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Gay as the School Day is Long: Teen Sexuality on School Time

Gay as the School Day is Long: Teen Sexuality on School Time

When I was a high school student in the late 1980s, there was (what was then) a controversial move to create a gay and lesbian student group that would meet during school hours activating a sort of peer support. They were called “Project 13″ and they had won the support of a handful of lesbian teachers on staff, as well as a few open-minded administrators. Their objective was neither radical nor revolutionary; they just wanted to be able to assemble, to chat, and to support one another without fear of ridicule, retribution, or violence. To my recollection, no straight-minded students really had any issue with it. Sure, some snide remarks were made about “working hard on project 13″ but there was little to no outrage coming from their fellow students. The outcry and concern came mainly from parents who did not believe that the school should sanction, and tacitly offer approval, of gay student groups.

I was reminded of this long forgotten chapter in my past while reading a piece about “coming out” in middle school, that was published in The New York Times Magazine this past Sunday. “Coming out” in this case means unequivocally and proudly announcing to friends, family, and, in this case, one’s school the nature of one’s sexual orientation, and unlike the high school kids of my barely remembered eighties, these kids are not just teens but sometimes adolescents.

Ranging from age twelve to about sixteen, the child subjects of this article shed light on the struggle and the reality of what it means to be out and gay or lesbian in middle school. While acceptance is far greater than it was a few decades back, being gay in middle school is more survival than learning, according to one concerned parent of a gay youth quoted in the Times article. Gay youth are often the subject of frequent ridicule and, in many unfortunate cases, violence. As a response to anti-gay bullying and harassment, at least 120 middle schools across the country have formed GSAs (or gay-straight alliances), where gay and lesbian students meet with straight peers to brainstorm strategies to keep their campus more tolerant and safe for all. But this development has caused anger and concern among some parents and religious groups, as they claim the school, by providing a place for gay and lesbian youth to congregate, essentially is the school forcing a sexual agenda on the community.

For many adults, the idea of a twelve year-old declaring their homosexuality seems hasty and premature. But I ask you, if a twelve year-old boy were to tell you that he liked girls, would you judge his need to affirm his sexual preference as impulsive or rash? For many adults, even adults open-minded about homosexuality, the idea of young children and any sexuality is a taboo subject. The fact is, for many pre-adolescents, their sexuality is either something they are struggling to get in touch with or something they inherently know without a modicum of doubt.

I am curious what your thoughts are on the subject? Do you have any objection to GSA groups offering support to gay and lesbian (and in some cases bisexual and transgender) youth on school property? Is it necessary to bring the concept of sexuality into the realm of school groups, or is it something better left to personal and/or family matters? How could we better support gay and lesbian youth in and out of school?

Read more: Children, Family, Healthy Schools, Love, Parenting at the Crossroads, Sex, Teens, , , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

103 comments

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8:16AM PST on Dec 8, 2012

I have many gay friends and as one of them said, "I came out knitting" - meaning that he was always aware that he was gay. Several of my other friends have expressed that sentiment, while others have said that they were asexual, or thought they were heterosexual until they were in their teens or older.

Sexuality is a more fluid thing than people want to believe, and someone who identifies as straight as a teen may end up later having a homosexual relationship, and vice verse... That being said, I think any group that gives support to GLBT people of any age is a great thing. Gay kids are more likely to end up homeless and are much more likely to commit suicide than their peers are.

Homosexuality has been around as long as human beings have been around. It's time for homophobes to get over it and recognize that who other people are attracted to or who they love is none of their business, and really has no impact on them.

9:40AM PST on Dec 7, 2012

I think it's a good idea. It's especially nice to see straight people mingling in with LGBT group. It's always good to have a place where you know that you can be just yourself, talk about issues/problems , coming out, braking it to parents and get some support. I'm not sure about the age though, some 12 year olds can be quite mature (considering the age) so I guess it just depends...i think everyone who feels they need that kind of support should be allowed to become a member of such a group, it'd help a lot..

6:42PM PDT on Oct 7, 2011

Thanks for the article.

3:48PM PDT on Apr 19, 2011

I'm definitely for LGBT groups for young people, but I'm also for setting an age limit on it. I think 12 IS a bit young (as I didn't know my own sexual orientation at that age and was still figuring that out for the next couple of years) and know that it's a very confusing time, emotionally as well as physically. I think we should give kids at least a couple more years to think about their own sexuality before allowing them to join a group that openly declares it before they truly know their own preferences. 14 or 15 might be a more appropriate age to join a LGBT group, in my opinion.

But definitely groups like that are very much needed. It's hard enough being a young man or woman today, but it's harder still when you're labeled "different" and having a support group for young LGBT individuals would be a great resource and would probably help more people become not only more comfortable (and tolerant) of their own sexuality but with others as well.

7:55PM PST on Dec 2, 2010

Yes! This kind of thing is absolutely necessary! Kids must learn tolerance at school because you can't rely on the parents to teach them. Their parents could be complete homophobes for all the school knows!

3:20PM PDT on Jul 17, 2010

According to the Kensey Report, 46% of males had reacted sexually to another male, but only 10% of American males surveyed were "more or less exclusively homosexual for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55"

This indicates that, especially in adolesence, many males, even then (1948), had sexual thoughts and/or experiences with other males; but, only about 10% were actually homosexual.

I believe that, today, significantly more than 46% have had male-to-male thoughts or experiences (since homosexuality is more acceeptable now). However, the 10% figure for males who are more-or-less homosexual, appears to be approximately correct.

Therefore, it is probably best for most teenage males to wait until their sexual interests have matured before declaring themselves to be gay.

Human sexuality is a continum from exclusively heterosexual to excusively homosexual. Although not a scientific study, recently I saw a survey of males who claimed to be in a "committed relationship" with a female, that 82% of them had masterbated while fantasizing about another male, or had actually had a male-to-male sexual encounter.

In the U.S. today, while sexual orientation is less controversial than in the past, being gay can be difficult. Consequently, it would seem better to delay any public declaration of sexual orientation until physical, emotional, and intellectual maturity has provided a firm understanding of one's desires and interests, sexually.

12:57AM PST on Mar 11, 2010

well,its best to understand how these people are like.

3:26AM PST on Feb 20, 2010

Somethings are better to keep to your self.

2:17PM PST on Feb 2, 2010

Im 14 and bi,I tell everyone and have never had problmes but i do have friends who do go to school and are....hesatent to tell people because other people have and are having things said about them,so i tihnk somtihng like GSA should be in every school,and i tihnk it might actully help

11:06AM PST on Feb 1, 2010

just be a friend to everyone and accept them

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