Coming out in High School or earlier was never ever anything I thought about doing, but yet I have seen many kids (term is used very loosely) on LiveJournal and groups I help out with who have come out in High School and younger.
Anyway, it’s a good read, and I was a little surprised to see it in the YES (Youth Expression Section) of the Journal. I have put the full text of the article behind a cut since the journal online is subscription only based.
Also, I forgot to add that they had a sub-article about the local school district (Albuquerque Public Schools aka APS) and school districts in general adding / creating Safe Zones.
Coming Out as a Teen Becoming More Common
By Leann Holt
Journal Staff Writer
Ali was 13 when he told his mother he was gay. She took him to church. Brianna was 13 when she told her mom she liked girls. Her mom called her names.
David was 14 when he came out to his dad. He told the boy he could choose not to be gay.
These Albuquerque teens are part of a growing group of American young people who have identified themselves as gay or lesbian at a young age, often straining relationships within their families.
In his book "The New Gay Teenager," Ritch Savin-Williams says the average age of coming out— when individuals make a public statement about their homosexual preferences— has dropped from the mid-20s to the mid-teens during the past two decades.
While no one knows why kids are defining their sexuality at younger and younger ages, many people attribute the change to the media's increasing focus on gays and lesbians.
Some see the media exposure as providing positive models for young people who are exploring homosexual feelings. They say kids are never too young to know to whom they are attracted.
"Kids see homosexuality everywhere," said Savin-Williams in a phone interview. "It helps them recognize what they've always felt. But there is no data to say culture creates the feelings."
Others say the social culture is pushing young teens into a lifestyle they might not have otherwise chosen.
"All kids around puberty are confused about who they are," said Barbara Swallow of Free Indeed Ministries, a Christian organization that counsels people away from homosexuality.
"Then they're told it's acceptable to be whatever you want to be— homosexual, bisexual, transgender," Swallow said from her home in Albuquerque. "But that's not the way God created it."
For many teens who identify themselves as gay and lesbian, the issue seems fairly simple: They say they are inherently attracted to people of the same sex and will live their lives accordingly.
"Obviously, you're born gay," said Philip Gengenagel, a 16-year-old who came out to his parents last year. "You're not going to try to put yourself through all these problems. This is me."
Gengenagel emphasized his point when he talked about the times he has seen a female friend naked.
"It doesn't click in my head that it's hot," he said. "It's not going to trigger anything. Don't you think if (being gay) was a phase I would have some type of sexual thoughts?"
'A tough life'
Experts say there are advantages and disadvantages to coming out as a young teen.
Young people can avoid the discomfort of living with parents who disapprove of their sexuality by waiting until they go to college to come out, said Savin-Williams, who chairs Cornell University's human-development department.
But they run the risk of going through a major life-transition without the circle of accepting friends they probably have cultivated in high school, he said.
And years of pretending to be heterosexual can be damaging, said Dr. Jack Drescher of the American Psychiatric Association in a telephone interview.
"They are not learning social skills, but developing hiding skills," he said. "In the process, they lose the ability to know who they are."
When teens do come out while living at home, the news can be earth-shattering for parents.
Local school officials say it isn't uncommon to hear stories of kids who are beaten or thrown out of the house when they tell their parents they are gay or lesbian.
"In other minority groups, parents teach children how to deal with stereotypes and prejudice," Drescher said. "Gay kids are born into the enemy camp."
Gengenagel said he sometimes feels like his mother hates him because he's gay.
"She told me she could only love me because it doesn't say in the Ten Commandments 'thou shalt not be gay,' '' he said.
His mother, Donna Gengenagel, said her extended family teases her about having "the gay kid."
"Everybody wants their kids to be straight," Donna Gengenagel said. "Philip's going to have a tough life ahead of him. But he's up for it— he's smart."
One of Donna Gengenagel's main concerns is her son's safety— a common parental response, according to Jean Genasci, past national vice president of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbian and Gays.
"Here's a son who is now a target for gay-bashing," Genasci said. "It fills you with fear. And it's hard when parents realize the child they thought they had, they don't."
Donna Gengenagel said that, while she thinks Philip might just be going through a stage, she supports him no matter what happens.
"All I care about is that he's a good boy," she said.
While the struggles in the Gengenagel household seem to represent the norm after a child comes out, sometimes things are a little less bumpy.
At 12 years old, Vera Esquibel told her mother she was bisexual, attracted to boys and girls. Her mother, Cindy Livingston, told her she didn't have to make a permanent decision about her sexuality, and to wait and see what happened.
But when Vera tried to date boys, her mother saw a "total disconnect."
Now, at 17, Vera is in a loving relationship with another girl— something Livingston said is a much better fit.
Vera beams when she talks about her girlfriend.
"We're the lovey-dovey couple everybody loves to hate," Vera said, peeking out from under her baseball cap.
Livingston agrees, talking about the notes and flowers the two pass back and forth.
"I have thought that life could be tougher for her," Livingston said of her daughter. "But I think it would ultimately be harder to not be true to herself. This is what makes her happy right now."
Drescher said Americans are often inconsistent in how they regard young people, holding them to adult standards on matters like crime, but not allowing them to make adult decisions about their sexuality.
"What we're saying is we don't want them to decide what they're going to decide," said Drescher, who has studied programs that attempt to alter sexuality. "We're saying that we don't want them to know it."
Dan Douglas of Rio Rancho said he was nervous about how his father would react when he came out, but his father and mother were both supportive.
Dan, 17, appreciates that.
"Kids just want to be who they are," he said.
"There's a certain amount of respect that's lost when you deny who you are," Dan said. "Why not give people permission to be who they are?"
Schools Make Safe Zones for Gay Students
By Leann Holt
Journal Staff Writer
Because of the increasing number of teenagers who are identifying themselves as gay or lesbian, Albuquerque Public Schools officials are working to make sure those students are safe and supported.
But not all schools across the state are following suit, leaving some homosexual students feeling abandoned.
All but a handful of Albuquerque's high schools and middle schools have a Safe Zone— a school employee's office or classroom where gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender teens can go to talk if they feel harassed or need support, said Janalee Barnard, an APS administrator.
And most of the city's high schools have support groups or Gay Straight Alliance clubs, which provide peer support for GLBT youth.
The need for Safe Zones and support groups is great, APS officials say, because harassment is still a fact of life for many GLBT kids— in spite of the increasingly positive portrayals of homosexuality in the media.
A national survey sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network found that GLBT secondary students are three times as likely to say they don't feel as safe at school as their straight peers.
And 90 percent of GLBT students said they were harassed or assaulted during the past year, compared with 62 percent of non-GLBT teens.
Teachers could be contributing to a negative environment, according to a recent survey by the Human Rights Watch.
About 80 percent of prospective teachers had a negative attitude toward gay and lesbian teens, the survey found, with 33 percent identified as "high-grade homophobes."
"I don't care what movie is out there or who's getting an award, it's so stigmatizing for the kids," said Donna Teuteberg, a social worker at Sandia High School. "Our job is to keep them safe and support them."
While the number of GSA clubs nationally has grown from 100 to 3,000 in the past 10 years, only three high schools outside Albuquerque and Santa Fe offer them: Taos, Los Alamos and Fort Wingate Reservation School.
Barbara Swallow, who works with Free Indeed Ministries, says schools that support GLBT teens create an atmosphere that makes it acceptable for kids to be gay— something her organization believes is wrong.
"Kids have been counseled to be gay without parents' permission," Swallow said. "Parents need to know what's going on with a counselor saying 'it's OK to be gay.' ''
Barnard says that isn't what is going on. Safe Zone volunteers simply act as a sounding board for teens and watch out for their safety.
"This isn't about recruitment," Barnard said. "There's a huge difference between promoting and affirming. Every student should be able to pursue an education in a safe and respected environment."
Ian is a 16-year-old Alamogordo High School student who came out to his mother this spring. Not only is his mother having a difficult time accepting it, he said, but there is no support at school.
"Kids call me names when I walk by," he said. "A lot of people think it's gross and nasty. I feel odd all the time— like I have this random thing."
Ian said the only supportive adult he has found is a school security guard who told him to let him know if "people are messing" with him.
"I need somewhere to go," the teen said. "If a teacher had offered to help me, I probably would have taken them up on it."