For as long as there have been humans, there have been those that are gay. As a species, our attitudes towards them changes dramatically from one period to the next, and from one culture to another. The ancient Romans, for instance, were well known for their open attitudes towards homosexuality. In America, up until quite recently, our attitudes could not have been more different. As we are experiencing a cultural shift where gays are more and more accepted, it's causing quite a lot of friction. This friction is filtering down into our youth communities.
This following passage was presented to a US Senate committee: "In 2004, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the American Psychiatric Association said: There is strong evidence that gay, lesbian and bisexual youth of both sexes are significantly more likely to experience suicidal thoughts and attempted suicide. A number of studies have shown that the increased risk ranges from two-fold to seven-fold. Gay, lesbian and bisexual youths were shown in these studies to carry a number of risk factors for suicidal behavior, including high rates of alcohol use. Gay adolescents are at significant risk for suicide due to chronic bullying and victimization in school."1
While many kids are bullied for being different, most have an understanding that their difference is something that will change for them as an adult. For instance, a child who is teased for their weight knows that they can go on a diet and lose the weight. A child who is teased for being poor knows that they can grow up and earn a greater income if they apply themselves. A child who is teased for being gay knows that they are always going to be gay. Knowing how unacceptable it is in our society and that they cannot change it can make them feel extremely hopeless and alone.
Gays also have to contend with much bigger bullies than their peers. Many politicians and religious groups are very outspoken against gays and shout their hateful condemnations from pulpits, pews and picket lines. Gays are told repeatedly and by many that they are an abomination, a stain on humanity. That they are hated by God. Last week (early May), I read an article about a pastor who had encouraged parents to beat the gay out of their children. Pastor Sean Harris, of Fayetteveille, North Carolina stated, "Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist... Man up, give them a good punch, OK. 'You're not going to act like that. You were made by God to be a male and you're going to be a male.'" Harris later expressed remorse for not having been more careful with his words. But sentiments like that are hardly new, or rare.2
While we, as a culture have come to treat most other minority groups with civility and equality, for the most part, open hostility against gays is still widely practiced and accepted. The government recognizes most criminal acts against gays as a hate crime, but gays are not yet given equal status as heterosexuals in this country. Our societies bias against gays in political and religious arenas - not to mention what parents have to say about gays in the privacy of their own homes - sends a powerful message to teenagers. According to Robby Cook, the executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee: Nine out of Ten LGBT students are bullied and many times much worse. Congressman Jared Polis and Senator Al Franken have offered a bill called the Student Non-Discrimination Act that would give LGBT kids the same civil rights protection guaranteed by other non-discrimination laws. Republicans refuse to bring the bill to a vote and Mitt Romney refuses to speak in support of it. With the current climate in Washington over gay marital rights, republicans are firmly feet planted against supporting any gay issues, even ones that would help protect kids.3
Meanwhile, gay students frequently do not feel supported or protected by their schools. One gay student, 15 year old Zach Huston, was beaten mercilessly earlier this year by a fellow classmate while others looked on. The beating was filmed on one students cell phone and posted on the Internet. The evening before, the teenager who beat Zach had made a derogatory comment on one of Zach's facebook photos and called him fag.
The Unioto High Schooler states that he had been attacked on previous occasions, even punched in the face and when he complained to school officials he says, "He basically said, 'There's a few gay kids in school and you're the only one I have problems with. So, what can you do to tone yourself down and not draw all the attention to you?'" Zach and his mother reported assault repeatedly and nothing was ever done. Now the ACLU is representing Zach in a possible law suit as they feel the school failed to protect Zach.4
Until this current century, most LGBT hid their orientation or at least did their best to not flaunt it. Prom was a celebration they either did not attend or they would escort a date of the opposite sex. Although now many gays and lesbians are legally allowed to bring same-sex dates, this is not always welcome or trouble-free. This only applies to government funded schools as well, and those in the private sector do not have the same rights. This past month in Kentucky, two students of Lexington Catholic High School, Hope Deckler and Tiffany Wright, were told that they would be barred from attending their senior prom together.5 When they and their friends dressed up anyway and tried attend, they were refused admittance and chose to remain outside for their own version of the dance.
Though many kids today are openly gay, more still continue to hide their orientation for fear of rejection and ridicule. Some schools are certainly more tolerant than others. Things have improved for many gay teens, as the 1990's and before were fraught with extreme and sensational acts of violence against homosexuals. Kids like Derek Henkle, a student who was repeatedly beaten and threatened, at one time having a rope thrown around his neck in an attempt to drag him behind a truck was laughed off by school officials; or Jamie Nabozny who was beaten in a school bathroom and urinated on. Both of those boys, and other students like them, sued their schools and helped put into place some of the laws that currently protect gays and lesbians from physical harm while at school. However, as we can still see by the cases of Zach Huston, Hope Deckler and Tiffany Wright, violence and prejudice against gays and lesbians is still a huge problem as is complacency of many school administrations.
1 - Teen and Gay Issues, by Hal Marcovitz
3 - http://www.dccc.org/page/s/mobile-bullying?source=2-2012.05.14_rm
5 - http://www.king5.com/news/national/gay-teens-told-they-cant-attend-prom-as-a-couple-151721775.html
Do you talk to your teenager about their gay peers, and how they are treated in their school? At what age do you feel it is appropriate to begin talking to kids about sexual orientation? What do you tell your younger children about people in their lives who are gay?