by Sarah Rutledge Fischer
I’m a young queer kid in my early twenties. I know that things haven’t always beenso easy for boys like me—honestly, they aren’t always so easy now—but recently it has really hit home. I don’t know whether it has been all of the media coverage of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising or whether I’m just ready as a person to understand my own history, but it has started to hit me just how hard things were even one generation ago.
I want to do something to honor my elders and show how much I respect and appreciate what they went through, but I feel likejust saying thank you sounds hollow. Any suggestions?
Standing on the Shoulders
What a beautiful sentiment. I think writing this letter was a good start, and I am confident that you will be able to marshal your time and talents in a way that will truly honor those whose footsteps marched before you on the path to equality and freedom.
First, let me remind you that you are truly standing on the shoulders of giants, but it is also your shoulders that will be there for future generations. Most heroes of the past didn’t choose to be heroes—they just responded to the struggles and injustices before them. The men and women of Stonewall didn’t plan to become icons—they just wanted to gather in peace and safety. Look around you. What are the injustices you see in your world? Pick one, find out what people are doing to respond and change that situation. Join in their efforts or begin your own. The best way to honor the accomplishments of prior generations is to keep doing the work to make this world better for everyone.
Another thing you can do is to be vocal about how the sacrifices and work of previous generations have inspired you to move forward on your own journey. You have the unique advantage of being in a moment of understanding but still remembering what it was like to not yet understand. Be gentle with those who have not yet seen beyond their own experience and share the stories that have inspired you. You might end up building a community committed to honoring your heroes together.
Consider also how you can use your time and talents to honor your heroes directly. It is clear from your letter that you have a good command of the written word. You can use that to write stories, craft interviews, compose articles, or even author advice columns, any of which will give you opportunities to honor your elders. If writing isn’t your preference, you can apply any talent to the work— whether your talents are artistic, managerial, presentational, or other. The challenges before us and the history behind us need people to compile data just as much as they need people to paint portraits and make documentaries.
Finally, if time is scarce but money available, it is always worthwhile to fund the work of other people who are doing good work in the world. Check with your local LGBTQ community organization to see how they are serving local senior. Nationally, you can check out SAGE (sageusa.org), an advocacy and services organization focused on the LGBTQ elder community. There are also organizations all over the country dedicated to preserving LGBTQ history. For example, the Invisible Histories Project (https://invisiblehistory.org) is working to preserve the history of LGBTQ life in the South. The organization began in Alabama, has expanded in to Mississippi and Georgia, and aims to reach the entirety of the Southeast within 10 years.
Ultimately, you can honor the work of those who paved the way for you to live openly and freely as an LGBTQ person by living with pride and giving back to the community they created. It sounds like you are already well on your way, but just in case—that should get you started.
To submit your own question, email Allie at Allie@focusmidsouth.com. Focus Mid-South reserves the right to edit letters for length and clarity.