By Ben Cartwright
Being 38 years old currently (39 in May), I feel like I hold an interesting place in the community. I’m certainly not a youth anymore, but sometimes I feel like I still have so much to learn. There are people who look up to me as a leader, mentor, and community figure who’s been at it for 22 years, but I wouldn’t dare put myself on the same level as many of our community’s pioneers who came before me and struggled so much to gain what we have today.
I do find myself in a place, though, where I feel the ball is in my court to be a caretaker of the community. I’ve passed the vulnerabilities that being young can bring, I’m at the peak of my career, still have my health, and do not yet face the challenges that many seniors see. And sometimes it’s hard to balance the needs of both youth and seniors in our community’s spaces.
We absolutely must uplift our youth, and provide space, support, guidance and services for them — they are our present (I’m not one to say they are our “future” because their wants and needs do matter now, in the present). Our community’s youth and young adults are so much better off today then my generation was with the resources they have at their fingertips and in the community. There is so much more we need to do. LGBTQ youth are still struggling, and have much higher suicide rates than any other youth demographic. Our youth are precious and we must continue to do everything we can for them.
Something I think we need to work harder at, though, is support and honoring our seniors. In activist circles, I often hear people telling senior citizens to step back, shut up, and let the younger generation speak. In bars and other spaces, older individuals, especially gay men, report a feeling of invisibility. We often discount or forget about the experiences and concerns of those who came before and experienced struggles that many of us couldn’t imagine today. And while some headway is being made, we don’t provide nearly enough supportive services for LGBTQ seniors —many who have to go back in the closet when moving into nursing homes or other types of facilities designed for seniors.
We are all going to be seniors one day, and it’s time to start thinking about what needs we’ll have when we get there. In fact, it just dawned on me that in just 11 years, I’ll fit into what the San Diego LGBT Community Center calls its “50 & Better” program! While a 50-year old senior likely has vastly different needs than an 80-year old, we need to be prepared and willing to uplift, support, and respect the older generations. Not to forget that someone who is 50 years old still has 30 or more years of life ahead of them. We need to consider those needs as people age and live longer.
In speaking to many seniors in our community, I sense that many feel like they’ve been shut out, ignored, and pushed away. While the world needs to go on and adapt to changing times, I will never forget the contributions those who came before me made. I will do what I can to make sure this population is cared for, honored, and provided space to share their needs. We’ve all got a responsibility to care for those most vulnerable in our society, including youth and seniors. We have so much to learn from them, so much to gain from them, and to thank them for that, we owe them our respect and support!
— Benny Cartwright is a local LGBT activist and Nicky Award’s 2018 Man of the Year. Benny can be contacted at Benny.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Byline photo by Rob Lucas Modern Aperture Photography.