January 25, 2008

Don't ask me: Where are the young gays?

I've been talking with friends about several incidents recently involving somewhat formalized panel discussions or informal discussions at LGBT events which turned into a bunch of veteran gay activists lamenting about questions like "where are all the young gays" or "why aren't the young gays stepping up and becoming a part of the movement."

I take offense to that for a variety of reasons. Firstly, in the younger generation I know very few people who would talk about "the young gays." We are a part of an LGBT movement. We work in coalition with people working on other issues like poverty, immigration, and racism.

Secondly, if you are in an organization that consists only of people in your age group, it probably only appeals to your age group for some reason. That doesn't necessarily make it bad. Just know that if your organization doesn't target things we care about, then we probably have a few organizations that for some reason or other don't seem to resonate with you.

Thirdly, who the hell is staffing the organizations you are fundraising for or talking about? Walk nearly into any LGBT non-profit, volunteer organization, or activist group, or allied group that works for justice for another group that includes LGBT folks, and you'll see a staff at least half full of people under 30, a ton of young volunteers, and a plethora of young interns. We are here! We are hard at work!

I recognize that generations before us did a lot of work to get us where we are today. I recognize that those of you asking these questions have put in a lot of hard work, and have worked many more hours than I have, or than have my friends. But don't tell us that we're not fucking here! Perhaps we are not at the fundraiser type of event you are talking about because we've spent the 9 to 5 working with LGBT youth, or we are busy helping out at a GSA event for people even younger than us, we're out of town door-knocking for a candidate we believe in as we await a primary, we're attending an event supporting immigrants who are being screwed by the government - especially when those immigrants are LGBT, or we are protesting the demolition of a housing project - yes, the residents included LGBT people. We're not at this particular fund raiser, yes, perhaps that's true (although I've heard this said in front of a bunch of young people). But why do you assume that means we're not with the movement?

When you ask where we are, often this comes along with a comment that you think it's because young LGBT people haven't seen hardship. It's true that we didn't see the height of the horror you saw of the early AIDS epidemic, but we see horror. My LGBT and ally friends and I know people who have committed or attempted suicide, who have been killed, who have been thrown out, who have lost jobs or feared losing them, who have hidden parts of their identities and lives because of potential discrimination (whether real or feared), have been yelled at and called names, and have experienced sexual violence. Don't act like our lives are that as easy as cake just because our challenges aren't the same as yours are or because what we go through isn't always public or in your face. We're doing all we can to support each other and others in our community. You are welcome to join us, of course.

Yes, we need more people to be involved. Yes, we're not all here. You're not all here either. I know that it's frustrating that things haven't changed more but blaming LGBT young people instead of the real bad guys isn't going to do anything to help! We ARE here. We ARE NOT "the young gays." We're here, we're queer (or LGBT), get used to it.


icarus said...

i'm young and queer! go me!

i mean, seriously. when i first got to college, maybe i thought there weren't that many queer women. now, i could name over a hundred off the top of my head. some people are still closeted, or their lovers or partners are closeted. sometimes people are still figuring out how they want to be involved, when they want to be visible, and the issues they want to work on. but honestly, college far surpassed any expectations i might have had about the number of queer people, their passion, and their work.

plus, what about our allies? they stand by us, stand up for us, and are generally pretty amazing. i don't really think we need labels so much as a group of motivated, passionate young people to talk back to a society that can be so oppressive. i think that Quench is one such community. so are my college friends and so are the Boston-area LGBT people and their allies who work for change.

so, i would say to those people, take a second and look around. you might see me and not know i'm one of the "young gays." that's because we don't all look, act, or express ourselves the same way. but we are here and we care.


Anonymous said...

You are right. I should have said LGBTQQAAI.


emily2 said...

Perhaps we are not at the fundraiser type of event you are talking about because...

...it costs $400 a plate to go to a fundraising dinner, and we young'uns are all swimming in debt and barely able to pay back our student loans, perhaps? maybe?

Mark D. Snyder said...

Here here!!!

Now I hear both ageism and adultism coming from lgbt people.

But on the topic of Adults making comments about queer youth I get very frustrated.

I hear comments putting down youth at gay events and in bars etc.

It's frustrating because you are right we are out there volunteering, speaking out, working coalitions etc. -

And what are the major gay rights organizations doing for us?

Have they prioritized youth issues? No. They released a report about the epidemic of homelessness but what have HRC or even NGLTF really done to solve the crisis? Most of their money and energy is still being thrown towards marriage is it not?

Things may be different in this day and age but queer youth still face many of the same struggles - just ask the staff at BAGLY.

And if you want to see young people doing amazing things look no further than quench, queertoday, bagly, boston glass, young people volunteering in presidential campaigns, the young people working in the many non profits in boston, etc. etc.