Ben and Debby are both LGBTQ+ identified. Both New Yorkers. And now both friends. Did we mention that Ben is a Gen-Zer and Debby is a Baby Boomer?
They met through DOROT, a UJA partner that addresses the challenges of aging through numerous community-driven initiatives, including those that seek to forge intergenerational friendships.
Since 2021, DOROT programs geared toward the LGBTQ+ community and funded by UJA have been virtual, but the connections and community couldn’t be more real.
For Ben, a high school student, participating in DOROT's Intergenerational LGBTQ+ Affinity Group has been eye-opening and affirming.
"I had basically never interacted with another gay person in my life before," Ben said after the group's last meeting for the semester. "So just being able to speak to all of you older folks, seeing things turn out perfectly alright for you and seeing that your lives are able to be defined about much more than just your sexualities...it gives me a lot to look forward to in the future."
Mike, an older adult participant, responded in kind. "I am grateful to see how things have changed, to see young people in high school talk about gender identity and sexual orientation and all these things. Whereas when I was in high school, none of us talked about any of that. In fact, we didn't even know that that existed. It's great to know that things are getting better, that these discussions are possible."
And the group hasn't just inspired its intergenerational participants.
"Facilitating the Intergenerational LGBTQ+ Affinity Group has been a highlight in both my professional and personal life," said Sam Sheldon, Intergenerational Program Coordinator. "As a member of the LGBTQ+ community myself, I stand in awe at the bravery of the young people and older adults who, with grace and humor, are living their lives with authenticity and teaching and supporting one another in the process."
Even though the program ended for the semester — with some teen participants heading off to college — participants are still looking forward to future gatherings and to the new Affinity Group that starts this October.
"It's a great group of people who are together," said Debby, an older participant. "We need a reunion when they come back from college. It was just amazing how we were able to mesh together."
For Demi, a teen participant, the program has been an oasis, making her more comfortable with her identity.
"In movies, gay characters either have to die or turn straight. It was so beautiful to have this experience with such successful, well-adjusted, inspirational figures — older adults in the queer community. They exist. We exist. People do get happy endings with multidimensional, fulfilling lives. So, I really appreciated this whole workshop."
Quotes were edited for length and clarity. Some names were changed to protect participant identities.