LGBTQ+ elders tell younger generations to ‘learn your history’: FSU, Bay Path team for third year to put on intergenerational banquet

Caroline Gordon / THE GATEPOST

In 1969, Charles D. Evans and Paul Glass were both witness to one of the most widely known uprisings by the LGBTQ+ community during a time when violent police raids on gay community gathering spaces were random and rampant – the Stonewall riots.

In 2019 – the year marking the event’s 50th anniversary – Evans and Glass have been together for almost two decades and legally recognized marriage of more than seven years.

The two men first met in New York City after coming from different directions – Evans from the south in Greensboro, North Carolina and Glass from the north in Boston. Wanting to find more for themselves in the Big Apple, both men discovered they liked to go out and party on the weekend nights at various gay bars resplendent with dancing and drag shows.

They did not meet at the riots, but were very surprised to learn much later in their lives when they reconnected that they were both present in the same place at the same time.

Recounting his experience of that summer night in ’69, Glass talked about partying at a Greenwich Village club called Bonsoir. When he was leaving and walking back home, he heard commotion around the corner.

“Halfway up the block, there was Sheridan Square. Somebody comes running down the block, yelling, ‘Come on! The drag queens are fighting the cops in Sheridan Square, come on!’” Glass narrated. That night was  one he’d never forget, he added.

As young gay black men during the height of both the Civil Rights Movement and the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights, they saw significant events after Stonewall – such as the AIDS crisis – Evans and Glass struggled with the racism and homophobia they experienced over their lives.

“Being a gay black man during that time – there was not the slightest inkling in my mind as to say, ‘I’m coming out,’” Evans said.

The couple urged the younger members of the audience to read “as much as they can” on LGBTQ+ history in order to dispel myths and stereotypes, but also to guarantee that younger community members understand and cherish their heritage.

“Young people, we urge you – please take the time to learn your history,” Evans said to the audience.

The men were just two of the numerous guest speakers brought to the McCarthy Forum last Friday evening Oct. 11 – National Coming Out Day. This day, for members of the LGBTQ+ community, has been an annual occasion since 1988 and aims to destigmatize LGBTQ+ identities and end the silence in the community.

For the past three years, this particular banquet at FSU, purposefully held on this day, has been the “highlight of the year,” according to Julie Nowak, the LGBTQ+ initiative coordinator at Bay Path Elder Services, Inc., the organization that coordinates with FSU to host this event.

Kim Dexter, FSU’s director of equal opportunity, Title IX, and ADA compliance, organized the University’s side of the event, as she has in past years.

The Forum that night was decorated top to bottom in rainbow-colored paraphernalia and colorful light-up table toppers. On the walls were different flags representing various sexual and gender identities, and flyers on the table invited guests to try their hand at identifying what the different colors and flags signified.

The theme of the night was an emphasis not only on the LGBTQ+ community’s rich cultural heritage and traditions, but also a highlight of past events other than the Stonewall riots that contributed to the decades-long – and counting – fight for LGBTQ+ liberation.

Dexter said intergenerational spaces have always been a top priority for her, Nowak, and other organizers to create.

“We were seeing a big gap,” Dexter said, speaking of the rift between older LGBTQ+ community members and their younger counterparts. “Younger LGBTQ+ students did not really know about the shared cultural history, and so we started thinking about ways we could create a space for that gap to be bridged.”

Citing the commissions on aging that exist in the Massachusetts state government, Dexter, Nowak, and other speakers said a growing problem in the Commonwealth is the increasing number of LGBTQ+ seniors who face issues, such as isolation and alienation from typical nursing homes and senior spaces due to fear of anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination.

To start the banquet, Dexter cited 20th-century events, coalitions, and organizations that were prominent before Stonewall took place, such as the Janus Society, the Daughters of Bilitis, and the Mattachine society.

These organizations in particular, according to Dexter, operated as a unit called the East Coast Homophile Organizations, shortened to the acronym ECHO. They picketed the White House in April 1965 as part of a series called the Annual Reminders, which signaled to the U.S. government its LGBTQ+ citizens were being deprived of human rights and the pursuit of happiness.

Freshman Brandon Adams was the event’s youth panelist during the first intergenerational banquet in 2017. As a trans man who discovered his identity in high school, Adams chose FSU as the university to attend because it is an institution he believes to be open, welcoming, and accepting.

“In today’s society and today’s laws, when we’re looking at what’s going on in the Supreme Court right now at this very moment – those cases that are up are affecting each and every one of us,” he said.

Historian and gender and sexuality professor at Worcester’s College of the Holy Cross Stephanie Yuhl gave a presentation on the home-grown project she helped put together called “LGBTQ+ Worcester – For the Record,” which, according to her institution’s website, is a “chronicling of images, histories, voices and experiences of Worcester’s LGBTQ+ community over the last 50 years.”

To punctuate the evening and bring the crowd some dinner entertainment, the Kinsey Scales, who dub themselves “Boston’s premier queer-focused a capella group,” performed a medley of songs ranging from Sia to Diana Ross.

They ended their performance with the aptly titled, occasion-appropriate song, “I’m Coming Out.”

“I’m coming out / I want the world to know / I gotta let it show,” the group sang.

Dexter said in the future, she hopes the event will continue to evolve and improve.

“We’ve been trying to become more intentional in the thematic pieces and the guest speakers that we have,” she said. “In past years, one of the things we got feedback on was that we really need to have more of an intersectional conversation.” 

To remedy that, she intentionally brought in more speakers of color.

Madison Bruno, president of FSU’s Pride Alliance, brought fellow members of the club to the banquet.

Bruno emphasized the importance of intergenerational friendships and connections. “The LGBTQ+ [community] of past, present, and future do not exist in a vacuum. Our presence and the effects we have on each other reach through time, and the Pride Across Generations banquet does well by this no-vacuum notion by having generations come together in order to remember our relations to the generations who came before us and how they affect the LGBTQ+ [community] in the present and future. 

“Furthermore, acknowledgement is owed to the fact that every day should be celebrated in thankfulness for the [connections] the LGBTQ+ [community] have between past and future generations – not just one day or month designated for celebration,” she added.

Kayla Nett, a junior and a member of Pride Alliance, said, “I’m really proud to participate in events like these. Being a part of the [LGBTQ+] community is something that is so important to me, and I’m glad there are events on campus that celebrate that.”