Outside the Closet

Imagine walking through the school hallways knowing that you have a secret that some will resent and tease you for. A few of your classmates will not want to be associated with you because of it, and your friends and family may look at you differently.

You can’t help it. You feel that you were born this way.

It’s a hard secret to keep, and so you come out of the closet.

Homosexuality is not a phase for many teenagers, and some feel discriminated against because of it.

“There are always going to be gay bashers, but I’ve learned to cope,” says Joey Baker, 17, a senior at Bonanza High School. “Things are different in ways that straight people don’t understand. They don’t have to deal with being made fun of for the way you speak or the way you dress and act.”

Britnee Taylor, 18, a senior at Silverado, is a bisexual teen who says she lost friends during her sophomore year after she let her sexuality be known.

“I have a friend whose mom will not let me sleep over at her house because she doesn’t feel comfortable,” Taylor says. “It kind of sucks because I can’t have a girls’ night out or girlie sleepovers without someone looking too deep into it.”

Still, more and more people are becoming increasingly accepting.

Today, about 3,200 Gay-Straight Alliance Clubs are available in high schools nationwide opposed to a couple of hundred clubs in the 1990s.

According to a story in USA Today, Gallup polls showed that in 2006, 54 percent of Americans were accepting of homosexuality.

In 1992, 38 percent of those polled felt the same way.

This shift in sentiment can be attributed to several factors.

First, the Internet has greatly affected the gay community, allowing teenagers to socialize with other gay teens and get support from group leaders.

Also, people are becoming more accepting because of positive gay role models in the media, such as Rachel Maddow, Ellen DeGeneres, Neil Patrick Harris and Clay Aiken.

But this doesn’t mean gay teens don’t have their struggles.

Allison Baxter, 17, a junior at Silverado High School, says that her family knows that she is a lesbian and all of them are supportive. She has been harassed and bothered about her sexuality, but has been happy overall.

“I love being a lesbian and would never go back,” she says. “I like being different.”

Dakota McKinnon, 18, a senior at Coronado, grew up knowing that he was different from other boys as early as age 5. He kept his secret until the middle of sophomore year when he admitted his first male crush.

“Most of my friends were accepting,” McKinnon says. “Some were shocked. Some acquaintances began to treat me degradingly.”

McKinnon says that he finds it harder to find a boyfriend because of his young age. Most teens have not fully accepted themselves as gay or lesbian. When he told his family, they were relaxed about it, he says. His mother has gay family members and his father is open-minded.

Moreover, some of McKinnon’s friends took him to National Coming Out Day last year, which is a gathering for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals observed on Oct. 11.

To support gay pride, many students and teachers also take part in the Day of Silence, where students across the country take a one-day vow of silence to bring awareness to the harassment the homosexual community can experience.

The rights of gay couples have even become a big part of politics.

In 2004, same-sex couples were able to get a marriage license for a short amount of time in California, New Mexico and New York.

Now, same-sex marriages that have taken place in Massachusetts and California are the only marriages recognized by state governments. Some states have adopted the Defense of Marriage Act, a constitutional amendment that does not allow same-sex marriage.

However, New Mexico, Wyoming, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont have yet to add that amendment to their state constitutions.

“I would love to settle down and have a family someday,” Baker says. “Gay people live the common dream just as much as everyone else. It doesn’t matter who you marry, as long as you’re happy.”

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