My life was experiencing no shortage of change during the summer of 1969 — I had recently come out and began my studies at the Parsons School of Design in New York. I wasn’t sure what to expect and was very nervous about what lay ahead after leaving my family nest.
However, as soon as I arrived in New York, the city was swarming with so much heightened energy it was hard to contain myself. I gradually got acclimated to my new life and adventures, along with the city’s openness and freedom of expression — which culminated in the Stonewall Rebellion in late June and early July. As a gay African-American man, I immersed myself in my truth that summer, which ultimately led me to accept my sexuality. I began to find my way to live life unapologetically in who I was.
Since it was still widely considered a crime to be gay, I complied with standards in the workplace and greater society to be taken seriously and avoid discrimination, both for my sexuality and my race. I traveled around the world to avoid the racial disparities I faced back home.
While traveling helped me escape some of these specific complications, I continued to witness discrimination and struggles LGBTQ+ folk of my generation went through, especially during the HIV/AIDS pandemic of the 1980s and ’90s. This further ignited a deep passion inside me to be at the forefront of change; I wanted to be a part of the solution for LGBTQ+ people, and specifically LGBTQ+ people of color, who often face the most significant challenges.
Over the past 50 years, I’ve been a pioneer and activist for the LGBTQ+ community. I’m proud to have helped do my part to get the LGBTQ+ community to where we are now. But we still have problems. For us LGBTQ+ elders, we endure issues hindering us from thriving in our golden years. Our cohort experiences significant social, financial, physical, and mental health disparities simply due to our sexual orientation — we’re at higher risk for developing chronic diseases, being diagnosed with depression and anxiety, living in poverty, and experiencing social isolation.
The complications only worsen for African-American LGBTQ+ older adults like myself, highlighting a segmentation inside the LGBTQ+ community. Unemployment and poverty rates for African-American LGBTQ+ elders are significantly higher than other populations. We also face increased risks for discrimination with housing, health care, and employment.
LGBTQ+ people of color also face heightened negativity within our racial community, making it even more difficult for us to disclose our sexual identities to friends, family, religious communities, and more. We as LGBTQ+ elders also find it extremely difficult to receive necessary care and resources and find places where we can feel safe and accepted. I’m one of the lucky ones who found SAGE, which has welcomed myself and thousands of other LGBTQ+ older adults, providing us vital resources for this stage in our lives. However, with the community of LGBTQ+ elders estimated to double in size by 2030, we need more places like SAGE to help the LGBTQ+ elders today and the many generations that will follow us.
We must not lose sight of the importance of aging with pride and independence. It’s this mentality that started Stonewall — and countless other civil rights efforts — leading to improvements for the entire LGBTQ+ community over the past 50 years, something pioneers like myself could have only dreamed of seeing back then.
My mantra is “I’m living my best life,” and I’ll continue to live by that optimism. I hope that the rest of our community chooses to live by this mantra, too. We’re active and resilient, and I’m confident we can achieve what we continue to fight for by living our lives and pushing for change unapologetically.
Alston Green is a long-time activist and fighter in social justice and LGBTQ movements. A creative thinker and a passionate spokesperson, Alston has worked with the Intergenerational Media Literacy program with Senior Planet (OATS) and SAGE — two organizations that offer aging adults an opportunity to explore, learn, mingle and renew their passions, to keep abreast of the ever changing world of digital technology and how it impacts everyone’s lives daily.