Why the Future of the LGBTQ+ Rights Movement Is in Good Hands

Today’s LGBTQ+ youth are just the latest generation to experience 2,500 years of elder hand-wringing

Every generation that has ever existed on the planet, it appears, has complained about its younger generations. In the 4th century B.C.E., to cite one example, Aristotle wrote:

[Young people] are high-minded because they have not yet been humbled by life, nor have they experienced the force of circumstances… They think they know everything, and are always quite sure about it.

Psychologists have studied the why behind it. And at the heart of the phenomenon, they seem to agree, is flawed memory of what younger generations were like in the past, especially one’s own. As the poet Adrienne Rich put it, “Nostalgia is only amnesia turned around.”

This creates divisive and unhelpful generational feuds. So, as one writer confidently predicts: “Today’s ‘OK boomer’ Gen Z will complain about the youth one day.”

“It’s safe to assume this is an immortal aspect of human society: Young people always exist, and older people will always complain about them. Young people, in turn, always say, ‘Ugh, old people just don’t get it.’”

One only need to pay a fleeting attention to social media to hear constant complaints about younger generations who just aren’t like the way we oldsters never were. They’re based on conservative frames that are often repeated by the most liberal people.

And they’re wholly lacking in any evidence except oft-repeated personal tales. Even though the actual data contradicts these claims as Alfie Kohen pointed out in The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom about Children and Parenting, they persist:

Rarely are any real data cited — either about the prevalence of what’s being described or the catastrophic effects being alleged. Instead writers tend to rely primarily on snarky anecdotes, belaboring them to give the impression that these carefully chosen examples are representative of the general population, along with quotes from authors who accept and restate the writer’s thesis about permissive parents and entitled kids who have never experienced failures. Oddly, though, even as these writers repeat what everyone else is saying, they present themselves as courageous contrarians who are boldly challenging the conventional wisdom.

Are things different, generation to generation? Of course. If there’s one constant about history, it’s characterized by change.

And younger generations have been caught up in the older generations’ financially beneficial industrial and technological advances for millennia. Recent generations have hardly known a time when there were no smart phones. And you can be sure that the people making money off of investing in and selling all that technology to them are the older generations who might be complaining about it.

But all that talk about how young people have got it so much better, just doesn’t help. It’s plainly destructive. And it feels as if it arises out of unhealed hurt and pain of each older generation that envies the younger ones who actually have different challenges to face in different ways.

It’s these younger generations today who have to experience school intruder and active shooter drills and what they mean. It’s these generations that have to cope with older-peoples’ blatant ignorance and prejudice about gender identification and LGBTQ+ people as the right-wing ramps them up.

It’s these generations that are flooded with so much media, social and otherwise, that it’s difficult to sort it out. It’s these generations whose minds must sort through all the right-wing hooey pushed on them about vaccinations, drugs, immigration, global warming, gender, and on and on.

It’s these generations who’ve been brought up with the technology that older generations profit from hoping they can find real answers in it. It’s these generations who hear their elders threaten to take away any social support networks their elders benefit from.

It’s these generations whose teachers and schools are under a constant well-orchestrated attack by the right-wing while they’re told they need an education. It’s these generations who will suffer from the lack of concern for what’s been and is being done to the environment by their elders.

It’s these generations that have to deal with our culture’s ongoing and now blatantly displayed racism and sexism (by their seniors) when their personal life experiences growing up among diverse human beings are those of the common humanity that diversity, equity, and inclusion affirms.

Attempting to turn the clock back to some period we now believe was better, is a losing strategy for movements of all kinds. It might be comforting to feel as if the old methods and approaches worked, but to the extent that they worked for progress, they worked because they fit the period they were in.

We can learn from the past to the extent that we can learn from anything we choose from back in the day. But everyone will have to face their fears about changes we often don’t understand in the way that newer generations in the midst of them do and listen and observe carefully to where we are now.

I wish younger generations would learn from the past, of course, listen to what their elders had tried and how they learned from them. But that would also require listening on the part of those elders (who listened how well to older generations back in the day?) and honoring how times have changed and how they’ve changed the thinking of younger generations

A group of leaders from around the country of one of the cherished regional institutions for LGBTQ+ people [I’m purposefully trying to keep the institutions vague] was meeting recently to discuss the future of these institutions in the light of deceasing participation and attendance, as well as competition from other new options. They were all from older generations and had fond and accurate memories of how their institutions buoyed up and energized their LGBTQ+ communities for decades.

One dominant suggestion was: “We need to educate people on why this is still important.” But the real question is: Do we? Do these venerable institutions fill a need for those today at this time with their contemporary challenges and with the new ways we experience information, bigotry, and also connection to our fellow humans?

One thing is certain: It won’t help anyone to join the chorus of critics of the new generations.

But elders should have learned through their years of experience of the importance of listening to them, taking their concerns seriously, hearing their suggestions, moving them into leadership positions, understanding the energy of youth, encouraging them to participate, recognizing the depth of the challenges they face (often ones our generation created) while not comparing their situations to our day, and never resenting (if we really still think it’s true) that given the different challenges and cultures they face that they have it “better” than we did by what are our standards of “better.”