Several days ago, a Huffington Post blogger posted an article titled “Sitting Out Pride This Year,” which lamented the hijacking of Pride celebrations by major corporations – particularly those that make their profits from sales of alcoholic beverages. Hundreds of people commented on this post, and these comments ranged from this:
Amen! I did not go to Pride this year for exactly the same reasons. Thanks for saying it so clearly.
Our community is under attack . . . Sit out pride? I think not.
But it was this statement that really got me thinking:
Our first Pride March was held in 1985. At night, downtown. There were 60 of us. People threw bricks and bottles at us. This year attendance is expected to be over 4,000. It is being advertised on TV, even. Perhaps the author is too young and spoiled to understand how these things began. How hard it was at the beginning, the price those of us who are over 50 paid so he can gripe about “corporate sponsorship.”
The same day I read the Huffington Post article (and comments), Routledge LGBT Studies (which you can “like” on Facebook) posted a free-access article on their page from the Journal of Gerontological Social Work titled, “Lesbian and Gay Elders and Long-Term Care: Identifying the Unique Psychosocial Perspectives and Challenges,” authored by Gary Stein and Nancy Beckerman of Yeshiva University and Patricia Sherman of Kean University. I don’t know about you, but when I read a comment about the “young and spoiled,” and then later I come across an article about the “unique challenges” of lesbian and gay elders, I take it as a sign and pay attention. So I read the article, and I wanted to share some thoughts about it – and about how times, and people, have changed.
First, let’s take stock of the social, political, and cultural landscape for LGBTQ people who are currently 65 or older:
- They were born in 1947 or earlier. Some were very young children during World War II.
- Their formative elementary school years spanned the McCarthy Era, during which time anyone remotely associated with the Communist party or with leftist politics (including lesbians and gay men) were persecuted by the U.S. government.
- They were at least 10 years old in 1957, when Evelyn Hooker published her groundbreaking study demonstrating that gay men are just as psychologically well-adjusted as heterosexual men.
- They were at least 22 years old in 1969 when the Stonewall Riots took place – and it’s highly likely that members of this age cohort participated in that event.
- They were at least 26 years old when, in 1973, the American Psychiatric Associaton removed the diagnosis of “homosexuality” from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
- They were at least 35 years old in 1981, when AIDS was discovered in the United States.
- And, in 1985, when the above commenter participated in his first Pride march they were, well, the age I am now, in 2012.
If you think about it, these are the people who lived through the worst kinds of homophobia. But they are also pioneers of the LGBTQ rights movement. Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, both in their early 30s at the time, formed the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian rights organization, at the height of the McCarthy era in 1955. Frank Kameny, who was born in 1925 and died last October, co-founded the Mattachine Society in 1961. ACT UP was founded in 1987 by LGBT activist Larry Kramer, who was 52 years old at the time. And if it wasn’t for Craig Rodwell, who, at 29 years old, organized the first Gay Pride march in New York City in 1969, we wouldn’t have the privilege of discussing whether or not to “sit out Pride.”
You know what’s really sad? Our elders clearly did the heavy lifting of political activism so that life would be easier for the next generations of LGBTQ people. But by the same token, our elders are now caught in the ugly confluence of homophobia and aging. Although many LGBTQ elders were pioneers and activists, many were not – they had internalized the cultural attitudes of the time period in which they grew up. And, sadly, these internalized attitudes, coupled with ageism and homophobia in our culture, appear to contribute to some troubling outcomes for LGBTQ elders. According to the Journal of Gerontological Social Work article, which qualitatively assessed their comfort level with being open about their sexual identites in retirement communities, in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, and to health care staff and other service providers:
- LGBTQ elders feared being rejected or neglected by health care providers. This fear was particularly strong with regard to personal care aides, who have one-on-one contact with elders and would be more likely to perpetrate discrimination and abuse.
- LGBTQ elders feared not being accepted and respected by other residents. More than 80% of participants reported experiencing discrimination and stigma from their neighbors.
- LGBTQ elders feared having to go back into the closet if placed in a mainstream long-term care facility (and more than half indicated that they would stay in the closet).
Although we’ve come a long way, we’ve still got a long way to go. How ironic that our LGBTQ elders who planted the seeds of Pride for us seem to be so marginalized from the very community they created. I’m reminded that I have good reason to be grateful for all the strides our community has made, and that Pride is a call for me to “give back what we have so generously been given” (to plagiarize an oft-quoted phrase from Alcoholics Anonymous). Today, on the day of the 42nd annual San Francisco Pride celebration (which, by the way, is the largest LGBT event in the United States), this is a good mantra to hold in my heart.
You can access the Journal of Gerontological Social Work article by clicking this link: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/01634372.2010.496478
“Sitting Out Pride This Year” can be accessed by clicking this link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/justin-adkins/sitting-out-pride-this-year_b_1587044.html