Multigenerational Advocacy Among Sexual and Gender Minorities


In our increasingly polarizing society, we have been inundated with news stories that perpetuate stereotypes of different generations and lament a great generational divide. But researchers and practitioners paint a very different—more optimistic—picture of multigenerational advocacy. For sexual and gender minorities (SGMs), multigenerational advocacy helps address lingering disparities and structural inequities. To be most effective, however, we must broaden our understanding of engagement across generations, expand our definition of advocacy, and call in SGM community members and allies for change.

Key Words:

LGBTQ+, race, aging, intergenerational, advocacy, engagement


We are witnessing increasing political polarization across the world. In the United States, partisan divides are particularly robust and have only grown since the pandemic. Amidst acrimonious debates about COVID-19, media outlets increasingly emphasized a growing generational divide. However, this media coverage masked the growth and evolution of multigenerational advocacy.

On Twitter, #BoomerRemover emerged in March 2020 to refer to COVID-19 deaths of older adults, and media reports stressed a generational divide between the Millennial and Baby Boomer generations (Sparks, 2020). But research examining these tweets found that a majority of them emphasized the impact of COVID-19 on younger adults or that the hashtag was disrespectful or problematic, or invoked the hashtag to advocate for political issues during the 2020 election (Sipocz et al., 2021; Skipper & Rose, 2021). These tweets sparked multigenerational conversations and debates. Nearly a quarter of the tweets used the hashtag to call for intergenerational connectivity (Sipocz et al., 2021).

COVID-19 sparked similar calls for multigenerational advocacy among sexual and gender minority (SGM) communities. During the pandemic, I served as the executive director of a small community-based organization that focused on services and advocacy for SGM older adults in the Detroit Metro region. We were the only organization in Michigan focused specifically on SGM older adults. In the beginning of the pandemic, we were inundated with calls about food insecurity, social isolation, and concerns about accessing medical care. We served communities at critical intersections of risk for COVID-19 given their race, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and health conditions. We saw firsthand what has now been repeatedly confirmed in research, which is that the communities we served died at higher rates and encountered more health complications from COVID-19 than did their white, cisgender, heterosexual younger peers.

But, when Michigan policymakers organized the first town hall in Michigan to address COVID-19 among SGM communities, they failed to include anything about SGM older adults on the agenda. Initially, no one from our organization received an invitation to attend. We finally received a formal invitation to the conversation after partner organizations (many who served SGM youth or young adults) advocated for our inclusion. The multigenerational advocacy that occurred behind the scenes was invisible to most participants at this event. However, it sparked important policy, funding, and service changes throughout the pandemic that elevated the diverse voices, needs, and assets of SGM older adults. This example is one of many that underscores the benefits of multigenerational advocacy among SGM communities.

Emerging and Enduring Issues for Sexual and Gender Minorities

Research on SGMs has documented numerous issues that pose challenges to social, health, political, and economic well-being. SGM youth and older adults face significant health disparities compared to heterosexual, cisgender peers (Fredriksen Goldsen & de Vries, 2019; Hudaisa et al., 2017). SGMs also report financial challenges (Fredriksen-Goldsen et al., 2023; Lee Badgett et al., 2019) related to years of employment and housing discrimination, inequities in insurance access, and education disparities, among other structural barriers to economic mobility. These challenges are heightened among SGMs of color (Garcia-Perez, 2020; Kum, 2017).

Many SGMs report that discrimination experiences are common, including slurs, microaggressions, harassment, unequal treatment, and violence (Casey et al., 2019; Grant et al., 2011; Romanelli & Lindsey, 2020). Discrimination also can surface at structural or macro levels. For example, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU; 2023) reported in mid-2023 that nearly all 50 states had introduced a total of almost 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the United States.

‘A multigenerational focus also provides opportunities to reconceptualize aging and services for older adults via an equity lens.’

These bills limit access to information in books about SGMs; preclude updating gender information on identification cards and records; ban affirming care for trans youth or create criminal penalties for providing care; prohibit trans people from using public accommodations like public bathrooms or locker rooms; prevent trans students from participating in school activities like sports or censor in-school discussions about SGMs; and undermine discrimination laws by allowing employers, businesses, or healthcare providers to refuse services or care. When nondiscrimination laws are passed, they often include exemptions for employers, businesses, or healthcare providers for religious, moral, or even professional reasons to deny services (Akers, 2021; Perone, 2020). SGMs also often are rendered invisible in large surveys or other forms of data collection, which can limit access to services and funding.

Still, sexual and gender minorities comprise communities with creative social supports and collective resilience, which may help mitigate these challenges. Many of these support networks have been built out of necessity, but have created communities that have moved beyond surviving and are thriving. Emerging research on multigenerational programming among SGMs also suggests that multigenerational activities could provide important community benefits as well as individual support and knowledge transfer among SGM communities (Kazaleh Sirdenis et al., 2019; Perone et al., 2020; Robson et al., 2018). A multigenerational approach in advocacy also could provide an important tool to combat some of these growing challenges.

What Does Multigenerational Mean for Sexual and Gender Minorities?

Using the word multigenerational shifts the paradigm of thinking about who to engage and how to engage different generations in advocacy. Research examining interactions among SGM generations tends to focus on intergenerational communication, relationships, or programs among youth or young adults and older adults (e.g., Hajek & Giles, 2002; Robson et al., 2018). Given rising concerns about social isolation (and with good reason), intergenerational interventions have foregrounded developing relationships across two generations to build intimacy, trust, and social support (e.g., Openhouse, 2022; Perone et al., 2020).

Multigenerational approaches include programs that foster relationship-building among more than two generations. Multigenerational approaches also allow for more generational nuance by creating subgroups among youth (or younger adults) and older adults that correspond with different historical experiences. For example, programs that lump “older adults” into one generational group may miss the fact that the “older adults” category could include four generations.

Researchers have identified three historical generations among SGM older adults: Invisible, Silenced, and Pride Generations (Fredriksen-Goldsen et al., 2017). The Invisible Generation came of age during worldwide wars, a global economic depression, and at a time when one’s sexual orientation and gender identity were not discussed or disclosed. The Silenced Generation came of age during the Lavender Scare when coming out as SGM could result in employment termination, educational or military expulsion, termination of parental rights, incarceration, or invasive and involuntary medical procedures. The Pride Generation came of age during the civil rights movement, gay liberation, and collective calls for change.

A newer and younger group of older adults—composed of Baby Boomers who came of age during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s—could arguably be called the Caregiver Generation, given the creative caregiving networks and supports that emerged among this generational cohort in response to the AIDS crisis. Multigenerational advocacy recognizes the benefits of advocacy among these generational subgroups of older adults as well as advocacy among Generation X, Millennial, and Generation Z SGMs.

A multigenerational focus also provides opportunities to reconceptualize aging and services for older adults via an equity lens. While many government programs define older adults at ages 60 or older, a racial justice lens would include younger ages. Decades of discrimination or stress among SGMs can wear the body down, which is exacerbated for SGMs navigating concurrent forms of oppression (e.g., racism, xenophobia). Thus, programs, services, and funding for “older adults” that incorporate a racial justice lens might begin at age 50 (or even 45).

The intersections of race and poverty exacerbate these realities. For example, the average life span of someone who is unhoused is shorter by about 17.5 years than the general population (Romaszko et al., 2017), and the average life expectancy of unhoused persons is 42 to 52 years old (Stedman, 2022). Given that nearly 30% of SGM youth, and up to 45% of Native/Indigenous SGM youth, have experienced homelessness (Trevor Project, 2022), SGM communities are particularly impacted by this life stressor.

Multigenerational approaches provide space for multiple generations to engage, support, and grow together. Multigenerational advocacy among SGMs, thus, includes advocacy by multiple people across the age spectrum and across various generations to collectively seek change that improves the lives of SGMs.

Expanding Advocacy

Advocacy tends to evoke images of “lobby days” or other forms of political advocacy on pending bills. And while there is a bevy of deeply problematic bills at state and federal levels in the United States, multigenerational advocacy among SGM communities can encompass so much more. For example, multigenerational advocacy could include efforts to increase visibility in data collection or government surveys, or to encourage local, state, or even federal policymakers to lower the age to receive certain services or benefits, particularly for communities whose life expectancy is much shorter, given cumulative structural barriers. While most state and federal laws prohibit differential services based on race, sexual orientation (and sometimes gender identity), lowering the age based on life conditions (e.g., being unhoused) also could positively impact BIPOC and SGM communities who are disproportionately unhoused.

‘The brief did not address the legal merits of the case but instead focused on research about discrimination toward SGM residents in nursing homes and urged the court to uphold the law.’

Policymaking has changed significantly in the past few years, and multigenerational advocacy could leverage these changes to create new pathways for change. As political polarization has grown, Congress has become much less effective at passing bipartisan legislation. Administrative agencies and courts have become much larger policymaking bodies. This reality, however, leaves open wide pathways of possibility for multigenerational advocacy among SGM communities in administrative agencies and courts.

Executive administrative agencies are charged with developing, enforcing, and overseeing the many rules and regulations in the United States. They increasingly have exercised their discretion to implement federal regulations, technical guidance, FAQs, and other documents that clarify or explain myriad issues and sometimes controversial topics that have otherwise been punted by Congress. SGM communities have rapidly turned to multigenerational advocacy to create change through administrative agencies, and greater use of this tool could strengthen overall advocacy efforts. For example, when Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, it included the first federal civil rights law that banned sex discrimination in healthcare. SGM organizations representing a multigenerational advocacy network worked closely with the Obama administration to ensure that this nondiscrimination protection included SGMs, and in May 2016, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued final regulations clarifying that this protection included sexual orientation and gender identity (Nondiscrimination in Health Programs and Activities, 2016).

A multigenerational network again advocated for the Biden administration to reaffirm these protections after the Trump Administration removed them from the definition of sex discrimination. Healthcare discrimination impacts access to care for SGMs, regardless of age. Under Obama- and Biden-era regulations, Section 1557 prohibits discrimination against trans youth seeking affirming care. It prohibits nursing homes from denying care to gay residents. It prohibits doctors from providing pediatric care to the child of a same-sex couple. It prohibits health insurance companies from using blanket exclusions to deny coverage for transgender people. SGMs of color are disproportionately impacted by healthcare discrimination, regardless of age. A multigenerational (and multiracial) advocacy effort was critical to ensuring that these protections were affirmed (and reaffirmed) through the executive branch.

Researchers and practitioners can provide expertise in court cases as expert witnesses or by writing amicus briefs. Expert witnesses primarily share their knowledge in depositions, through written declarations, and during trials. Expert witnesses become expert witnesses through a combination of professional accomplishments and word of mouth. SGM communities could develop multigenerational networks of experts that could be easily identified by attorneys at various points in a case. This network could be advertised widely among state and national SGM organizations, which could be especially useful for attorneys who are less plugged into these spaces.

Amicus briefs provide another way for experts to engage in advocacy and often are used in cases that have wider impact than on the individual parties to the case. Amicus briefs are “friend of the court” documents that elaborate on a particular issue that the court should consider in this case but often falls outside the specific issue that the court has been asked to decide. For example, I organized a group of multigenerational researchers to write an amicus brief in a case pending before the California Supreme Court about whether the court should uphold a law prohibiting discrimination against SGM nursing home residents. The brief did not address the legal merits of the case but instead focused on research about discrimination toward SGM residents in nursing homes and urged the court to uphold the law.

Multigenerational advocacy also can occur within organizations and agencies, and SGM communities can drive internal changes that can produce real impact in these spaces (e.g., employer health coverage, nondiscrimination policies). Moreover, multigenerational advocacy within organizations can include internal education across generations.

I saw this unfold in my own organization as two program participants of different races, gender identities, and ages clashed and then grew into a stronger, more effective advocacy team. In June 2020, our nonprofit hosted a series of multigenerational “hot topic” conversations about social justice within SGM communities. George Floyd had just been murdered. The Trump Administration had recently reversed transgender health protections under Section 1557. And COVID-19 had taken a heavy toll on our community.

‘Stories can help build empathy and context to understand how people see the world.’

During one of these conversations, a young, white, nonbinary participant (“Danny”) expressed frustration with an older Black same-gender-loving man (“Calvin”) for repeatedly referring to them as “miss” and “her.” Danny subsequently told staff that they felt “threatened” when Calvin “aggressively” clipped his nails while talking to them. After several heated conversations, they realized that they had a lot to learn from one another.

Danny had no idea that Calvin had grown up in an era where he could face extreme violence (or death) from white men for “disrespecting” a white woman. Failing to use expected gendered salutations could spark such violence. Danny also did not know that Black men are often characterized as overly threatening or aggressive by white people.

Calvin was unaware of the toll that repeated misgendering took on Danny’s mental health and how it invalidated a sense of self that Danny had fought so hard to secure. Calvin had limited experience with transgender and nonbinary people, and Danny had limited experience with older Black men. Through these conversations, each of them advocated that their experiences be seen—that their voices be heard—and they were. Subsequently they collaborated on several multigenerational projects that required staff, volunteers, and community members to have tough but very meaningful conversations. Through these conversations, they developed a stronger multigenerational advocacy team that was much more effective at seeking collective change.

“Calling in” for Action

Amid increasing political polarization and campaigns calling out wrongs to be righted, a growing movement has advocated for a new approach: “calling in” those who could be allies, while advocating for change (e.g., Holmes et al., 2022). Calls for action, thus, become “calling in” for action. My experience with Danny and Calvin underscores how “calling in” can produce positive outcomes. Instead of writing Danny off as racist or Calvin off as transphobic, Danny and Calvin ultimately invited each other to understand their experiences—to learn from one another—and to collectively use this understanding to become better advocates for SGM community members who were different from them. Efforts to engage in “calling in” are not always appropriate. It can be emotionally exhausting and sometimes overly taxing on communities who disproportionately experience injustice. But when the opportunity arises, such as it did with Danny and Calvin, approaches to “call in” for action can be powerful tools for multigenerational advocacy.

Multigenerational advocacy incorporates a “calling in” approach that reaches across very different generational groups to learn from one another, identify common areas of concern, and collectively act to create change. To be clear, “calling in” does not eliminate the critical need to address oppression within SGM communities, including racism, ageism, xenophobia, transphobia, and ableism. Successful multigenerational advocacy acknowledges the many differences among SGM communities and finds ways to leverage or understand these differences to create stronger advocacy efforts.

“Calling in” also can invite people to hear stories about one’s lived experiences. Storytelling is a powerful tool for change. Coming out stories dramatically shifted the trajectory of SGM civil rights. SGMs were no longer “someone else’s child” but were the very people we knew and loved. Stories can help build empathy and context to understand how people see the world.

Calvin better understood why Danny was so frustrated with being misgendered after hearing how frequently it happened and how it impacted them. Danny better understood why Calvin struggled to break the habit of using gendered language after hearing stories of violence toward Black men Calvin knew who broke certain cultural and racialized norms for gendered salutations. Stories not only tell our histories. They tell our present lived experiences. And they tell our vision for the future.

While working for a United States Senator, I met with numerous constituents advocating for bills or funding requests. One group stood out. This group included three people of various ages and life experiences who were advocating for more funding for a rare genetic disease. A young man began by sharing current facts and statistics about life with the disease. An older woman shared how she had provided care for her husband and then her son, who both died from the disease. Then a teenager shared how he lived with the disease. He concluded by sharing his vision for the future. Part of their success emanated from their multigenerational approach of storytelling to advocate for more funding for this disease.

They called me in to learn more about this disease. To feel their stories. To hear their hope for change. Multigenerational advocacy can be a similar tool for change for SGM communities. As we navigate a seemingly polarizing world, let us invoke this tool to call one another in to create the change we know we need now and for future generations of SGM communities to come.

Angela K. Perone, PhD, JD, MSW, MA, is an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Social Welfare, and director of the Center for the Advanced Study of Aging Services. She can be contacted at

Photo caption: LGBT civil rights advocates gather at the U.S. Capitol after the National Equity March.

Photo credit: Shutterstock/Keri Delaney



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