Older LGBTQ Folks Share The Biggest Changes That A More Accepting Society Has Caused For Them.
With some of the events that took place in 2016, it's easy to forget some of the progress made in the last century. Society's view on LGBTQ issues has come a long way, yet still has a ways to go.
Here are eleven answers to the question: "Older gay people, how noticeably different is society on a day-to-day basis with respect to gay acceptance, when compared to 10, 20, 30, 40+ years ago?"
Many thanks to the Reddit user who posed this question and to those who responded. You can check out more answers from the source at the end of this article!
1/11. I've moved around a lot in the past 30 years: Florida, Colorado, Massachusetts, and now rural Missouri. With each regional move is also a move forward or backward in time.
There was scant information on what being gay meant when I came out. Not at the public library. No internet. Very few support groups. When my folks found out, my mom didn't handle it well. She accused my father and brother of molesting me (they did not) after she had what I recall as a grueling 4-hour discussion, insisting I tell her why I was choosing this terrible life that would leave me miserable and lonely forever.
I didn't have the words on that day for "It's not a choice." All I could say was I tried to like men and had failed. She told me she never wanted to see any evidence of my lifestyle. I was never to bring over anyone I was dating, and never mention it to her again. Two years later, she sent me a newspaper clipping mentioning that researchers were suggesting homosexuality was genetic or ingrained at birth... either way, it was clear she was relieved she was not at fault for making me that way. So she began to relax gradually.
I have a lifetime of experiences that are too long to put here, but I think the most remarkable change is from the constant feeling of being on my guard when I am in public. Don't look too gay. Never speak about my personal life to anyone. Don't touch the woman I'm dating in public. Don't react to names like "dyke". Don't go to the wrong places where looking like I do would get me a preaching, and a beating by the same guy, Bible in one hand, closed fisted other hand. Don't say the wrong thing... this... this is the most. I no longer have to censor my language, to put myself on a 5-second delay from my brain to my mouth. I don't have to call the woman I'm dating my cousin or my roommate to strangers... or to co-workers. I don't have to deal with acquaintances trying to set me up with men, as a favor. (Oh my God, the awkward.)
This feeling of being on guard all the time was the norm for me. Leave the house, wear a shield, basically. I never knew how much it was part of my normal routine and my personality until the past five years or so when states began to approve same sex marriage and significant groups of non-gay people began to support it. It is such a dramatic change that I find myself not trusting it, as if it's a mistake or a ruse... some trick all these straight people are designing for some unknown purpose... I wonder if older black Americans who lived through segregation find themselves in complete distrust of someone who's white and sincerely agreeing with their legitimate complaints about living black in a white society.
2/11. My mom still tells this story.
In 4th grade a new kid joined our class. He was very feminine. In 6th grade he and my sister had a relationship. This guy was the embodiment of the gay stereotype, but we were kids and had no idea what that meant. But the parents knew what it meant.
They knew everything! A group of them had a "meeting" on how to handle the situation, the situation being my sister and him as a couple. They decided to call my mom and yell at her for not explaining to my sister what being gay was. They got mad at her for not stepping in and break them apart. Since he was gay there wouldn't be a future for them, and it could only hurt him to hide his identity.
This was a mothers only group, where they know everything. Since my mom didn't do anything about the situation, the other moms contacted the school. They demanded sex-ed for our class. We then learned what being gay was, and being kids the reaction to anything sexual was "uuuuugh!". The crazy-mother-squad was informed of our reaction to sex-ed and demanded a meeting with our class. They then told us that the new kid was gay, causing everyone to react with laughs and what not.. We were kids, didn't understand the impact of what we did..
The new kid broke up with my sister after all of this and tried to kill himself. Since he wasn't normal. The crazy-mother-squad blamed us, a bunch of 10yos.. The new kid never came back to our school. Ones out of the hospital, his father gained custody of him since his mother couldn't take care of him.
3/11. In the 70s, at the private high school I attended, lgbt issues and even our existence were unspoken, never taught and invisible. The same applied to public schools (Canada). Being different was survivable if no clear label was applied to the flavour of "different."
I was lucky: Dad was a cop and knew about such things, and we lived in a large city (Montreal) where underground cultures thrived, good and bad. But outside of those core neighbourhoods, there seemingly was no lgbt presence - if you didn't look with knowing eyes. I existed. I knew of a boy a few streets over who was gay. People knew about me. I knew of adult clubs I could enter during daylight hours to talk to the staff and entertainers. So there were "out" people, too.
This was before the internet, before there were even news or magazine articles to find and read - and I read every damn book in the libraries. Semi-pornographic little booklets were available in dirty book shops, if I was lucky enough to find any (they imported maybe a half-dozen from American publishers, and they were often seized at the border). But I had a few.
There were raids (one at a club I went to some afternoons), arrests, names in the paper alongside mentions of "lewd conduct," shaming men and ruining their lives. Never women. The papers pretended lesbians didn't exist. My Dad started showing me those small articles when I was still very young as a warning.
There were beatings and killings, too, gay bashers, mostly of prostitutes, but sometimes just men walking, or same-sex couples in the open or even at home, men and women. The 60s and 70s were bad times that way. Pride was just starting in Canada, just the minority.
I also know that that invisibility contributed to the AIDS epidemic, a disease we never knew existed until it had spread. So many gay men kept themselves apart from the community, just dropping in for nights in the clubs and sex and then leaving, anonymous. They had lives outside that they protected, or no lives and just fear.
I had friends who got sick in '82 and '83 - and never knew what killed them. Never had a name except 'pneumonia,' or 'skin cancer.'
When AIDS was named it blew the community apart, everyone choosing a camp - isolating themselves, or organizing politically, or setting up care cooperatives, or self-educating about safer sex, or whatever.
The clubs all changed, or closed from lack of business, or became 'tea houses' compared to what they'd been before. But it also led to thousands and thousands of people coming out.
4/11. I came out in the mid 80s. When I was in my thirties I remember being egged leaving a gay bar. I remember going to a gay dance/drag club back then and watching the mp's come in and drag out anyone who looked like they had a military haircut they would drag them all back to base where it became incumbent upon them to prove they were not in the military when they did, they were left right outside the base and told to find their own way back to their vehicles which were still 15 miles away back at the club welcome to military city USA san Antonio I remember being fired from a job because I was gay I remember having nasty things written on the walls of the public restroom where I worked just had a friend die his family kept mentioning his conservative values in the obits makes me wonder how much has changed they never acknowledged his contributions to our gay world here.
5/11. It's so different today that it's hard to imagine that the world I grew up gay in actually existed. When I was in high school in a country town in the 1970s, the terms "homosexual" and "lesbian" were as ugly as "paedophile" seems today. The stories that ran in newspapers were scary and the life I imagined for myself was a choice of pretending to be straight and marrying some poor woman who would never have a real relationship with me, or hiding in the shadows, finding sex wherever and whenever I could. The idea of finding someone to love and spend my life with was unimaginable.
In 1976 I left home and moved to a medium sized city for university. There was a notorious gay bar there that I was never brave enough to go to but at least I saw and met some people who were actually gay, even though I wasn't ready to come out. I discovered the cruising scene at parks and beaches and the like and that provided a somewhat scary but also somewhat exciting outlet.
Then I met some other gay guys who took me to the nearest big city, which was Sydney, with a thriving gay scene despite all the illegality. It was a world of sex-on-premises venues like bathhouses and backrooms, illegal bars and cheesy discos. It was dark and seedy and druggy and no end of fun. A moved there when I finished uni and had a wild time, having lots of sex and a few boyfriends. The world looked different already. And gay guys looked like the Village People. Then AIDS happened.
It was terrible and frightening - especially when we didn't know what it was - and lots of our friends died. But it was also a time of defiance and unity and brotherhood and Sydney was a great place to be a part of it all.
I became politically active, moved cities, worked to end laws that discriminated against gay and lesbian people. I lived to see the changes that have made the LGBT world of today bear fruit. I never dreamed people would be marching for the right to marry.
To people born in the 90s, that probably sounds like World War 2 did to me as a kid when my dad talked about it. Ancient history. But to me it's so recent.
I loved those heady days of marching in the first Mardi Gras parades and having wild sex in back room bars and having leather men walking the streets. But I'm also glad that young people today can come out and have support while they're in their teens and not fear spending their lives alone or in fake marriages and hiding in the shadows.
6/11. My great aunt is in her seventies and it is an open family secret that she is gay. My very conservative side of the family is actually pro gay rights because of how they've seen her life transpire. She's always dressed in men's clothing with a short cropped hair cut and she took on many American masculine mannerisms. But she grew up in a small southern farming town where even that was shocking. She was beaten up, made fun of, and ostracized.
As far as the family knows she never had a lover. She had her own self loathing mixed with fear that kept her from finding anyone. Over the years she got more and more bitter. She's now in a home and while she has my grandmother to call she is lonely. I think she's spent most of her life being lonely. And it's taken its toll.
I like to imagine she'll find another lonely elderly woman there who will love her and be her companion. But I think she's too broken and bitter now to let anyone in. I'm afraid she's going to die the way she lived - alone and afraid.
7/11. I'm not gay, but my brother is. Things were bad when we were young, in the 70s - nobody we knew was out, bullying was a certainty if you seemed gay, there were no accepted gay public or entertainment figures, and it was never talked about as something acceptable.
In the years since then, he has found acceptance and the ability to live life openly gay - but largely by spending his time in gay-friendly environments. But now that's no longer necessary. Now when we go places, if he's with an SO he can act completely naturally like a couple with another man, PDAs and everything, and nobody bats an eye, as far as I see.
It's a wonderful, amazing thing to have come so far in my lifetime.
8/11. When I was a kid in the early 90's, sex ed classes taught us about homosexuality. The message was pretty much "it's not super normal, but it's not their fault so you shouldn't judge."
A quick mention of bisexuals as people who are even weirder than "real" gays. No mention of trans people at all.
You couldn't just go around and tell people you were gay. Some people would be ok with it, but it definitely was the minority. The general consensus was that it was weird and gross. Guys who "looked gay" were at high risk of getting beaten up.
Today I feel like people, young people especially, are way, way more educated on what being gay, bi, trans or anything really is. Sometimes I wonder how different my high school experience would have been if I'd been a teen today.
9/11. I'm 33 and started coming out when I was 16, and then gradually came out to everyone I know. And to be honest, I think I've had it pretty good. Never had any grief or negative experiences.
I've been with my boyfriend for nine years and we live together. Whenever I meet anyone new, I casually mention my boyfriend, so that deals with the coming out issue.
So all in all I think I've had it pretty good. I think if I did meet anyone and they had a negative reaction to me being gay, I'd just tell them to mess off. Life's too short and I'm much more comfortable in my skin in my 30s than I was in my 20s.
10/11. I am currently teaching in the high school I attended as a student. When I was there ten years ago, there was only maybe one person in the school of over 1000 that was out. Now, hardly anyone bats an eye. I have straight students that get angry at the thought that people would be made to feel bad for who they are. So that's pretty great.
The accessibility of gay people in media has also made a really big difference. Growing up, most gay celebrities and role models were very flamboyant and performative. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that but it makes it difficult to identify with when you're not someone who is particularly performative.
The last thing I will say is that social media has made dating infinitely easier than I could have imagined as a kid.
11/11. My brother is ten years younger than me; he's seventeen, eighteen soon. I'm gay, he isn't. He goes to the same school I went to.
When I was there? No out gay kids.
For him? There have been two/three out guys in his year since they were all thirteen/fourteen.
Honestly, I'm kind of envious. I didn't realise my sexuality till I was 17 and didn't come out till 19.
BONUS: I'm gay and I'm 28... Not sure that that counts as "older" but I'll answer anyway.
I think that my time in high school was actually a major cultural transition time. I graduated in 2005 so was there 2001-2005. The world changed a LOT in those 4 years, as you might imagine.
My high school had a gay/straight alliance. I remember in my first year it had about 3 members (in a school of ~2000 students). Their posters were ripped down or vandalized as soon as they went up. Members got harassed in the hallways. Teachers didn't seem too interested in doing anything about it. Gay slurs were heard thrown around all the time.
By the time I graduated the club had around 50 active members, making it one of the largest after school clubs at the school aside from things like sports and musicals. We had 200 people sign up to do the Day of Silence my senior year, and I hear it was up to 500 the year after I graduated. The environment for queer kids at the school was DRAMATICALLY different. Gay slurs were way less common to hear and more likely to be met with a negative reaction (either by fellow students or by teachers). Our valedictorian was an out gay guy and talked about his coming out experience in his graduation speech and how he was so supported by faculty members.
I'm not sure what happened within those few years to change everything. It was subtle. There were a few national milestones- sodomy laws were overturned by SCOTUS, gay marriage was legalized in MA (we were just a few states over in NJ), Christina Agulara released her "I Am Beautiful" music video (which I know sounds silly, but at the time it was such a big deal- she was one of the biggest pop stars in the world and she was saying gay and trans people are beautiful). The school's culture just slowly shifted.
It was kind of cool to be able to be part of the generation that saw this big change.
In most situations, when you're hurt by someone, it can be best to just forgive and forget. However, there are some people that can't help but hold grudges. Sometimes it can just be petty, but other times, it can be for very valid reasons.
HeySistaBrutus asked: What are you STILL mad about?