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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But much has changed since Olsen returned from Mexico in 2000. He and his parents haven't completely reconciled, and they aren't paying for his education. Olsen says they told him he had to choose between their financial help and "this lifestyle." But Olsen and his partner, Kyle Ogiela--they met in 2002--are welcomed at the family table every Sunday. Ogiela, 26, even works for Randy Olsen, Bryan's father, as the office manager of the family pest-control firm in Woodstock, Ga. As a Mormon, says Randy, 53, "I don't believe that men should be together. I never will. But I love him as my son. And he and his partner are good boys." Randy says his first reaction to Bryan's teen homosexuality was, "I'm going to find him the best hooker I can." But he says he and his wife sent Bryan to Casa not because he was gay but because he was a "totally unruly kid" who was "just so mean ... To go get that scholarship, I understand he had to be the poor little victim. But for three years, my wife and I were the victims." Seconds later, though, Randy yields again: "It's like God put a pair of new glasses on me ... I thought I could talk him out of [being gay]. But it's not something you can talk someone out of."

(As for Casa, Mexican authorities closed it a year ago. The local health minister charged, among other infractions, that Casa was "not equipped with responsible staff to run a pharmacy." James Wall, spokesman for the Utah-based World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools, which provided corrective-behavior services for Casa, says Bryan Olsen once publicly berated the facility's director during school and that he "is probably exaggerating" his stories of abuse. "I wonder if he's ever been [to Casa]," replies Olsen.)

Olsen deeply appreciates what he calls the Point Foundation's "unconditional support." But one night at the retreat, he also said, "I know they sort of want you to focus on the negative when you're telling your story." At the next fund raiser, Olsen resolves, he will tell the donors that he recently went with his mother, one of his sisters and Kyle to Los Angeles to appear on The Price Is Right. And Kyle won a new Buick LeSabre.

The point here is not that gay kids don't have to cope with bigotry and bleakness. A Point scholar who asked not to be identified told me he swallowed 17 Tylenols one summer night just before ninth grade--and when that didn't kill him, 30 more the following night. (He merely felt sick the next day; today he is a thriving college student.) He attempted suicide for various reasons--he says his parents ridiculed his desire to pursue acting instead of football--but being gay didn't help. And while Marcel-Keyes says many of her problems have "nothing to do with my sexuality," she has struggled with self-mutilation--at the retreat, her arms bore scars from shoulder to wrist.

Yet, according to Savin-Williams, most gay kids are fairly ordinary. "Perhaps surprising to researchers who emphasize the suicidality, depression, victimization, prostitution, and substance abuse of gay youth, gay teenagers generally feel good about their same-sex sexuality," he writes. A 56-year-old gay man with a slightly elfish mien, Savin-Williams has interviewed some 350 kids with same-sex attractions, and he concludes that they "are more diverse than they are similar and more resilient than suicidal ... They're adapting quite well, thank you."

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