Bridging the LGBTQ Generation Gap
Jun 27, 2019
The LGBTQ community is often referred to as a “family,” with the connotation being that it is a supportive, close-knit group of people. According to researchers, however, the analogy is particularly salient when it comes to another, not-so-positive aspect of families: generation gaps. More than 60 percent of LGBTQ elders report feeling an isolating lack of companionship; two in five feel disconnected from the younger LGBTQ community. (This is especially true for survivors of the AIDS epidemic.)
In memory of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, the filmmaker Ivan Cash brought pairs of LGBTQ-identifying people of different ages together to explore their similarities and differences. His short documentary—a shorter version of which appears in Airbnb’s World Pride campaign—pairs older members of the community with younger ones. The conversations are intimate, revealing, and sometimes difficult.
“There’s been so much change in this community that we were keen to gather members of the community to discuss these different experiences and perspectives head-on,” Cash told me.
In the film, one pair struggle to forge a connection when the younger introduces himself as “he/him.” He asks the older woman about her pronouns, and she admits, flustered, that she doesn’t know what a pronoun is.
Another pair lament the existence of the gulf between them. “There’s a lack of trust on the part of the older generation to the younger one,” says the older woman. “We seem to believe that there’s nothing we can tell you, because you’re not going to listen.”
“That gap took away the conversation,” her younger counterpart says. “It took away the part where we can actually come together and talk about the issues of our community.”
Michael Adams, the CEO of SAGE, a research organization that advised Cash on the film, says that younger and older LGBTQ generations are “disproportionately fractured.”
“Wisdom isn’t being passed down between generations anymore,” adds Charlie Pitre Hoy-Ellis, a researcher on LGBTQ aging at the University of Utah. “The intergenerational gap is dividing the community.”
This gap can be attributed to many factors, according to the researchers Glenda M. Russell and Janis S. Bohan. Among them are “the radical discrepancy between the life of today’s LGBT youths and that of their elders when they were young, the pervasive age-segregation within LGBT communities, the extreme speed of change that renders today’s certainties tomorrow’s irrelevancies, and the very common … tendency for each generation to dismiss the other’s perspective.”
Over the course of the conversations in the film, it’s clear that the participants benefit greatly from expressing themselves and listening to others. “I think every single participant experienced a shift through these conversations,” Cash said.
Richard Haines, who participated in the documentary, told me that the experience was particularly emotional for him. He was paired with a woman, Leah, who is his daughter’s age, and their discussion triggered a painful memory.
“My daughter is 22 and came out a couple of years ago,” he said. “But when she was younger, she asked me if I was gay and I said yes. And for a moment, she kind of pulled away from me. It was kind of excruciating, and I wondered, What if she doesn’t love me? In my generation, growing up being gay was tied to a self-loathing—that if we say who we are, we will be loved less.”
Haines also appeared in clips from the branded version of the film, which Airbnb promoted across New York City. “On a personal level, to go from growing up closeted to my face on bus-shelter kiosks as a gay man ... it’s pretty extraordinary,” he said. “It sounds corny, but it is an honor to be that person—to have that opportunity.”
As for the generation gap, “it’s a challenge,” he said. “It’s an ongoing conversation that has to [continue] after Pride Month.”
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Author: Emily Buder
About This Series
A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.