During this period, LGBTQ + individuals tentatively found their collective voice. AIDS victims fought for dignity and freedom, and gay neighborhoods rose up as centers of activism.
Today, 21 percent of Americans who reach adulthood self-identify as LGBTQ, according to a Gallup poll. The numbers among Gen Zers are particularly striking.
The generation born after the Baby Boomers is called Gen X. Also known as the Baby Busters, the Latchkey Generation, and Post-Boomers, Gen Xers are sometimes depicted as cynical, jaded, and irreverent. Movies like Reality Bites and Slacker have added to this image, but most members of this generation prefer stability in their careers and lifestyles.
As they came of age, Gen Xers witnessed the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and experienced technological wonders such as the first successful space shuttle flight in 1981 and the tragic explosion of the Challenger five years later. They also endured the AIDS epidemic, and lived under President Ronald Reagan’s “War on Drugs,” being told to “just say no.”
A survey of Gen Xers found that they are more supportive of gay rights than their heterosexual peers. This is consistent with the findings that LGBTQ people do not fit into a single heteronormative birth-year paradigm, and that societal attitudes toward them vary by generational cohort.
According to the same survey, Millennials are twice as likely as Gen Xers to openly identify as LGBTQ, and two-thirds as likely as their Gen X counterparts to strongly support gay marriage. This trend is consistent with the finding that Millennials, who have been raised in a culture where technology is omnipresent, are more open to exploring their own sexuality and gender identity than previous generations were.
The Greatest Generation
The Greatest Generation, the Western demographic cohort that follows The Lost Generation and precedes the Silent Generation, fought in World War II and shaped the nation. Known for their loyalty and perseverance, members of this generation also struggled with anti-communist witch hunts that reached a fever pitch in the 1950s and the escalation of the Vietnam War under the presidencies of Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard M. Nixon. These experiences, combined with the societal stigma and adversity borne by their gay ancestors, prompted some Greatest Generation members to become LGBT activists and pioneers (Bitterman and Hess 2023).
As a result, many LGBTQ + people in this generation experienced fewer societal roadblocks in expressing their gender and sexual orientation. They were less concerned with previously entrenched stigmas and stereotypes, so much so that some of them may not have been fully aware that previous generations struggled to overcome them.
In contrast, members of Gen X and the baby boomers struggled to reconcile their values with those of their parents. They often found themselves compelled to leave gay neighborhoods and move into heteronormative areas in order to find the community and acceptance they sought. Over time, the LGBTQ + residents of gay neighborhoods adapted and welcomed individuals from other communities into their establishments. This made them “less gay” and allowed them to remain viable in the broader market.
The Silent Generation
The members of this generation came of age during a time when mainstream acceptance of homosexuality was still fairly limited. Although gay slurs were now part of typical teenage slang, many LGBTQ + individuals felt pressure to stay in the closet (Rogers 2001). Many members of this generation also experienced adversity because of their sexual orientation. They witnessed domestic violence, military combat, discrimination in the workplace and in housing neighborhoods, and even the AIDS pandemic.
The experiences of this generation gave them a strong foundation to challenge discrimination and champion equal rights. These trailblazers pushed to change the cultural perception of homosexuality from shame and deviance to a sense of pride and joy. This shift paved the way for a generation of LGBTQ + individuals to come out into the open, and it was followed by a period of rapid advancements in rights and recognition.
During this time, a lot of people were concerned about the state of LGBTQ + rights in the United States. The Silent Generation was not an exception to this, and they were able to flex their political muscles in order to push back against the rise of state legislative attacks on homosexuals. They also were able to enjoy a number of freedoms that previous generations could only dream of, including no-fault divorce, the pill, activism, frequent protest marches, feminism as fundamental and an active retirement.
Millennials are the first generation born in an era when sexual orientation and gender identity is generally accepted as a natural aspect of human nature. In contrast to the Greatest Generation and Silent Generation, whose experiences with discrimination and prejudice colored their perceptions of homosexuality and gay rights, Gen Zers have grown up with the Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage and broad social changes that have allowed societal acceptance of the LGBTQ community.
However, this doesn’t mean Gen Zers are free of stigma or discrimination, particularly when it comes to identifying as LGBT. Anti-trans bills in some states and laws targeting discussions about gender and sexuality in schools are causing concern among the generation. In addition, a wave of book-banning across the country has disproportionately targeted books that include LGBTQ characters.
The societal acceptance of LGBT individuals among previous generations was shaped in part by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which led to a reframe of the stance on homosexuality from illegality and dereliction toward tolerance and normalcy. The adversity experienced by many members of the LGBTQ community and the resulting shift in attitudes prompted a first generation of trailblazers to organize and mobilize to fight for recognition and acceptance (Bitterman and Hess 2021).