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?