Excerpted from Gay Teens Coming Out Earlier to Peers and Family, by Marilyn Elias, published Feb 8, 2007, by USA Today:
…Gay teenagers are “coming out” earlier than ever, and many feel better about themselves than earlier generations of gays, youth leaders and researchers say. The change is happening in the wake of opinion polls that show growing acceptance of gays, more supportive adults and positive gay role models in popular media.
…Still, many continue to have a tough time. The worst off, experts say, are young people in conservative rural regions and children whose parents cannot abide having gay offspring. Taunting at school is still common…
…Schools are more likely than in the past to have openly gay staff members who can help young people, says Anthony D’Augelli, an associate dean at Pennsylvania State University. In a recent national survey, one-third of school psychologists said they had counseled students or parents about sexual orientation.
In the mid-1990s, a few dozen Gay-Straight Alliance clubs were in U.S. high schools; now 3,200 are registered with the education network, Jennings says.
The Internet also has eased isolation for gay teens, offering a place for socializing and support, says Stephanie Sanders of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction in Bloomington, Ind.
Cultural diversity is prevalent
Teens are coming out in an era when more Americans than ever consider homosexuality acceptable. In 2006, 54% found homosexuality acceptable, compared with 38% in 1992, Gallup polls show.
Youths also swim in a cultural sea that’s far more pro-gay than ever, says Ritch Savin-Williams, a psychologist at Cornell University and author of The New Gay Teenager. From MTV’s The Real World to Will & Grace and Ellen DeGeneres hosting the Oscars, “kids can see gays in a positive light,” he says…
…Not everyone applauds the soaring number of school-based gay/straight alliances and adult-led programs for gay teens. “Homosexuality is harmful to society, and young people have no business committing to a sexual identity until they’re adults,” says Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council, a conservative policy group. The council backs a new Georgia law, first in the nation, that requires schools to tell parents about clubs and allows them to forbid their children to participate in gay/straight alliances.
Lobbying is underway to pass similar laws in North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama and Texas, says Joe Glover of the Family Policy Network, a Christian family advocacy group. “Parents shouldn’t have to check their rights at the school room door,” he says.
Researchers traditionally have emphasized that gay teens have worse mental health and higher suicide rates than straight teens. But Cornell’s Savin-Williams says these conclusions are primarily based on small, older studies skewed to troubled youths. A few newer studies suggest teens who are attracted to both sexes may have the worst problems. But most research has grouped them with homosexuals.
Gay kids are more likely than straight teens to think about or try suicide, but there’s no evidence they’re more likely to kill themselves, says sociologist Stephen Russell of the University of Arizona. He has analyzed findings from a study of 12,000 teens followed up to a decade so far. Those with same-sex attractions are more depressed and anxious, Russell says, but there’s also evidence that many who say they’re attracted to others of their sex grow up to be heterosexual. He says stigma and prejudice still prompt undue stress for gay kids.
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