Perhaps more than any other generation, we gay Baby Boomers in the U.S., and elsewhere, have been confronted with seismic challenges, as well as extraordinary opportunities, in our lives, most especially in the images we, and others, have of being gay.

We’ve gone in record time from being thought of as child molesters, to proud parents of biological, adopted, and foster children.

We were born into a culture that considered our natural sexual attractions to be psychologically disordered, and morally impoverished. “Homo,” “Dyke,” and “Queer,” were the worst things one could be labeled on our school’s playgrounds.

We were invisible in the library and textbooks. In stories and cinema, we were the most loathsome of all creatures.

Transgender people in our age group were often confused with us. Most people thought, and some still do, that gay men wished they were women, and lesbians wished they were men.

The derogatory term “He-She” was commonly used, and psychiatrists referred to people who were transgender as having the “psychopathological condition of gender identity disorder.” One tragic outcome of such ignorance and taboo was transgender people trying on their own to remove their genitals with kitchen utensils, and dying as a result.

Several things contributed to the “Sexual Revolution” of the 1960s, which challenged not just the cultural moral codes on sexual behavior, but also the meaning of being “male” or “female.” The ultimate result of that convergence of “Free Love” and feminism was the emergence of gay identity, a lesbian identity, a bisexual identity, and transgender identity.

I was in college when transgender and gay people fought the police at the Compton Cafeteria, and later at the Stonewall Inn. Then, everything changed, including the image we had of ourselves. “Gay is good,” we insisted to ourselves and to others. We weren’t sad mistakes, but rather proud warriors in the fight for freedom.

But Gay Liberation required that we make the very personal, courageous decision to step forward, and put a face on the issue. “Coming out,” was the hardest, most costly choice we had ever made. Not everyone could do it, because naming ourselves as “homosexual,” “bisexual,” or “transgender” led us into a no-return life outside of broad social acceptance.

Many of us were kicked out of our families, fired from our jobs, and condemned by our denominations as a result. Coming out as gay or transgender ended marriages, and often meant the loss of contact and relationships with one’s children.

Opposition to gay rights, and to reproductive rights, have been the biggest, most successful fundraising issues in conservative circles, and in fundamentalist religions, for the past 50 years. Careers in political office, and in the pulpit, have been made by vitriolic campaigns against us.

We were “deviants,” who aggressively tried to recruit innocent children, according to the lies told by Anita Bryant, Jerry Falwell, Fred Phelps, and most other Evangelicals. But, their public crusades against our civil rights emboldened most of us, rather than scared us off, and they forced our family and friends to take a stand. “Are gay people children of God?” “Is it a choice?”

In 1982, we not only were feared as preying on innocent children, but, even scarier, as carriers of imminent death. AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) was originally called GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency) and, “the gay cancer.” We were young men and women who lived in fear of contracting, through sex, a deadly disease, and were the generation who cared for and buried thousands of our young friends, because their own families would have nothing to do with them. Neither would many funeral homes, churches, and cemeteries. We said, “Silence Equals Death.” They said, “Gay Equals Death.” “AIDS is God’s Punishment.”

Once again, rather than be defeated by the culture of sickness and death that threatened our future, our community, and our allies, became strengthened in our resolve to overcome fear, and fight back against our foes in the media, politics, and in the churches. We did so by organizing and lobbying our religious, political, and corporate leaders, forming our own health care, community and youth centers, marching annually in Gay Pride parades, and creating the largest, most magnificent folk art artifact in American history: The Quilt.

We started newspapers and radio programs, created a flag, wrote books, songs, and TV and movie scripts, ran for office, and embraced every related group within our ranks. We morphed from the Gay Liberation Movement into the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Non-Binary Community.

Hundreds of LGBT organizations were formed in high schools, colleges, places of employment, churches, in every profession, and in every city and state. We created national watchdog and advocacy organizations for the law, media, and elections. We argued civil cases at every level, and succeeded in overturning all laws that criminalized sexual behavior between consenting adults, and in securing anti-discrimination laws, and the right to marry.

COVID didn’t target LGBT people, but Baby Boomers made up the bulk of its death toll. The health care of aging gay and transgender people had been a concern before the world pandemic, with groups such as SAGE (Senior Action in a Gay Environment) forming to address all issues related to aging. Where 60 years ago, older gay men were dismissed, especially in our own community, as “bitter old queens,” LGBT seniors today have a good chance of being seen as valued pioneers whose stories need to be recorded.

Internalized homophobia and heterosexism are vestiges of growing up lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in the 1950s. The now commonly embraced word “queer” is laden with painful memories for LGBT Baby Boomers. Many older people continue to work on issues of shame, unless they have involved themselves in the liberation movement. Some older members of our community never came out to their parents, and thus live with questions as to whether they would ever have had a place in the family as their true selves.

Nevertheless, despite the bad memories of isolation, fear, loneliness, and shame that some older lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people have in much larger doses than the generations that followed, we also have the unparalleled delight of appreciating how much better our life is today than when we were adolescents and teenagers.

Today, the words “homo,” “fag,” and “dyke,” are considered hateful language, eschewed by the majority of people. Most mainline Christian and Jewish denominations embrace that being gay or transgender is “God’s intention,” and gladly marry same-sex couples. Even a conservative Christian adoption agency recently announced they would no longer bar gay people from being foster or adoptive parents.

Where before, LGBT seniors would have felt it essential to our safety to stay in the closet, now we have the option of living in the gay section of town, going on vacations designed for gay travelers, worshipping with a gay pastor, or rabbi, and seeing an LGBT doctor, dentist, attorney, vet, real estate agent, therapist, and banker. There are all-gay meetings for those dealing with substance abuse, loneliness, and spiritual hunger, and all-gay book clubs, softball teams, and retirement communities.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer seniors can feel enormous gratitude that we were fortunate enough to live during the most dramatic cultural shift in our history, and be proud of the huge role we played in bringing it about. Gray hair and wrinkles should be proud representations of the challenging, but most successful, lives we often heroically lived.


Two Guys and A Dog is a semi-regular column from Brian McNaught, who has been a leading educator on LGBTQ issues globally since 1974. Visit Brian-McNaught.com to access his books and DVDs for free. “No one has done a better job of chronicling what it is like to be gay in America.” – Former U.S. Congressman Barney Frank.


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