The Battle Over Gay Teens

What happens when you come out as a kid? How gay youths are challenging the right--and the left

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KATJA HEINEMANN / AURORA FOR TIME

HELPING HAND: A trust-building exercise at the Point Foundation retreat for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students

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Most gay activists would rather swallow glass than say Mat Staver was right about something, but they know that last year's big UCLA survey of college freshmen found that 57% favor same-sex marriage (only about 36% of all adults do). Even as adult activists bicker in court, young Americans--including many young conservatives--are becoming thoroughly, even nonchalantly, gay- positive. From young ages, straight kids are growing up with more openly bisexual, gay and sexually uncertain classmates. In the 1960s, gay men recalled first desiring other males at an average age of 14; it was 17 for lesbians. By the '90s, the average had dropped to 10 for gays and 12 for lesbians, according to more than a dozen studies reviewed by the author of The New Gay Teenager, Ritch Savin-Williams, who chairs Cornell's human-development department.

Children who become aware of their homosexual attractions no longer need endure the baleful combination of loneliness and longing that characterized the childhoods of so many gay adults. Gay kids can now watch fictional and real teens who are out on shows like Desperate Housewives, the dating show Next on MTV and Degrassi (a high school drama on the N network whose wild popularity among adolescents is assured by the fact that few adults watch it). Publishers like Arthur A. Levine Books (of Harry Potter fame) and the children's division at Simon & Schuster have released something like a dozen novels about gay adolescents in the past two years. New, achingly earnest books like Rainbow Road (Simon & Schuster), in which three gay teens take a road trip, are coming this month. Gay kids can subscribe to the 10-month-old glossy YGA Magazine (YGA stands for "young gay America") and meet thousands of other little gays via young gay america com or outproud.org Gay boys can chat, vote for the Lord of the Rings character they would most like to date--Legolas is leading--learn how to have safe oral sex and ogle pictures of young men in their underwear on the ruttish chadzboyz.com Not that you have to search so far into the Web: when University of Pittsburgh freshman Aaron Arnold, 18, decided to reveal his homosexuality at 15, he just Googled "coming out," which led to myriad advice pages.

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