by so fast!”

Akilah "Kiki" Monifa is Vice President of the Lavender Seniors Board Of Directors. She is 60, identifies as a lesbian woman, lives in Oakland, California, and is constantly impressed with the younger LGBT generations.

“I am totally in awe of this younger generation,” Monifa said. “My advice would be to keep doing what you’re doing. That group is pretty awesome. As much as I want to sit back in my rocking chair and say ‘Kids today’...I  would say the young people that I have met and that I have seen have been incredibly together.”

Monifa notes that she looks at progress through the lens of the Civil Rights Movement and is perpetually impressed with advances made for queer persons. “I am amazed at the rapidity that it has taken hold legally,” she says. “It seems to be turning people’s minds overall, as we become more visible and people really see that it’s beyond looking at Ellen as the only person who is out.”

“I never knew of anyone who was openly gay growing up,” Monifa adds. “There were certainly no Pride parades when I was growing up [in Alabama]. Now? There are Pride parades in Huntsville where I grew up!”

DJC (who wished to be referred to by his initials) is 71, identifies as a bisexual man, and lives in Los Angeles. He implores young bisexual persons to be open.

“Honesty is the best policy,” DJC said. “A lot of people have anxieties and beat themselves up because of parental disapproval or society’s structures and that can derail you from your best interests.”

“Try to find a sympathetic soul if you’re bisexual, someone who’s not going to look at you and say ‘What?’” DJC added. “Even if the relationship doesn’t turn into something that is long term, sharing is important.”

“Love is love, you know,” DJC said. “If somebody loves you, it’s for some reason—so you better get busy loving yourself to be worthy of that.”

Steve Starkey is the Executive Director of OutReach LGBT Community Center. He is 64, identifies as a gay man, lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and wants younger LGBT people to focus on maintaining equality.

“Many young LGBT people take for granted the rights that they have,” Starkey explained. “The fact that they can be out, that there are lots of LGBT friendly businesses and doctors, a lot of services: that didn’t exist twenty, thirty forty years ago. It was gained through really hard work and struggles and sometimes people giving their lives.”

"Our community has a lot of disparities with the general population," Starkey said. "My hope for the future is that we don’t have those disparities. When we look at the disparities, I hope they’ll be the same as the general population."

Michael Fleming is 77, identifies as a gay man, and lives in Los Angeles. He hopes everyone understands that their differences are what makes them special.

“You have to be yourself,” Fleming shared. “People who hide in the closet are also hiding from themselves. They have a shame about themselves that has been put on them by other people, by other religions."

Fleming stresses this is important for all LGBT persons but also anyone who is in a minority group. “We’ve got to band together because we are the minority,” he said. “What I hope is that people will eventually welcome people who are not like them because they too aren’t like anyone else either...Our individuality is priceless.”

While impressed with younger generations, all the LGB elders ATTN: spoke with agreed: the fight for equal rights will never end—and we must stay vigilant.

Despite advances, despite acceptance, despite the normalization of LGBT persons, each individual ATTN: spoke with stressed that rights come and go. As President Trump has proven, nothing lasts forever.

“We’re going to keep on fighting for our rights,” Starkey noted. “It’s not a big party. It’s fine that people can go out to a gay bar and have fun and have a big group of gay friends. That's what we fought for. But we also have to realize that we have to keep fighting for those rights or they’ll go away.”