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Derek Baugh, a 28-year-old transgender man in Atlanta, agrees — somewhat. “Every group has its own issues, but sometimes it feels as if the older generation doesn’t believe our issues or experiences,” he says. “They tell us that we don’t know how hard they had it coming up. We’re not supposed to know how hard it was. We’ll never know what they went through. They went through it, so we don’t have to. We know that — and thank you. We have our issues that we’re passionate about.”
The 49th Annual Pride Festival and Parade makes its way down Peachtree Street Sunday, Oct 13, 2019. Photo: STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Two factors define the generations — creating a community and AIDS. LGBT baby boomers were mostly in the closet afraid of being outed, losing their jobs and families, possibly their lives — and, often tried to maintain an aura of respectability via being married and having children. "There were people who never were able to come out," says Nasheedah Muhammad, 45, co-executive director of Lost-n-Found Youth, a nonprofit that addresses issues of homelessness. "It wasn't even on their radar."
Generation X found strength in numbers. “We were the support group generation. We went to youth groups at the Atlanta Gay and Lesbian Center. That’s how we built our community,” says Muhammad.
Today’s gay youth are connected no matter where they live. They are more integrated into the mainstream and find it easier to navigate their sexuality within society, says Muhammad. “Things are still hard, but it’s hard in different ways,” she says.
The internet has changed everything for younger people, says Anderson. Today, younger gay men and women easily can connect with others like them. “I’m the bridge generation where we met people in bookstores, bars and meetings and feel grateful for that,” he says. “But it also can be hard for younger people. Try being the only gay person in your small town, going on the internet and measuring yourself up against a lot of people. It can bring on self-esteem issues, and we’ve not dealt with that.”
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Pride month commemorates the Stonewall Inn riots.
Some believe, for the younger generation, safety issues are not foremost on their minds. “They didn’t have to fight for the right to exist,” says Dr. Katie Acosta, associate professor of sociology and an affiliate faculty member for women and gender sexuality studies at Georgia State University. “I don’t want to say that the younger generation hasn’t had to fight for their rights, but they kind of pushed themselves in a different direction. That is where the gap is with this younger generation.”
Paul Conroy, founder and producing artistic director of the Out Front Theatre, adds that young people still wrestle with prejudice and living in the closet. “That’s not to say that there aren’t younger people still experiencing that prejudice of not living their true selves, but they aren’t going to have to replay “Don’t ask, don’t tell” or marriage equality. They have other issues.”
Paul Conroy is the founder and artistic creative director of the Out Front Theatre Co., which is an LGBTQ theater company on the west side of Atlanta. Contributed by the Out Front Theatre Co.
The AIDS crisis was another defining time. AIDS has killed more than 700,000 people since 1981, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Anderson says there is a “huge generational gap” between those who survived the AIDS and those who came after. “To live without that fear is really revolutionary, even in COVID times. There are definitely generation differences,” he says.
Gay pride participants ride in a convertible during a gay pride march in Atlanta, Georgia on June 21, 1980. Photo: KENNETH WALKER / THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Conroy worries about the recklessness of youth. “I feel youth, in general, have an air of invincibility. Especially now with HIV affecting so many people and with so many gay men on prep (AZT, a drug that slows down or stops the virus’ growth), I fear younger men are just ignoring the health recommendations about AIDS and even with this pan-demic. It’s really hard for older generations who saw their friends being just wiped away to see this.”
“HIV is absolutely a problem, and black trans women are disproportionately affected,” says Baugh. “Concern for people with HIV should be paramount. I want to know why people living with HIV and AIDS are going without housing or access to services.”
Adding, “People say look how far we’ve come; I say look how far we have to go.”
Issues under the rainbow flag
As the world changes and progress is made, the issues confronting generations have changed, although some still remain. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to discrimination in the workplace against people who are LGBT. Concerns within the gay community include inequities regarding marriage, homelessness and how others describe, reference and label the LGBT community.
On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all bans on same-sex marriage, legalizing it nationwide. Five years earlier Kirsten Ott Palladino co-founded Equally Wed, an Atlanta-based online wedding magazine, book and education resource for LGBT couples.
“For today’s generation, getting married isn’t an issue. I’m not sure they understand how hard it was before,” she says. “We have people getting married at 22. Whereas we’ve featured octogenarians who have been together 50 years waiting for this moment.”
Kirsten Ott-Palladino is the co-founder of Equally Wed, an online publication dedicated to LGBTQIA+ weddings. Contributed by Heidi Geldhauser.
That gap may foster some jealousy among Boomers, Conroy adds. “It’s heartbreaking to see older people who have been with their partners for decades and never were able to be legally married because their partner passed away. Today you can get married, go on a honeymoon, have kids. Younger people take that for granted. Older people may be a bit jealous.”
About 40 percent of all homeless youth are gay, according to a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA Law. A 2018 study by Georgia State University and Atlanta Youth Count found that nearly 44 percent of LGBT youth experience trafficking in comparison to 35 percent of their straight peers while homeless.
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Lost-n-Found works closely with homeless youth. Particularly affected by homelessness is the transgender population. "Housing is a major concern for people with HIV and who are trans," Baugh says. "This is a very vulnerable population." Adding to the situation is the lack of health care, again with the trans population being more affected. "There is a lack of health providers who know about the issues facing the trans population," he adds.
Words are another sticking point. “It involves the terminology used to describe themselves,” says Acosta. “The younger people are using the word ‘queer’ to reclaim a once derogatory term. The older generation struggles with that because, for them, that word often involved physical threats and violence.”
And the beat goes on
Jeff Graham, 55, is the executive director of Georgia Equality, a local organization that aims to advance fairness, safety and opportunity for LGBT communities. Graham moved to Georgia 31 years ago when the then-state attorney general Mike Bowers was defending sodomy laws. “I couldn’t believe the court was rejecting my humanity and actually had an interest in my sexuality,” he says. “Fast forward and the debates about our rights are still ongoing.”
In 2015, Georgia Equality hired Bowers to fight two religious liberty bills facing the legislature. “It just shows that if you stay engaged and live long enough things can change. No matter how bad it can seem, it’s not trite to say that it does get better,” he says. “You have to meet people where they are and give them space to open there hearts and minds. It’s a privilege to see that work time and time again.”