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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In a jarring bit of rhetorical mimicry, many Christians who work with gay kids have adopted the same p.c. tributes to "tolerance" and "diversity" employed by groups like GLSEN. One of the savviest new efforts is called Inqueery (slogan: "Think for yourself"). Founded by a shaggy-haired 26-year-old named Chad Thompson, inqueery.com looks at first like a site designed to bolster proudly gay teens. Pink borders surround pictures of stylish kids, and bold text reads, "Addressing LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered] Issues on High School & College Campuses." Thompson, who realized in fourth grade that he was attracted to boys, remembers hurtful anti-gay jokes, and he is convincing when he denounces such bias. "The Christian church has a sordid history--a history of the televangelists from the '80s who would malign homosexuals and say they're all perverts and pedophiles and going to hell--but didn't actually offer you redemption," he says.

Still, Thompson never accepted a gay identity--"Heterosexuality is God's design," he says--and today he is a leading spokesman for young Christians rejecting homosexuality. Thompson says a new kind of bigotry has emerged--among gays. "Those of us who have chosen not to embrace this orientation are often misunderstood and sometimes even ridiculed," he writes in a pamphlet he distributes at campus speaking engagements. Thompson, who has written a book with the near parodic title Loving Homosexuals as Jesus Would, hasn't been completely successful in rejecting his gay desires. He admits he still notices handsome men and says, as though he had an internal Geiger counter, "My attractions are probably about 1% of what they used to be." But the idea that liberals and gay activists are attacking Christian strugglers like Thompson has inspirited and unified social conservatives. The Rev. Jerry Falwell spoke at this year's Exodus conference for the first time, and others have begun to agitate for "equal access" for ex-gays in schools.

Earlier this year, a conservative nonprofit called Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX, whose website says it supports "families touched by homosexuality") approached the PTA about exhibiting at the association's conference. The PTA said no: "From what we saw in the application, it seemed more of an agenda than just a resource for parents," says a PTA official. But the association did allow the liberal group Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays to present an anti-bullying workshop. When I spoke with PFOX executive director Regina Griggs about the PTA'S rebuff, she projected a sense of crepitating resentment: "How can you be more diverse than an organization that says if you're happy being a homosexual ... that's your right? But if you have unwanted feelings or are a questioning youth, why can't you make those decisions? I guess diversity stops if you are a former homosexual."

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