Being Gay and Hippie:

How Oral History Deconstructed My Fixed Ideas


Steven Palmer, 2017

My capstone is a reflection on how my approach to history, my project, and my own life changed as a result of the OHMA program. I entered the program with a fixed idea of what my oral histories would prove — that the hippie movement encouraged the gay movement — and that individuals would bear that out with their testimonies. Starting with a conclusion in search of evidence was humbling when the narrators didn’t all express those conclusions I wanted to provide. Oral history reminds me that life is heavily layered and nuanced and that “getting to the bottom of things” is a pipe dream. It illuminated to me that I have tried to have all the sometimes disparate aspects of my life fit together seamlessly. Oral history releases me from feeling that my individual moments ought to align so I can feel “whole.”


Steven Palmer comes to the OHMA program as the latest in many incarnations.  From a fledgling hippie boy, Steven considered alternatives to the American way of life with his share of attending Grateful Dead concerts in the 1970s. He studied Latin American politics at SUNY Purchase and wrote his senior thesis on Liberation Theology in Chile during the Allende regime.  After school, Steven lived for a stretch in Nicaragua during the fifth anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution, then conducted tours for two years to Nicaragua in solidarity with the revolution. Fulfilling the Eight Fold Path—by accident—Steven went on to work as an Account Executive in advertising agencies for five years promoting Kenner Toys, white bread, and Hawaiian Punch. Luckily for Steven, he was downsized from advertising and returned to school for pre-med at Nassau Community College, then onto St. John’s University to become a physician assistant. Steven has been working in the field of HIV since 1996, both treating people living with HIV and as clinic coordinator of HIV Vaccine Research at Columbia University.  Steven continues to have a fascination with the history of hippies of the Haight Ashbury and has interviewed about 30 people who were part of that scene.  Steven lives with his husband David and their dog Billy in Washington Heights. 

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