For more than 50 years, Pride month in June has been a critical part of the LGBTQ+ community’s celebrations of self, with at least 200 official events across the United States. And with that long history, there must be some great stories… right? That’s why Elite Daily sat down with some of the internet’s most experienced (and lovable) queers: Robert “Bob” Reeves, Michael “Mick” Peterson, Bill Lyons, and Jessay Martin — otherwise known as The Old Gays on TikTok. After launching their account in 2020, the fearsome foursome quickly reached icon status by posting adorable (and inspiring) clips of their daily adventures.
In person (OK, over Zoom) they’re just as charming as they are over TikTok: Jessay tells me he adores getting hugs from fans while he’s out on the town; Mick speaks with confidence, but he’s also willing to be vulnerable. Robert beams when he talks about helping people his own age embrace their LGBTQ+ identities; and Bill adds support for younger LGBTQ+ folks too.
When I ask them why they choose TikTok to share, well, everything from wit and wisdom to throwback thirst traps, they’re quick to admit they want to be the role models they didn’t get. “TikTokers are very much part of a younger generation, and we’re the unseen elders, and we do exist,” says Mick. “This is part of our outreach to a younger generation, which we find is really hungry to know us,” he adds. In his experience, “Growing old meant you disappeared, and being over 30 when you’re gay [meant] you’re over.”
“That’s one of our main messages we're demonstrating,” adds Robert. “There is life after 60, and lots of it,” he says. “Life can be fun, and we try to make it as fun as possible even though we do have serious messages we’re trying to convey.”
It looks like they’re succeeding — from lounging around in their peaceful California home to getting mobbed by adoring fans at Coachella, the Old Gays know fun. And for your enjoyment, here’s their thoughts on how to navigate Pride celebrations like pros (and some of the best stories they have in their arsenal!).
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
ED: Tell me about your first Pride. What was it like?
Mick: You mean back before The Flood?
Jessay: My first one was 1982 in West Hollywood. I’ll get back to you on how old I was.
Mick: My first Pride event was in 1979, also in West Hollywood. It was a two-block affair where shirtless guys stood on either side of the street, with a few floats. I was there with my first boyfriend, and it was great. Of course, I had a wandering eye, so at that Pride festival, I met my second boyfriend. Looking back now, I was maybe 23 years old.
Bill: I was 35 years old, on Market Street in San Francisco on the second floor of a building, and all I remember is hearing this thundering sound — and all of a sudden, the Dykes on Bikes rode by. I had never been so proud in my life to see that whole parade, and realize how far we’d come.
Robert: My first experience was 1980, also in San Francisco. That was the year I moved to San Francisco from St. Louis. I was 36 years old, and I was just overwhelmed by the number of people. I went with about four or five friends, and we just walked the length of Market Street, seeing the humanity and celebrating. It was a very impactful experience.
ED: I just can't imagine how much community and wholesomeness y'all must have felt, celebrating with so many people like that. Tell me the most fun, wild Pride story you’ve got in your repertoire!
Jessay: OK, I'm telling a Pride story about Bill, Robert, and I. I was enjoying the event, and they both came to join me. Robert obviously had a wonderful morning with some pot, but he did something else: an edible. He’d never done one before.
While I’m sitting down, he says, “I just need to sit down a minute.” So he does, and while I'm enjoying the parade, Robert starts going down, down, down. And he was down. So I asked, “Robert, are you OK?” He immediately came to, and sat right up. But by that time, they called the emergency crew, strapped him to a gurney, and he joined the Pride parade himself. There he was, in a gurney, just waving to the crowd. We were cracking up.
ED: OMG, edibles will do that to you.
Bill: After they put Robert in the gurney, they took him to the emergency room. I wanted to see him, so I said he was my partner. He’s not my partner. I just wanted to see how he was doing.
I walked in, and there he was, sound asleep, laying on the table. Panicked, I said, “Bob, Bob, Bob!” And he opened his eyes, looked up at me, and just started giggling — not in control of it — he just laughed and laughed.
Jessay: I don’t think anything will top that.
Bill: Nothing. I mean, Bob in a gurney waving at the crowd?!?
Robert: And they waved back at me! Those edibles, they creep up on you slowly.
ED: For me, Pride celebrations have helped me love and accept my queer identity by showing me that I'm not alone. How have your experiences at Pride celebrations impacted your queer identity?
Mick: I was so inspired by Pride celebrations, they prompted me to come out to my parents. It gave me a sense of support. It’s a great experience — you go to these events, mingle with your friends, make new friends, find new lovers. It's just not the same virtually — it’s something to experience live. I also appreciated the number of elected officials who’d attend, as well as the number of gay judges who weren’t afraid to embrace their identity. That is so important, because it gives our community legitimacy.
Robert: Pride is reaffirming for me. It’s a reminder that being who I am openly is OK. That’s one of the most important messages we're trying to convey to younger people: Don’t just do what you’re being told you should do — discover who you are, and be yourself.
ED: Tell me about using social media platforms like TikTok as a way to connect with younger people in the LGBTQ+ community. How do you think these platforms have changed the way the world views the LGBTQ+ community?
Mick: The old chant was, “We’re here, we’re queer, get over it.” And now, it’s like, “We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re everywhere.” Plus, many young people get their information through TikTok and other social media.
Robert: It’s raised visibility for the LGBTQ+ community — just the sheer numbers behind social media now. We can see how it’s literally infiltrating every aspect of life today.
ED: Who’s your TikTok dream collab?
Jessay: One person I would love to interact with on something would be the most wonderful person I have ever met: Patti LaBelle, because of her genuineness. I'm a musician, so looking at her helps me feel more comfortable.
Bill: The person I would like to collab with the most would be Lil Nas X.
Mick: The first person who came to mind is Channing Tatum.
Robert: As far as who I'd like to collab with, I think it would be Shawn Mendes — because I think he's so sexy.
ED: And so talented!
Robert: And talented, too!
ED: For a long time, young LGBTQ+ people didn't have very many role models to look up to, for a lot of sad reasons — from shame and oppression to literal plague and violence. What do you, as queer elders, want to contribute to the way young LGBTQ+ people experience Pride now?
Mick: When I started embracing my identity, I didn't have many gay role models to look up to. I can relate to exactly what a lot of young people went through, growing up in rural Texas, in a very Christian-oriented family. It's not until you’re an adult that you're free from that. Nowadays, I see a lot of young people come out to their parents in their teens, and they’re met with love and support. That's something that should be emphasized. I also think it’s important to teach younger generations about their history, and what it took to get to where we are now — and what it's going to take to continue the movement. That's part of our job: To inspire.
Jessay: You have your support groups that we definitely did not have. So it’s easier for you, and I’m glad. I like being around everybody, young and old. There are older people, our ages, who we're helping with coming out even now. It's not just about you, it's about everybody — straight, gay, lesbian — just everybody. And we’re here for the world to know you can be free, whoever you are.
Bill: It’s amazing to me how many kids comment saying, “I want you guys to be my grandfathers,” because there's not a lot of communication between older gays and younger gays. I've learned so much about younger generations now, being on social media, because I had zero support when I was first intimate with a man. The kids have come a long way.
ED: Do you have any advice for young people, particularly those who are just beginning to love and embrace their queer identities, about making the most out of their Pride experiences?
Mick: I’d say, be ready to be amazed. We always tell young people to try to live in the moment, like there is no past or future. When you’re at Pride, there is only this moment. At some point, you’ll reflect with yourself and realize how special the moment was. But when you're at a gay Pride festival, just enjoy yourself! This is the one time a year when you can really fly.
Bill: Be honest with yourself, understand yourself, and the decisions you're making.
Jessay: I say live — just be you. If you want to come out, come out. If you don't, don't. Be who you want to be, and don't be forced out. And take advantage of it all.
Robert: My advice? I would say, floss your teeth!