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A Legendary Gay Writer Reflects on the Past, Present, and Future

Allen Young

Coming out as a teen, I lamented the lack of queer youth role models, complaining often and loudly about how everything was aimed at “old” people. Now that I am, in the words of Gen Z, super old, I realize how invisible folks over 50 really are in the LGBTQ world.

However, their stories of lives lived, revolutions had, and communities built are among the most fascinating and most important to share. That’s particularly true of Allen Young, whose memoir Left, Gay, and Green, came out last year.

Now 78, Young is widely considered a pioneer writer-activist in the post-Stonewall gay liberation movement. He wrote for The Advocate in the 1970s and ‘80s, when he was a member of the New York Gay Liberation Front. He collaborated with famed lesbian writer Karla Jay on four books. The anthology they co-edited, Out of the Closets: Voice of Gay Liberation, was one of the earliest to introduce modern gay political thought and action to the country.

Young had previously reported for the Washington Post, a job he left to work for the underground press at Liberation News Service, which distributed to hundreds of alternative and radical newspapers from 1967 to 1981.

In 1969, Young says, he called himself a revolutionary communist and he even lived in Cuba for a time. Today, he no longer believes in revolution — or communism, but he insists, “I don’t think that my feelings about revolution are the result of aging. I was still in my 30s when I reached the conclusion that the call for revolution—heard so frequently in the late 1960s and into the early 1970s — was unwise and falling on deaf ears. Men like Stalin, Mao, and Castro had clearly undermined and distorted revolutionary ideas. Peter Townsend of The Who, hardly an old fuddy-duddy, sang, ‘We won’t be fooled again.’”

“There are plenty of people in my generation, however, who still call for revolution and even use the rhetoric of the 1960s,” Young admits. “Age has not silenced them and they have found young allies, but they also are rather marginalized. I’d say we need a modern movement for social justice, avoiding violence and striving to make progress happen by democratic means and by developing the right mixture of capitalism and socialism.”

Young has penned 14 books, some directed toward a queer audience, others relating to the rural region of North Central Massachusetts where he has lived in a gay intentional community since 1973. His whopping 500-page memoir details his life from his childhood with communist parents on a New York farm, to his travels across the Americas from Vietnam War protests to the blossoming of LGBTQ liberation.

Some see similarities between 1968, a year of great political turmoil and today’s intersectional activists fighting for civil rights, LGBTQ liberation, and an end to overseas military involvement, but Young maintains, “The polarization of American society in what we might call the Trump era feels very different to me from what I experienced in 1968.”

In particular, he argues, “I think the racism, fundamentalist religious zealotry, and undermining of basic democratic rights under Trump represent a more existential threat to American society… because of his mental instability and the dangerous way he incites his supporters.”

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