Tyler Oakley tries bridging the gap between his generation and queer elders in a new video out today.
“The goal was just to put people together,” says Oakley of his ice cream social. “It was not so rigid or strict about what you need to discuss or here’s what you need to learn about each other — but you will find out what you want to learn from each other.”
Oakley gathered a bunch of his friends — people like media personality Raymond Braun and transgender performer Kai Pelton — and partnered with the LGBT elders organization SAGE to find seniors who they could pair up with. The duos dug into some Big Gay Ice Cream, then let the conversation go wherever.
Some seniors spoke about coming out late in life, without a support system, and abandoning a life lived largely as a straight person. It was eye opening for the group, and for Oakley, who walked the room and witnessed the conversations. “I was just so proud of the concept, because I was like, this is something I need to improve on, and if I realize that, then surely I am not alone.”
Founded in 1978 and headquartered in New York City, SAGE is the largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT older adults. Oakley calls it a “safety net” because of the support it offers when there isn’t any. And SAGE actually offers a larger version of Oakley's ice cream social, called the "SAGE Table," which is a national day of intergenerational conversation to be held November 8.
What Oakley realized from the intergenerational conversations is that younger people have misconceptions about their elders, mistakenly assuming they might be less accepting “of different ways to be queer.” He knows that when some young men run into an older man who strikes up conversation, they jump to the wrong idea — an assumption that only hurts both sides.
“A common misconception many queer elders face is their intention… why they’re interested in intergenerational connections,” said Oakley. “There may be an unfounded suspicion something inappropriate, but for most queer elders, they simply seek companionship and a sense of community — something all of us desire, regardless of age.”
Oakley said SAGE helped open his eyes to his own friend-group's lack of age diversity. He learned about the isolation felt by many queer elders. “They often lack a support system that helps them with feeling isolated,” he said, “and often queer elders feel that isolation, from what I’ve learned, at a higher rate.”
Oakley sees an opportunity for both generations. He grew up without any queer elder to look up to as a model. “It sets us back little,” he believes. “I always think about how because a lot of my gay friends were not able to be out and dating in college, and their dating experience now, as almost-30 adults, feels like the teenage years because we weren’t able to experience that. There is a similarity for not having the guidance from people who understand what we’re going through when we are figuring out our identities.”