The Next Generation

In my work this summer at a queer youth center in San Francisco, I had my first experience with working among some older members of the queer community. Granted, most of them were still in their twenties and happily working for very little pay at a small nonprofit youth center, but still. I was hanging out with older queers for really the first time.

One of the things that came up a lot over the three months that I was working there was the gap between queer youth and the adult queer community. The youth center was in a house in the Castro (San Francisco's queer neighborhood), and nobody was allowed to hang out on the porch or in the back yard. According to the neighbors, the kids were too noisy and troublesome. One of the employees of the center complained to me that if there was any kind of problem in the neighborhood, the youth center always seemed to take the blame.

Now, of course sometimes teenagers are loud. But this center was a place of real productivity for a lot of these youth. It was a place where queer teens who might otherwise be at a true disadvantage (there were many homeless youth who came to the drop-in hours) could find a job for decent pay or be involved in an educational project. We played sports in the local parks, arranged field trips, and had some really intense group discussions in which I know all of us learned a lot.

And yet, to the older gay and lesbian families living around the center, we were a threat to the neighborhood. We were a pain in the ass. We were causing trouble, invading their Castro queer haven. The neighborhood association made countless restrictions on what, where, and when the youth center could do anything.

It made me wonder if the lack of continuity in the queer community isn't just the fault of disinterested youth. I have had a really hard time learning about queer history. I don't really know much about the queer activists who came before me. As the leader of a queer student group, I usually feel like the blind leading the blind. I'm really hungry for a sense of the past of our movement and the support of our predecessors.

But it's really not there. Of course I know a few older activists who have been truly supportive and helped me and my fellow youngsters learn a thing or two, but mostly it's radio silence from the older generation of gays. It's really quite disappointing.

I'd love to connect with older people, learn from their stories, soak up my history as part of a civil rights movement for people of varying sexual orientations. I really want a sense of that continuity. Maybe that's something I'll be able to work on: building a place, a group, where young and old people can connect over being somehow queer and working together for equality and respect.


On living, loving, learning, and fucking with the materials I've got at hand.

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