Our schools are hamstrung by Baby Boomer disputes

Should our primary and secondary schools instruct our children to think what we want them to think or teach them how to think for themselves?

It’s not a new question; but it is at the center of the gnawing, now half century long, divide within the baby boom generation over—well—just about everything.

Lacking resolution, it has left a sorry legacy and is responsible in large part for the muddled and conflicted education system we have now.

Consider the recent contradictory response to politically charged student artwork.

Local school administrators simultaneously resolutely defended free speech rights, apologized for its portrayal and then caused it to be taken down.  

This perceived need to serve clashing beliefs has directly led to a new difficulty we have as a society — separating truth from fiction — by shackling the central role of education in helping us to do so.

“A Subversive Activity”

In 1969, educators Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner published “Teaching as a Subversive Activity”, a landmark book that challenged methods they argued had become outdated, impractical, irrelevant and counterproductive in what was becoming a more rapidly changing, interdependent and information accessible world.

Postman later co-authored a 1985 book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, that presciently detected how the media already was developing trust issues with the public that would eventually damage its ability to serve as an effective arbiter of fact.

Postman and Weingartner observed that pupils who have an omnipresent interest in the process of inquiry more readily develop sound reasoning skills and become good learners.

Their approach to schooling encouraged students to question and discouraged teachers from directly answering those questions whenever possible.

The objective was to prompt students to inquire further.  

This “inquiry method” organizes instructors, resources and technology to both stimulate and support the initiatives of the learner, arguing that making the latter more responsible for his or her own education maintains commitment by encouraging each to explore what interests them with appropriate but minimal guidance.

For Postman and Weingartner, the act of educating is a cooperative social process best “achieved” through open collective discussion, as opposed to being “delivered” individually through lecture or instruction in a competitive environment.

Through the self-generation of continuous inquiry, education also becomes a dynamic lifelong process rather than an end game designed to produce fixed and indisputable conclusions that in reality are rare in an ever-changing world.

 Push Back

Fortunately, aspects of the inquiry method have filtered into our primary and secondary schools mostly as a result of individual teachers implementing them in their classrooms.

 In this way, our schools and education system could be said to be “subversive” by teaching our young how to consistently question the status quo, responsibly challenge authority when it only reinforces the stultifying effects of establishment thinking, and intelligently alter their perceptions in response to new discoveries arrived at through application of their own sound reasoning skills.

Apprehensive that it challenges long held beliefs and values, some seek either to insulate themselves and their children from it or discourage it in the community at large, in part as a means of having the schools foster social conformity.

Frankly, if those beliefs and values truly have lasting merit they should not only survive such inquiry, they should thrive in it. 

Instead, it is ironically the same Boomers that decried the situational ethics of the ‘60s as “self-serving” that seem to be embracing the self-serving ersatz “alternate facts” of today.

Conflicted and Hamstrung

These contradictory tugs are evident in those administrative responses to provocative student art and the (fortunately) more muted criticism of Shenendehowa’s provision of Ramadan prayer space for Muslim students. 

They also are resident in the test obsessed No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top federal policies that inspired the state-based Core Curriculum numbers-driven accountability for teachers and schools that have run roughshod over the learner-centered methods suggested by Postman and Weingartner.   

High school students especially are always keen to challenge and provoke along the lines conceived by the inquiry method. 

Too much of education policy today suppresses that spirit, mostly in response to those who are wary of it. 

A healthy self-governing society will always be in dire need of it. One need only look around us to witness how great that need is today.

Maybe we can finally get there once the Baby Boomers depart from the scene.  It’s hard to conceive how we’ll get there otherwise.

John Figliozzi is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.

Letter: Baby boomers need to get back to church

Baby boomers need to get back to church

I am a member of the baby boomer generation and because of that, I am brilliant. If we wanted it, we were almost guaranteed a college education. Because we are so brilliant, we can convince you that any kind of behavior is acceptable as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. Cause and effect are archaic concepts that can be circumvented by enlightened thinking. We are elite, and the age-old rules of decorum and common sense don’t apply to us.

Being a baby boomer, I have pretty much seen to the ruination of religious institutions. Most churches of all denominations are in dire straits with dwindling memberships because, after all: “I am a good person and I don’t need someone to tell me how to run my life.” I have decided to let my small children decide for themselves what kind of “spirituality” they will pursue, because they are even more brilliant than I am. Why would I need a church, when every time I admire myself in the mirror, every time I get on Facebook, I am constructing a shrine to myself?

The ’60s adage, “love the one you’re with,” has taken on a new dimension because most of us are devoid of a sense of community, of fellowship, and many of the self-help books that we gobble up have convinced us that we must love ourselves.

Now, moving on into our dotage, some of us are realizing the value of those around us, and that many of the tenets of the ’60s that seeped into our consciousness are utter tosh. Perhaps a trip back to the church we went to as a child would be a good way to reconnect. It may not be too late to save many of these churches if we begin to attend now. Wouldn’t it be a shame if, in our last-hour epiphany, there was no one there to help us close the book? The Buffalo Bills won’t mind if you come to the tailgate party at noon instead of 8 a.m.

David McElroy


Why millennials are more like baby boomers than they realize

Millennials have shown in recent years there are many things they don’t like, from dinner dates, to cruises, to bars of soap and even paper napkins.

One thing they’re keeping alive and well? Political events and protests. In many ways, in fact, they are just like their older relatives were in the 1960s. That’s according to a new survey of 2,000 adults out today from Eventbrite, an event-planning website. About 28 percent of millennials have attended a live event supporting a cause in the last year, compared to 15 percent of those in older generations. Some 62 percent of millennials also said they attend more cause-related events now than they did 10 years ago.

Though Americans are more divided than ever, those that share the same political views are desperate to connect with each other and protests provide the perfect opportunity, experts say. And the same political divisiveness and social change during the 1960s and 1970s led their parents and grandparents to protest.

Young adults between the ages of 18 and 30 were the most likely age group to have gone to a protest since the 2016 presidential election, according to a separate Huffington Post poll in February. Some 24 percent of adults in that age group said they had gone to a rally or demonstration since the election, compared to about 10 percent of those who are older. Younger people are more likely to vote Democrat, which is one likely reason for their activism, as that study noted.

This isn’t the first survey that has shown millennials prioritize spending on experiences, rather than possessions. Some 47 percent of U.S. millennials said traveling was one of their two or three top spending priorities in the next several years, compared to 42 percent who said they prioritized buying a home, 47 percent who plan to buy a car and 42 percent who prioritize paying off debt, according to a 2016 survey of 1,000 adults the travel company Airbnb, which obviously has a vested interest in people taking trips. Those responding could select two or three of their top priorities.

And 39 percent of millennials spend 15 percent or more of their annual incomes on vacations, according to a May 2017 survey of 1,000 adults from the financial-planning company LearnVest. Almost half of millennials are willing to go into debt to go on a vacation, compared to 37 percent of those in Generation X and 18 percent of boomers, LearnVest found.

Millennials go on more business trips than those in older generations do, and as a result, sometimes tack on a few personal travel days to those trips, a trend called “bleisure,” according to Swapnil Shinde, the chief executive and co-founder of Mezi, an app that provides tools for travelers to plan their trips. More than half of millennials said they planned to travel frequently in the next five years, compared to 32.1 percent of baby boomers, according to a 2016 survey from American Express.

Baby Boomers taking to social media in greater numbers

The cliché of embarrassing older relatives appearing on Facebook has been around for a few years now, and increasingly there is some truth to it, according to telecoms regulator Ofcom, which has just published its annual Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes report.

The report, which was compiled from data collected during two different studies between autumn 2016 and February 2017, found that record numbers of older people in the UK are now embracing social media, with 48% of online Baby Boomers – 65 to 74-year-olds – having their own profile, and 41% of over-75s.

Most of these profiles were found on Facebook, to which about nine out of 10 social seniors gravitate. Only 6% were to be found on WhatsApp, and just 1% on Instagram.

However, older people were still spending much less time online in an average week than young adults – around 15 hours compared with 32 hours among 16 to 24-year-olds.

“The UK’s older generation is beginning to embrace smart technology, and using it to keep in touch with friends and family,” said Ofcom head of media literacy, Alison Preston.

“But some older people lack confidence online, or struggle to navigate search results. Many are new to the internet, so we would encourage people to help older friends or family who need support getting connected.”

According to Ofcom, one-fifth of over-65s said they lacked confidence online, especially when it came to managing their personal data, or considering the privacy implications of posting photographs on social media.

Others expressed concerns over how to differentiate sponsored links from genuine search results, or how to recognise targeted advertising compiled from their browser cookies.

Despite the adoption of social media and smart devices among older people – 39% of Baby Boomers and 15% of over-75s now own a smartphone – 56% of over-75s do not go online at all, and of those, 86% said they had no plans to.

Google Named America’s Most Desirable Place to Work, Except if You’re a Republican Baby Boomer

The market research firm Morning Consult recently asked 220,000 Americans which company they’d be the proudest to work for. While the study has few surprises, there is one anomaly that’s worthy of attention.

Without getting into the methodology, surveys like this are more a measure of brand familiarity and product attractiveness rather than an informed desire to work for a certain company.

For example, the number two firm for men was Harley-Davidson. It’s likely that most of the men who chose that firm were thinking employee discount on a cool set of wheels rather than the company’s decadelong series of layoffs.

Similarly, when women rated Hershey’s number seven (it didn’t even make the top 10 for men), I suspect they were envisioning free samples rather than the company’s widely criticized use of child labor to harvest cocoa beans.

Anyway, the most consistent winner of the popularity contest was Google, which was the number one choice overall as well as the number one choice regardless of sex, education level, yearly earnings, or national geography.

In other words, Google “ran the board” of this popularity contest with only two exceptions: Republicans, who rated Google number three, and Baby Boomers, who rated Google number seven. What gives?

Well, if you look at their top 10 choices, Republicans and Baby Boomers tend to favor traditional manufacturers like Harley-Davidson, Lockheed Martin, John Deere, and Boeing, all of which are notably absent from the Democrats’ and Millennials’ lists.

Similarly, Democrats tend to like disruptive innovators like Tesla and Netflix, neither of which made the Republicans’ list. Same thing with Millennials, who liked YouTube and Netflix, neither of which made the Baby Boomers’ list.

So perhaps the best way to characterize this cultural divide is that young progressives tend to look to the future when envisioning a place to work, while old conservatives tend to look to the past.

Which, I suppose, isn’t all that surprising.

Balinghou, Baby Boomers and China’s one-child policy

Demographics – the makeup of a given population – can have a huge impact on an economy and different industries. And a major demographic event is taking shape in China right now. For investors who can see what’s happening, it presents a major opportunity.

sasint / Pixabay

There are currently about 385 million people in China who were born after 1980. That means there are more people in China aged 37 or younger than the entire populations of Russia, Japan and Vietnam – combined.

The balinghou

They have been dubbed the balinghou (???), which literally means post, or after, 80. They are the generation born after China’s one-child policy came into effect in 1979 (and was phased out in 2015). The group also includes the jiulinghou (???), or post 90 generation.

These are not the grown up “starving kids in China” your parents told you about when you refused to eat your vegetables. They’ve never dealt with widespread famine, or the disastrous consequences of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

Most of them grew up in a city and have only known a world in which their economy gets stronger and stronger. As shown below, China’s GDP in 1980 was US$191 billion. By 2015, it had grown to US$11 trillion. In other words, this generation of Chinese grew up during the time when China’s economic production grew by nearly 5,700 percent.
China_GDP_2 balinghou

Many of them are the only children in their families (China’s one-child policy applied mostly to urban dwellers. Rural parents could have more than one child). That means they had up to six adults doting on them growing up – their parents and two sets of grandparents. They are the grown up “little emperors” the one-child policy created.

As such, many, but not all, of them had the best clothes, ate the best food and went to the best schools their families could afford. They are now in, or entering, a workforce that has enjoyed growing wages for decades and has more disposable income than ever before.

The balinghou are not just the spoiled super-rich kids we may hear about on the news. They’re an emerging “spending class” that want the good life. And with a population of 385 million, they can’t help but have a major impact on China’s economy.

Baby Boomers and the balinghou

The balinghou could be compared to the Baby Boomers in the U.S. (only in China, it’s been the opposite of a baby boom since 1979).

The Baby Boomers are Americans born in the post-World War II boom years up to about 1965. Between 1954 and 1964, more than four million babies were born each year in the U.S. By the time the boom started to fade in the mid-1960s, there were about 76 million boomers making up 40 percent of the U.S. population.

This population bulge has had an impact on just about every aspect of American life for the past 70 years – everything from popular music to cars to stock market performance… and now pension and health care issues.

Something similar could happen in China because of the balinghou generation. As I said, they are 385 million strong (about 28 percent of China’s total population) and are the dominant group in China’s booming middle class.

And just like investors who rode the U.S. baby boom wave to huge gains, smart investors have the opportunity to profit from this generation of Chinese consumers. Go here to find out more.

Baby boomers, Medicare march into increasingly uncertain future

Updated 3 hours ago

The futures of the baby boom generation and Medicare are inextricably tied.

The government program provides health insurance for the majority of people 65 or older at a time when their health care needs tend to explode. That’s particularly true for baby boomers, who continue to enter their retirement years with more chronic health problems than previous generations.

The number of boomers and their numerous health issues will increase demands on Medicare at a time when the ratio of people paying into the program versus those receiving benefits is at an all-time low — and getting worse.

But Medicare is in no immediate danger, said John Lovelace, president of government programs for UPMC Health Plan.

“The worry is really the long-term worries,” he said.

In 2015, Medicare spent $647.6 billion to provide coverage to 55.3 million people, according to its trustees’ 2016 annual report. Worker contributions to Medicare, premiums paid by retirees and a few other funding sources provided $644.4 billion in revenue.

The program covered the $3.2 billion gap with money in its savings account, which dwindled to $263.2 billion.

By 2025, Medicare will cover 73.2 million people — a 32 percent increase, according to the report.

The Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, which covers Part A expenses such as hospital stays and hospice care, will be drained by 2028, the report projects. Medicare then will have to rely on its annual income, which trustees estimate will cover about 87 percent of expected costs.

The Supplementary Medical Insurance Trust Fund covers Part B expenses, such as physician fees, outpatient procedures and home health. It also covers Part D, which subsidizes drug insurance coverage.

That trust fund is in better shape, but only because it draws money from general revenue to make up for shortages from premiums and other revenue shortages. Its reliance on general revenue is projected to increase during the next couple of decades.

The Part A trust fund was doing well until 2008, according to the report. Annual revenue often covered — and sometimes exceeded — the amount paid out in benefits.

In 2008, the fund took a nosedive and hasn’t recovered, mainly because of the Great Recession, said Stephen Foreman, a health care economist at Robert Morris University.

“People weren’t paying Medicare payments when they got laid off,” he said.

The economic downturn also encouraged some baby boomers to retire, which drove up Medicare costs at a time when revenue was faltering, he said.

Although the economy improved and more people are paying into Medicare again, baby boomer retirement rates continued to increase. Costs escalated and savings kept plummeting, Foreman said.

Part B is financed mainly through a combination of general tax revenue and premiums paid by Medicare recipients. While the fund is not facing insolvency, Congress faces pressure to raise premiums, he said.

“It’s going to get worse,” Foreman said.

One factor that could reduce pressure is the growing popularity of the Medicare Advantage program, which allows private insurers to offer retirees a managed care plan that reduces their risk of high health bills by capping maximum out-of-pocket costs.

About 11,000 people turn 65 every day, and the number of people 65 or older is projected to increase by 38 percent by 2025, said Dr. Rhonda L. Randall, chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare Retiree Solutions, which offers Medicare Advantage and supplemental insurance plans.

About one-third of people on Medicare have chosen Medicare Advantage. But among people turning 65, the ratio is closer to 50 percent, she said.

“The younger seniors seem to be comfortable with it and (are) choosing it at a higher rate,” she said.

Younger seniors tend to like Medicare Advantage because it’s more coordinated than traditional Medicare, said Katherine Hempstead, a senior adviser at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation who focuses on health insurance coverage.

“It’s a little bit more like your experience with a work (insurance) plan,” she said.

About 45 to 50 percent of retirees in Western Pennsylvania have picked Medicare Advantage, which the UPMC Health Plan also offers, Lovelace said.

Another factor that could improve the program’s finances is a shift from fee-for-service to value-based payments, he said.

In a fee-for-service model, providers get paid to perform procedures even if they have to do them again.

“The incentive is to do volume,” he said.

In a value-based system, the provider gets a set amount of money. If treatment is less expensive, they keep the extra money. If it’s more, they absorb the costs.

While that switch and other cost-saving measures haven’t been around long enough to accurately predict their effect on Medicare, they seem to be reducing the growth in health care costs, he said.

A third factor is that health care is switching from hospital care to less expensive home-based care, Lovelace said.

“There will not be as many hospitals 10 years from now because they won’t need as many hospitals,” he said.

Most people prefer staying at home, so the trend is driven as much by patient preference as by insurers trying to contain costs, he said.

That is particularly evident as people reach the end of their lives and more opt to spend their final months at home or in a hospice.

“Most people don’t want to die in ICU hooked up to tubes,” he said.

Brian Bowling is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1218, [email protected] or via Twitter @TribBrian.

Baby Boomers are roaring into their 70s new series reveals

Amanda Barrie on a scooter in the new show The Baby Boomers’ Guide To Growing Old

Amanda Barrie on a scooter in the new show The Baby Boomers’ Guide To Growing Old

Amanda Barrie on a scooter in the new show The Baby Boomers’ Guide To Growing Old

Former politician Edwina Currie giggles as she thinks of how she frequently enjoys embarrassing her children. 

Actress Amanda Barrie likes to wear skinny jeans and heels, and TV presenter Esther Rantzen does star jumps while watching television.

They were the generation that hoped they’d die before they got old. They made Britain cool and denigrated their elders as fuddy-duddies. But now the Baby Boomers are getting older, they want to reinvent that too.

A new four-part series, The Baby Boomers’ Guide To Growing Old, takes an irreverent look at what they’re up to, from using dating sites to joining punk bands, having plastic surgery and zooming about on mobility scooters.

‘We’re not going quietly,’ says former Tory minister Edwina, 70. ‘People are living for longer and most of us are still young at heart. We’ve worked hard and now we want to have fun. I’m growing old disgracefully. My kids don’t like a lot of the things I tweet about, especially Brexit – they tell me I’m embarrassing.’

During the show Edwina joins punk band UK Subs led by 72-year-old frontman Charlie Harper. ‘It was brilliant fun,’ laughs Edwina. 

‘I can’t sing, but it didn’t matter. We sang a song called Senile Dementia which we wrote together. I shouted out, “I don’t wanna die!” Even at this age you can try new experiences.’

The show follows the Baby Boomers, who also include former MP John Prescott, journalist Eve Pollard and Boris Johnson’s father Stanley, as they investigate what old age means for different people. Amanda Barrie, 81, tries running a B&B, something many pensioners do for extra income, but found it wasn’t for her. ‘It’s too much hard work,’ she groans.

She preferred to flirt outrageously with cricket commentator Henry Blofeld on a trip to a cosmetic surgeon. After being offered various procedures Amanda says, ‘I’d be better just cutting my head off.’

Edwina Currie on stage with Charlie Harper, frontman of the punk band UK Subs

Edwina Currie on stage with Charlie Harper, frontman of the punk band UK Subs

Edwina Currie on stage with Charlie Harper, frontman of the punk band UK Subs

The pair also delved into the world of internet dating. ‘I’m open-minded,’ says Amanda, who married her wife Hilary Bonner in 2014 after coming out as bisexual. ‘But you could have a different date every night.’

Former Strictly Come Dancing competitors Esther Rantzen, 76, and Johnny Ball, 79, tried a different way to meet people. 

‘We tried Ceroc dancing, a form of modern jive, and it was great fun,’ says Johnny, who’s famous for his shows about maths. 

‘Some people had found love through it. People are realising there’s no need to slow down. When I’m not travelling around giving lectures about maths, I’m writing books.’

Esther, who has been single since her producer husband Desmond Wilcox died in 2000, wasn’t keen to dance on TV again after believing she made a fool of herself on Strictly in 2004.

‘Exercise can have a positive effect but I prefer not to do it in public. I’ll often jog on the spot or do star jumps during ad breaks while watching TV,’ she says. ‘So I got grumpy about the Ceroc, especially when it became clear they hoped I was looking for a date. That’s not something that interests me. I still think about Desi every day.’

The show celebrates the new way of getting older, but also acknowledges the downsides. For instance, sports presenter Jim Rosenthal visits a centre where the elderly can buy mobility scooters and stairlifts.

‘There’s a lot of loss that you have to get over,’ says Esther. ‘You lose friends and partners. You can lose your health and your job. You need courage to achieve the quality of life you took for granted for so long.’  

The Baby Boomers’ Guide To Growing Old, Tuesday, 10pm, More4.


Keeping baby boomers financially secure

As the baby boomer population quickly becomes the largest senior demographic in American history, there is a growing concern about keeping their hard-earned investments safe. According to a recent report, the U.S. senior community loses an astonishing $53 billion annually to both fraudulent and deceptive practices.[1] This type of preying on the elderly is known as “elder financial abuse,” and financial institutions are in the perfect position to help. First, let’s look at the three types of financial elder abuse:

  • Financial Exploitation
    This type of exploitation is legal but highly unethical, and consists of deceiving or convincing seniors to make poor financial decisions or give their money away.
  • Criminal Fraud
    This type of activity is clearly illegal, and includes identity theft and mail fraud.
  • Caregiver Abuse
    This refers to financial theft or deception by someone trusted—whether it be a family member, healthcare worker, or even a financial manager.

continue reading »

Born Before Stonewall: How LGBTQ Baby Boomers Are Helping Redefine What It Means to Grow Older

click to enlarge

Judith Hoch Wray (left) and Donna Prince have built a good life in Indianapolis, and persevere through financial and medical setbacks. Says Donna: “When I can’t see where the next point of light is, Judith says, ‘It’ll be OK. We’ll just take it a day at a time.’” Photo by Heather.

  • Judith Hoch Wray (left) and Donna Prince have built a good life in Indianapolis, and persevere through financial and medical setbacks. Says Donna: “When I can’t see where the next point of light is, Judith says, ‘It’ll be OK. We’ll just take it a day at a time.’” Photo by Heather.

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt of a story by former INDY writer Barry Yeoman. You can (and should) read the entire piece here.

There are days when I forget I’m gay. I have deadlines to meet, a dog to walk, an appointment with the barber to trim the last of my gray hair. There’s the soup I plan to deliver to some younger friends; they just had a baby and I’m hoping to become an elder in the child’s life. Stepping outside the house I share with my husband, I greet our mail carrier and notice the bamboo is raging out of control again. None of this distinguishes me from my heterosexual neighbors.

It’s a surprising place to find myself after having lived through the most dynamic period in LGBTQ history. We Baby Boomers have one foot in the Stonewall Rebellion — the riots following the June 1969 police raid of a Greenwich Village bar that helped launch the modern-day gay-rights movement — and another in marriage equality. We are the first generation with a wide range of open and successful role models, from out-and-proud entertainers like Ellen DeGeneres to Apple CEO Tim Cook. We can now see our lives refracted back in Coca-Cola commercials and mainstream TV sitcoms. We are also the HIV generation: The virus stampeded through our communities starting in the early 1980s, killing more than 300,000 gay and bisexual men.

“I call this the Gayest Generation,” says Jesus Ramirez-Valles, a professor of community health sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago and author of the 2016 book Queer Aging. “They are the first ones to embrace a gay identity. They were full participants in the gay-rights movement. And then they were the worst hit by the HIV epidemic.”

Tony Whitfield, an associate professor at Parsons School of Design, says of gay men, “There’s very little construction of real supporting networks that help us once we age.”

By many measures, the “Gayest Generation” is worse off than our non-queer counterparts. We are less financially prepared for retirement. We have weaker social networks. We face greater health problems, from diabetes to depression. Many of us hesitate to reveal our sexual orientations to doctors, and we worry (with justification) about mistreatment in long-term care. A Harris Poll in 2014 revealed that 32 percent of older LGBTQ people strongly feared “being lonely and growing old alone,” compared to 19 percent of heterosexuals. These disparities are even greater for bisexuals and transgender people.

Indeed, as I traveled around the country between 2014 and 2016, I talked with LGBTQ people, friends and strangers alike, who are socially isolated, emotionally wounded, and financially struggling. Since President Trump took office in January — and stacked his Cabinet with such civil-rights opponents as Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price — there’s been an additional burden of fear, even among those who are not isolated or otherwise suffering.

That’s not the whole story, though. I also talked with people whose hard lives have made them — made us — more adaptive, more resilient, and better skilled at demanding respect. These are traits that behoove everyone, regardless of sexuality, to develop as we grow older. While there is no single LGBTQ Baby Boomer experience, this much is clear: As the last of us settle into our 50s, and the oldest reach our 70s, we might just have a thing or two to teach our straight friends about aging strong.

Some hard memories I never want to shake, because they connect me to people I’ve loved. One of them is sitting in a hospital room in 1989, facing my friend Todd, who was teetering on the edge of consciousness. His lips were cracked and his complexion wan and he had lost his ability to speak. Others were there, too, including his mother and an infectious-disease doctor, all of us trying to discern whether Todd was assenting with a faint nod to having an intravenous medication line removed so he could go home to die.

A few days later, I sat again at his bedside, put on a cassette tape, and quietly narrated the Baroque dance steps we used to do together. I didn’t know if he could hear the music, or hear my permission for him to leave us whenever he was ready. He died shortly thereafter, the day before his 26th birthday.
At his funeral, I wailed without shame. I didn’t expect to be doing this at 29. It felt like a dress rehearsal for aging.

The AIDS crisis, which peaked in the United States in 1995 before new medications made the disease more manageable, was the unifying experience for our generation of gay men and lesbians. It didn’t hit all places equally, but few of us escaped. We watched vibrant lives like Todd’s — he spoke Chinese and Spanish, worked with young immigrants, and was equally graceful on a dance floor and a hiking trail — sputter out unpredictably just as they were taking on definition. We became caretakers, volunteers, and activists. We endured regular blood draws, followed each time by days of bargaining: If I’m still HIV-negative, Lord, I’ll never complain about my hay fever again.

The epidemic blew holes through many gay men’s social circles. Some never fully mended. Gary Marshall, 62, divides his time between San Francisco and New Orleans. He is retired from the federal government, widowed, and HIV-positive. When he was younger, Gary cared for many people as a friend and a volunteer. But now, as he contemplates his own future, he finds his network dwindling.

“In my 30s, when people got sick, there was a lot of us that knew each other and could help change sheets,” he told me. But many have died or drifted away, and the survivors have their own health problems, making him wonder who will care for him. “I’m glad I got to see the best that gay men could be. When the chips were down, at the very worst, we stepped up and supported each other when no one else would. So yea for us. But now, I don’t know how much of that is left.”

Katharine Stewart and Jada Walker at their wedding: “Early on, we wrote health-care powers of attorney,” says Jada, “directly because of what we saw happen every day to people at the mercy of others.” Photo by Cassandra Danielle, FireRose Photography.

But AIDS was also a teacher of lessons, some of which are even more valuable now that we’re older. Jada Walker met her wife Katharine Stewart when they worked at an Alabama HIV clinic. Both witnessed the mistreatment that was common at the time. The couple saw unrecognized spouses barred from ICUs and excluded from life-and-death decisions. They saw transgender women buried in male clothing. After one man died without a will, they say, his parents evicted his partner from their shared home.

“That level of disrespect has informed a lot of what we do,” says Jada, who is 56 and lives a few miles from me in Durham, North Carolina. Both women demand that doctors respect them as individuals and as a couple. They treat diagnoses and treatment plans with skepticism: “I want a second and third opinion on everything,” Jada says. And they’ve been careful to get their documents in order. “Early on, we wrote health-care powers of attorney,” she says, “directly because of what we saw happen every day to people at the mercy of others.”

Stephen Klein has learned to value his surviving friends.

Others say grieving inspired them to hold more tightly to those who survived. “Maybe because so many of us found ourselves losing friends to AIDS in the ’80s and ’90s, the friends that we have are even more precious,” says Stephen Klein, 67, a retired library administrator living in Long Beach, California.

For me, the memories that most paralleled my own came from a kitchen-table conversation with Meredith Emmett and Galia Goodman. I’ve known the Durham couple for decades — in fact, I recently unearthed a photo from the late 1980s in which Galia and I huddle with a still-healthy Todd at a Gay Pride rally. All of us are smiling and there’s not a gray hair among us.

By the time that photo was taken, we had all buried friends. We had also compiled a mental inventory of one another’s strengths: who could coordinate hospital visits, who could cook meals or soothe parents, who needed to be present for treatment conversations.

“To have arrived at this age having already lost many people, we understand that you rely on your community,” says Meredith, 57, one of whose mentors died of AIDS. In particular, “Galia and I have noticed how quick we are to deal with death and loss — understanding what rituals you create, how you build community, the length of time that the grieving process takes.”

Those lessons have served the couple well during every life transition since. And it reinforced for them the value of creating a network of human connection to sustain them as they age. Meredith consults with nonprofits for a living. Galia, a 66-year-old artist and calligrapher, belongs to our synagogue’s burial society. They’re active in their neighborhood association, and Galia attends an intergenerational belly-dance class. They’ve been trusted adults in the lives of numerous children. “We are not wealthy in finances,” Meredith says. “But we are certainly wealthy in terms of our community.”

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