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LGBT youth meet their elders

Generations (Part 3 - Advice and Questions)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Last week, the Blade invited five LGBT youth and five LGBT elders from the D.C. area to our offices for a roundtable discussion about issues facing the community.

With Stonewall’s 40th anniversary later this month and Pride celebrations this weekend, it seemed an apt time to explore some of the generational differences in the community.

Karen Taylor, director of advocacy and training at Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders, moderated the discussion, which tackled a wide range of topics, including coming out, changing perceptions of HIV and violence. Andrew Barnett, executive director of the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, also joined the discussion and offered insights into some of the challenges that LGBT youth face today. Below is an edited transcript of the discussion that unfolded over three hours.


Karen: On intergenerational panels, there’s this assumption that people who are considered elders in the community speak about their lives in the past tense, because everything you did that’s important you did in the past. You’re there to give great wisdom to the youth of our community.

So I want to turn this around because I don’t believe anybody in this room is living life in the past tense and I’m going to going to ask all the people here as youth to think of a piece of wisdom that you want to give to your elders about your community and your experiences that you think is important for them to know. And I want the elders in this room to think of a question that you want to know about what life is like experienced today as a young person living in D.C. in the LGBT community.

Terra: For me, don’t make assumptions. The body that I’m in, the life that I’m living, you couldn’t possibly begin to fathom how it works for me. Keep an open mind and an open heart when I speak so that you hear me, instead of that “I already know what you’re going through” thing, because I promise you, not from this body, you haven’t.

Nick: What is it that causes us to self identify as a community? Is there something other than sexual orientation that binds the so-called community? I think that a word like empathy might be there. When you talk about the AIDS crisis and you and others who went to visit and provide comfort for these people. The thing about the AIDS thing, which was one of the most awful aspects, was that so many of these people died alone. Their parents would not touch them. Only the gay community would rally and be there for them. I think that there is a quality of empathy that we share in the experience of being LGBT, not just the fact that we have a shared sexual orientation that overcomes barriers and binds the community.

John: Growing up, all of us experienced the reason that our parents give us, “I’m the Mom,” or “I’m the Dad.” And so I say to the younger folks, “Teach me, I don’t know everything.” Contrary to what my parents said, that they knew everything, they didn’t and I swore I wouldn’t become my parents.

Alan: So much of what I have experienced in life was barrier after barrier. After a while that begins to wear down your thinking. “Here’s another one I’ve got to get across. Why do I have to get across this? Because I am this kind of person.” What I’d like to ask is, do you see that? Do you see the same kind of barriers or do you see more possibilities? And if that’s the case, what does that do to give you a much wider view of life than maybe some of us ever had.

Laurie: What I’d like to ask is don’t make me invisible. Let me be in the world. I don’t have to be in your world, but don’t make me invisible.

Rainey: I use an expression all the time — I’m not the enemy. If we can learn to see each other and respect each other across the table, a lot more can happen, there’s many more possibilities. So it’s more of a challenge. How do we meet in the middle? Let us know how we can help you, and on this side of the table we have to be mindful that when they ask for help to back them up.

Parí: Live life. You can continue to help us. When we tell the older generations things, please be receptive to what we’re saying. You can continue to make history by helping us.

Richael: Continue leading lives you wish us to lead. If you envision an anti-violent world don’t do violence in your life.

Antoine: You all are here, you all live lives, we live ours, you all paved the way. But at the same time, we’re also paving our own way. You are here to teach, but at the same time, allow yourselves to be taught by us. We’ve all heard “been there, done that,” but what you did was 10, 20, 30 years ago, and some of it isn’t an issue anymore. We have to deal with our own challenges now. We always need to be taught and have a guide.

Tim: At this point in my life, all my barriersare about to drop because I’m like, I’m living life for me and not for the adults, I’m not saying the hell with what you’re all saying, but it’s my decision I’m going to make.

Andrew: One of the themes throughout this conversation has been challenges we’ve all faced. I think about how LGBT youth are defined by the risks that they face — being at risk for HIV, being at risk for suicide, being at risk for bullying and harassment. One of the joys of my job is working with young people and seeing their tremendous wisdom. I see capacity in all of you as leaders and the time is soon coming when you will lead all of us. You’re stepping into a world that is fraught with challenges, some that past generations have not encountered before. And so my question is, picturing 25, 30, 40 years from now, sitting at this table on the other side of the table, how will you meet those challenges? How will you not let yourself be defined by these challenges? What will your legacy be?

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