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Study: Gay
generation gap disrupts communication

Study: Gay
generation gap disrupts communication

A new report says older and younger gays must overcome a persistent generation gap when it comes to communicating.

Gays and lesbians face a large generational gap when it comes to communication, including a tendency by older gays to project their life experience on gay youths, according to a new study. The report, by the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies, argues that gay and lesbian people must overcome communication challenges when working together across generations.

Whether working specifically with LGBT youth groups or in other contexts, people from different age cohorts have very different experiences and beliefs that reflect the rapid changes over time in the treatment of LGBT people in families, workplaces, schools, and communities, the report says. "In interviews with LGBT youth and adults, we found a noticeable gap in communications across generations," noted Glenda Russell, a coauthor of the report. "LGBT adults tend to project their own experiences onto today's young people, when in fact the lives of today's young people are often quite different."

The study notes several examples of this generation gap. "Alternative proms," organized by gay adults for gay high school youths, often seem to be designed to meet the needs of the adult organizers who missed their own proms rather than the needs of today's young people. Adults tend to focus on the suffering and isolation of LGBT youths, even though many LGBT teens are actually doing well. From the other direction, young LGBT people sometimes complain that no one is doing anything about discrimination, apparently unaware of decades of prior activism by LGBT adults. "The good news is that both sides can learn from each other," said coauthor Janis Bohan. "LGBT adults should be willing to follow the lead of young people, and young LGBT people should be willing to use adults as mentors."

Young people often provide a fresh perspective on issues that is both less constrained by past strategies for problem solving and less reliant on older--and perhaps incorrect--assumptions about the degree of homophobia, the report says. Adults, on the other hand, have greater experience and resources and are more familiar with the historical roots of the LGBT movement. (

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