Of the many emotions a gay man or woman feel, perhaps the most powerfully pervasive is fear. The fear of being found out is real enough, but the worry does not end there. There also lurks the fear of being called names, being assaulted, perhaps even killed. For adults these fears are horrible enough. For a lesbian and gay teenager, who lacks experience and life skills to cope with them, such fears can be overwhelming. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth face many problems as they realize they are homosexual. Often they don’t know even one other homosexual person and feel very alone and misunderstood.
They see very few role models, no one to identify with. No one knows their secrets, no one shares their pain. No one will stop others from name calling if the name calling is about homosexuality. Who would dare to speak up? No one speaks up, not in junior high and high school. College, perhaps; pride events are more easily seen then, but in high school no one speaks up. Imagine dearly loving someone else and having to keep it totally secret because if you don’t you will be punished, cast out of your home by your family, not accepted by your friends, perhaps losing your job.
This is the world of the lesbian and gay young person. The feelings homosexual youth face are only the beginning of the problem. As they recognize that they are different and discriminated against, they lose self esteem and become depressed. Many become suicidal and develop a feeling of extreme depression and helplessness. Homosexual youth can not speak up because of fear and misunderstanding. Not only do they face unrestricted discrimination and harassment at school, they often face similar or worse homophobia at home.
Parents, unaware of their children’s sexual orientation, often make cutting remarks about homosexual television characters, community members, or the orientation in general. They may not even recognize their comments, but the child is hanging on to every word, looking for at least a tiny bit of acceptance from family. Many times they find hate instead of acceptance, sometimes to the point of being kicked out of the house at age 14 or 15 when a homophobic parent does find out. This leaves them with nowhere to turn.
Sometimes, what makes it so especially hard for gay teens is the very thing that protects them, their invisibility. For example, the lesbian, gay or bisexual teen, sitting there in their cloak of presumed heterosexuality, laughs outwardly, or joins in expressing shared disgust, while yet another chunk of their self-esteem has been chiseled away. Homosexual teens can not confide in parents, friends, or often even the church. Most Christian churches condemn homosexuality and back up their beliefs with the Bible. However, the major references to homosexuality in the Bible are badly mistranslated.
Nowhere does the Bible mention same-sex love negatively; it only mentions prostitution, specifically in reference to local cults. The more discriminating the place, the more dangerous it is to speak up, but how much more dangerous is it to let a teen live in constant depression and fear? Not only do homosexual youth hear discrimination and fear from home, church, and the community, they also are exposed to a subtler form of it at school. If homosexuality is mentioned at all, it is usually skimmed over and brushed off as something that no one here actually needs to know about.
It is assumed that the entire class is heterosexual and should not need to know what homosexuality and homophobia really are. As homosexual youth enter college and begin to explore the world on their own, many begin to find the support groups that were so lacking in high school. Large universities sometimes have official student organizations for homosexual students. Books are much more available, and often many people are publicly “out” on campus. This environment begins to help homosexuals understand themselves better. Some become very active and public, to help pave the way for people who may be having a harder time than they have.
Many homosexual people gain the courage and independence to come out to their family, sometimes because it is the first time their physical safety is not in danger by doing so. As homosexual youth mature and begin to develop adult relationships, they must integrate their feelings and attitudes into their normal life. They also usually overcome most of the homophobia that they grew up with. Often a part of the integration of growing up is that the person is able to stop focusing on their own homosexuality, becoming more open to same sex and opposite sex relationships without thinking about whether their homosexuality is showing or not.
Homosexual people in this stage have begun to really be able to accept themselves without feeling obsessive or afraid of issues surrounding homosexuality. The details vary between people, but the overall change is toward self acceptance and comfortableness within society. This change is needed for proper social interactions, with friends and lovers. It most often happens in the late teens and early adulthood, because a lot of self inspection and independence occur then.
Homosexual teen suicide, discrimination from all areas of life, and misunderstanding of homosexuality, both from the heterosexual community and from the homosexual youth who have not have access to information, would greatly reduce, or nearly disappear, if proper education was given in the schools to combat homophobia. Homosexual youth should not have to lie to hide their orientation from their parents, friends, and the rest of the community, just to stay alive. Even one teacher taking a stand for proper homosexual information in schools can make a difference.
That one teacher may be the role model, one or several students needed to see to make them feel worthwhile and not suicidal. Too often though a teacher who stands up for equal rights and protection is cut down by the school administration and parents. However, even then a student may feel better that at least one person understands them and wants to fight for their rights. It can be the difference between hopelessness and a bit of hope. As more teachers, administrators, social workers, and other people speak up, the deadly silence and invisibility of homosexual youth begins to diminish.