Reddit LGBTQ People Share What It Was Like To Be Queer In The '50s, '60s, And '70s

    “I want to thank all of you who paved the path for us younger generations."

    Another day, another incredibly interesting Reddit thread to fill our time. This time on the LGBT thread, a curious user posted a simple yet fascinating question, asking LGBTQ people from the '50s, '60s, and '70s about their experiences and “what it was like to live in those eras.”

    A very fair question, considering how often we take for granted all we’ve accomplished in a short amount of time. And sometimes it is also difficult for younger generations to fully comprehend what it was like to be an openly queer person during those times.

    Some stories were, as you would expect, pretty tragic. One thing they had in common was the fear of being openly queer when you knew that people would come after you for being “different.” And sadly, some people can tragically see things moving backward again.

    “I'm 46 but I was raised by lesbians, and let me tell you, the '80s were a horrific time to be in the queer community. I couldn't be out about my parents (and later myself). Once, a group of kids found out and surrounded our house, throwing rocks. All my mom’s gay male friends were dying horrific deaths all around us. I did my grade five science fair project on HIV/AIDS, and my teacher almost didn't let me. So many lesbians who had married men and had kids, only to come out later, had their children taken away.”


    “I grew up in a small town during the 1970s. If you were labeled as queer, you had a target on your back. You were subject to verbal abuse and physical attack anytime you were out of the house. The authorities would do nothing to protect you; after all, you brought it on yourself by being queer. Things are better today, but we still have a long way to go.”


    “I am 71. Most of us had to live closeted lives. There was no 'gay'; it was 'faggot.' You couldn’t get a couldn’t hold hands or display any affection. Surprisingly, it was AIDS that gave gays a begrudging place at the table. And now, sadly, I see things moving backward. Some old hatred just wouldn’t let us be. We survived during a pandemic…I’m sure younger men and women will lead us forward again to lasting freedom.”


    “I marched in the Gay Pride Parade in New York City in the early '80s, in the middle of the AIDS crisis. It felt lovely to be in the parade. Spirits were high. But the level of hostility from the cops lining the route was palpable and disturbing; some of the spectators were obviously not supportive. It didn't feel safe at all. The subway ride home felt like we were taking our lives in our hands, frankly.”


    One user in particular shared a very detailed recounting of his time as a young gay man in Missouri and all he would see in his everyday life.

    “I was born in 1960. I clearly remember watching the nightly news one night and hearing about Stonewall (I was 9) and hearing family members speak unkindly and in shock. Decent people weren't like those people rioting. High school was unkind. I knew I liked boys but had no clue as to the various derogatory terms used until they started being hurled my way. I started working as a barback in an after-hours gay club in East St. Louis called Faces. In my day job in St. Louis, I polished the look, and while I never hid that I was gay, I knew to keep it a secret. It was expected. There were no legal protections for us, especially in Missouri.

    “Many of the out queers I knew, especially the trans people, were forced to work in low-paying jobs and live in seedy neighborhoods. If you had a boyfriend and tried to rent together, very often you'd be denied because most places wouldn't rent to LGBTQ people. Then the 1980s hit with the double whammy of Ronald Reagan and HIV/AIDS. Of the gay guys I knew in my local high schools (three of them), I'm the only one left alive. The older men who taught me how to live as a gay man in a hetero world told me stories of the 1950s lavender witch hunts. They worked to protect each other. They'd find 'dates' with women that they could go on to be seen, or when needed for company parties. Things are so much better now.”


    On the other hand, some people had very joyful and hopeful stories to share, mainly about how they found happiness, friends, and love within their newfound family in the LGBTQ community.

    “I hate to hear that it’s still so bad for teens. I came out in 1982, and for me it was a way to show younger people it was possible to be gay and have a life without fear. I was roughed up a few times, but I never backed down. I hope your generation helps the ones who come after you.”


    And one user celebrated the fact that they got to be a part of a movement that changed queer people's lives.

    “There were many things that were absolutely wonderful. Our community was smaller and it was tight. It's true that there were no images of us on TV, and it's true that you could get arrested for having sex, and it's true that we couldn't get married. Yes, the world outside was hostile, but the world inside was warm and trusting and sexy. And very, very political. We were trying to change the world. I would argue in some ways that we were successful. We believed and felt that we were part of an outrageous political activist movement that was going to absolutely change the lives of women and queer people.

    "Although I certainly have horror stories to tell, I also have lovely stories. Stories of amazing lesbian love that has sustained me my whole life. I've been going to Pride parades since I was a teenager. It is true that safety in part comes from living in queer spaces, but I've been blessed to live in those spaces and also spent my life creating them. And violence and bigotry and, sadly, shame still exist. I have lived through an amazing liberation movement. I love that some young people don't have to suffer the way some of us did. But I have found great joy in the path I have walked.”


    Ultimately, someone also had a word for all those people who made it possible to be where we are today by being themselves.

    “I want to thank all of you who paved the path for us younger generation. I've known I was gay for a long time, but I recently came out to my parents at age 38. I would never have had the courage to do that without all of you who helped make it much more socially acceptable. Thank you!”


    Note: Some responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.