Speak Out: Closing Denver’s gay generation gap
September 18, 2012 | 12:00 am
(Updated: February 25, 2013 | 3:22 pm)
By Zach Smothers
I am proud of who I am. I am proud of my background, my creativity, my accomplishments, my capacity to love and be loved by a large number of friends and family, and I am proud of being gay. It’s not just one of these things that defines who I am; it’s the combination of all of them. I am grateful that I am able to say this because I know not everyone in our community has had the same opportunity.
In working in the gay community, I have seen a disconnect between the older and younger generations. While the “older generation” lived through Stonewall and the initial years of the AIDS epidemic, homophobia, and blatant oppression, the younger generation has not had the same trials. Of course many of the same issues, like discrimination and fear of rejection, still exist for most GLBT persons regardless of age or experience.
Gay youth today face a number of different obstacles and challenges that have come about through changes in our society.
Bullying in schools, a rise in drug and alcohol abuse and our continued fight for political and civil rights are just a few.
I think that a major reason for the generational gap is that the gay community is very much a youth-oriented culture. It always has been and I predict that it will continue for a while, but I don’t believe that our community has to be divided because of our differences. I believe that we can learn from one another to create a new and unique energy in Denver.
As the fight for GLBT rights gains momentum, many youth are finding it easier to come out at an earlier age. There has certainly been a shift in attitude even within the past few years in regard to acceptance and tolerance, and with this comes a different set of rules and social norms. Coming out and accepting yourself at an early age is healthy, but the adage “kids can be cruel” still rings true. While the majority may be accepting, hostile peers often serve as severe road blocks standing in the way of someone coming out during middle school or high school.
I am the Program Coordinator for a program called Mpowerment through The Denver ELEMENT. I coordinate events, activities and projects for 18 to 24 year old gay, bi or questioning males. It’s a social events program that focuses on empowering yourself and others and building stronger social networks that will support healthier and stronger decisions and behaviors for young gay, bi or questioning men. One of my goals with the program is to provide opportunities for the younger generation to learn some paramount lessons from some of the more mature gay male leaders in Denver. In return, I also want to show how much our gay youth have to offer the community and how much we really are invested in it.
The GLBT community has had to fight to get where we are, and we will continue to fight to get to where we want to be. I think it is important for our gay youth to recognize the battle that has been going on long before we got to where we are today. It is also important for our older generations to have faith in the younger generations, to believe that our community is important enough for us to fight for it, and to believe that we will do just that. It is this mutual respect and joining hand-in-hand that will get us further together as one community.
I can’t wait for the Mpowerment program to get off the ground in the coming months, and I am excited to see Denver’s gay youth come together and do some great things within our community. I want to see everyone recognize that they have something to be proud of and that they should be proud of who they are. If they don’t have a group of supportive friends or family, I want them to know that they can find that here.
Zach Smothers is the Mpowerment program coordinator for The Denver ELEMENT. Zach recently relocated to Denver from Iowa City. Zach can be reached at (720) 382.5900 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.