HRC Blog

The Fight for Equality: Tackling Obstacles for All Generations

This guest post comes from Richard L. Hillard of Little Rock, Arkansas:

I am a 75 year old gay man who just came out of the closet about one year ago.  I was born in a small Mid-Western town and as a little boy I knew I was different somehow.  As a teenager I figured how different I was, and as far as I knew, I was the only one.  I knew nothing about gay life and had no one to talk to. The only thing I did know was that being queer was something to be greatly feared, so I hid as far back in the closet as I could get.  Why I did not come out until 2011 is a long story. What matters now is the tremendous changes in public and scientific attitudes I have witnessed, and the problems that exist for older gay men.

As I can testify to for those LGBT people born in the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s, being queer was a hard life path.  Everyone else, including the experts on mental issues, thought LGBT people were sick and could be cured.  The religious said, as some extremist denominations still do, that the Bible holds that LGBT people were sinners and going to hell for an evil lifestyle choice.  This led many, especially those living in small towns, and the more conservative areas like the South and much of the West, to hide in “the closet,” as it was called, and stay there.  This meant telling no one about our sexual identity and making every effort to appear “straight,” meaning acting like we were “normal” and not queer.  Then came Stonewall.  So much since then has changed.  There are still ugly incidents and bigotry, but they’re more likely now to make the news with most community leaders condemning such behavior.  Same-sex marriages are now allowed in a number of states.  The experts in mental health organizations have concluded that LGBT people are born that way and thus, there is nothing sick or evil about them, and, therefore, nothing to fix.  And most younger gays have accepted this.

What does all this change mean to those born in the 1930s through 60s?  It means all the efforts we made to remain closeted, all the pain we suffered in repressing our sexuality, all the self-hatred we endured, are, with some exceptions, no longer necessary.  

We see so many gay youth, some in their forties, out and proud, living what for them is a normal life.  As one born in 1937 I can’t help but ask: what about me and every other gay man of the era?  How can I come out now at 74, and escape from the pain and self-loathing.  Within the LGBT equality movement I see numerous efforts to help youth come out and receive help to accept their sexual orientation or gender identity.  For some of us, watching the younger generations elicits a grieving for the past life we should have had, but were mostly denied.  The youth culture affects us every bit as much as it does straight men.  There is little help for us outside some big cities.  As we continue the important work of improving conditions for our youth, we cannot for an instant forget the profound obstacles those of us in the older generations face on a daily basis.

What are we to do about it?  Various organizations are beginning to create programs to help the older LGBT people, but many of us simply don’t have the luxury of time to wait for these programs to fully develop. What we must do is find a way to gather in groups of ten to fifteen and share our stories.  By banding together in small, informal groups and sharing our stories we realize that we’re not alone, and we create a zone of comfort that helps heal our wounds.  This is the kind of help that older LGBT Americans – both those out and still closeted – need.

We must remember that those in the older generations were the trailblazers – the experiences we lived and the obstacles we tackled played a major role in the progress we’re seeing today. As we celebrate that progress, we cannot forget the needs of all of those in our community – no matter what generation we belong to.

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