Christopher Z. Hobson / photo: SUNY Old Westbury
A generational gap in the LGBTQ community is leaving many young LGBTQ people in the dark when it comes to the history of the LGBTQ rights movement. As young people strive and often struggle to accept themselves, this lack of knowledge can be extremely harmful, potentially leaving them isolated and more prone to self-destructive behaviors, including suicide.
There are several reasons for this gap. Consider how history gets passed down from generation to generation. Mainstream history is formally taught in schools. Family history is passed down through stories told by parents and grandparents. It’s easy and natural, as it should be.
But these pathways don’t exist for passing down LGBTQ history and experience. First with rare exceptions, LGBTQ history is erased from public school curricula. (California is an exception.) In many states, ending this exclusion would be politically difficult if not impossible. Second, LGBTQ youth are almost never born into their own tribe; they are usually born into straight families and must strike out on their own to find their own community. LGBTQ elders, if they exist in the family, are often not talked about, and so this pathway also does not exist in many cases. And finally, there can be an unwarranted sense that it's somehow unseemly when LGBTQ adults talk with young LGBTQ people about LGBTQ topics.
On this edition of Outcasting, we begin an irregular series connecting LGBTQ youth with elders and providing all listeners with a look into the experiences of people who have participated in the LGBTQ rights movement. On this week’s program, OutCaster Travis returned from college to talk with Christopher Z. Hobson, a professor of English at the State University of New York at Old Westbury, in a conversation recorded in Chris's uptown Manhattan apartment. Chris is also a gay elder and activist.
OutCasting youth participant Travis working in the studio
Coming of age in the 1950s — more than a decade before the Stonewall riots — Chris struggled with his sexuality and went through years of psychotherapy before eventually coming to accept himself. In this episode, Chris speaks to the generational divide and teaches us what it was like to be gay throughout his lifetime. He also discusses his life as an activist and his perspectives on how young people today deal with their sexual orientations and gender identities.
Chris is a son of the late author Laura Z. Hobson, who wrote the novel Gentleman’s Agreement, subsequently adapted as an Oscar-winning film in the late 1940s. More pertinent here is her 1975 novel Consenting Adult, a powerful book fictionalizing her experience in gradually coming to accept Chris’s sexuality. Consenting Adult was later adapted as a television movie, available on YouTube.
Note: California is an exception. Several years ago, State Senator Mark Leno sponsored a bill, later enacted into law, that ended the erasure of the history of LGBTQ and disabled people from public school curricula in California. We spoke with him about the bill in an earlier edition of OutCasting. Return to main text.