While research has documented the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ youth and elders, this project seeks to draw on the assets of these communities to teach and learn from one another through dialogue. At its heart, this project looks to activate the educational potential of intergenerational dialogues in transmitting and preserving the rich and complicated histories of sexual and gender minorities. This means in practice that elders and youngers learn from one another, an approach different from mentor models that often assume knowledge flows in one direction. THe LGBTQ+ Intergenerational Dialogue Project recognizes that elders and youngers have much to teach one another and learn from one another.
As part of the research component of this project, we have documented over 110 (and counting!) intergenerational dialogues using photography, audio and video technologies, and ethnographic note-taking. During COVID19 when the project went online, we relied primarily on Zoom recordings and email conversations. While the turn to Zoom was initially a surprise, we quickly learned that it provided everyone a much needed opportunity to connect while sheltering in place. This was true for elders and youngers who found themselves isolated and in need of “queer” contact and conversations.
Dialogue is central to our work. Dialogue, however, is complex and unfolds in a range of ways with different ends. We intentionally prioritize the need and importance of dialogue as conversation because it opens up ways of learning about our similarities and differences. Sometimes dialogues flow and go on without a hitch and other times difficulties emerge. No matter what, we try our best to stay with all moments – joyful or difficult – to work through what such feelings reveal about learning across generations and building community.
We dialogue over storytelling. Telling our stories and seeing how those stories shape our lives and connect to other stories is an important and powerful way of both being seen and teaching others through one’s life. Utilizing storytelling prompts dialogues that prompt participants to dig further and make connections across time.
Our storytelling is done through themes that connect our daily lives with broader themes informing and impacting LGBTQ+ lives. Themes such as HIV/AIDS, gender, religion and spirituality, race, popular culture, and more open up ways to learn about our past and present.
Elder Coffee Chat
In Fall 2023, our inaugural elder consultants, funded through the Spencer Foundation Large Research grant, initiated an elder coffee chat. Happening before each dialogue, this is an opportunity for intragenerational dialogue between elders. While students have seminars to unpack and reflect on the dialogues, the elder coffee chat became a space and time for elders to do similar work while also building relationships and bonds with other elders.
“The Elder Reflection gatherings are special, in that they are just for elders. Led by two elder facilitators, the elders are encouraged to share both their individual joys and challenges of the Project, and also to form unique relationships with each other.” –Danie Muriello, elder liaison
“The Coffee Chat has been a safe space for Elders to process their experiences and reflect on the dialogue, reading and viewing materials. The Chat is an informal setting during which Elders can build relationships over a cup of coffee.” –Phyllis Johnson, elder liaison