“Be really afraid right now,” says Alston Green, 71, to LGBTQ people, especially the young.
Don Bell is concerned that “all of our work over the last 72 years is in jeopardy.”
“Fight like hell – vote,” says 75-year-old Lujira Cooper.
Green, Bell, and Cooper are among the LGBTQ elders who are concerned that the hard-won gains made by their Stonewall generation may be jeopardized.
According to the Equality Federation, 316 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced so far in 2022, ranging from “don’t say gay” bills to health care access restrictions to youth sports bans. An increase in anti-LGBTQ threats and violence shook normally upbeat Pride celebrations.
Then came the thunderclap in June: the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade – and a concurring opinion by Associate Justice Clarence Thomas urging the court to “reconsider” other rights, such as gay marriage.
According to a report by the Movement Advancement Project and SAGE, an advocacy group for LGBTQ seniors, there are nearly 3 million LGBTQ adults over the age of 50 in the United States. According to the report, 1.1 million of those are 65 and older, with one in every five being a person of color. According to the report, one-third of LGBTQ seniors live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.
LGBTQ elders, sometimes referred to as the “first generation,” face challenges similar to those faced by other seniors, but made more difficult by a lifetime of dealing with bias, isolation, and housing and health care issues, according to Michael Adams, CEO of SAGE.
Although much progress has been made over the years, Adams believes that LGBTQ seniors should be concerned in the current climate. More elderly people may be denied admission to nursing homes, and others may feel compelled to “hide who they are, hide their pictures, and pretend they are heterosexual.”
Green is a long-time activist with a thriving career in design. He came out in the summer of 1969 while studying at the Parsons School of Design in New York, a city he remembers as pulsing with energy and opportunities for self-expression.
Green preferred ballrooms to the bar scene, which he claims was not always friendly to people of color. However, the Stonewall Inn uprising, which sparked the gay rights movement, was historic. “People had had enough of what was being thrown at them,” he explained.
Cooper, who overcame poverty and homelessness to become a successful writer, is unsurprised by recent negative shifts in rights. “Authors have been telling us for years about this possibility,” Cooper said, citing the 1935 political novel “It Can’t Happen Here” about the rise of a US dictator. “It’s no longer it can’t happen here, it’s more like it might happen here.”
Cooper is concerned for LGBTQ seniors who may not receive the help they require if they are afraid to reach out.
Cooper believes it is critical to elect people who will restore freedoms, and she hopes that young people will join her in this effort. “Older LGBTQ people should inform their grandchildren, nieces, and nephews that if they can take away my rights, they can take away yours.”
Bell, who worked in higher education administration, can trace his activism back to the shocking death of Emmitt Till when he was only five years old. “It was the first time I witnessed adults crying in public,” he said. “And for the first time, I realized there was danger in my being a boy born with Black skin.”
Bell, a single parent of two sons, faced a more daunting challenge in recent years after being a longtime caregiver for his parents, a challenge that many older LGBTQ seniors face: housing. “I had to live my own life as an aging Black gay man,” he realized after losing his beloved mother. How was that going to look? My first concern was where I would live.”
LGBTQ seniors have always been vulnerable, he says, and housing issues are often at the top of the list. Bell was fortunate to win a lottery for Chicago’s first LGBTQ-inclusive senior residence, despite her concerns about socialization, safe spaces, and acceptance.