New York – Kids are disclosing their homosexuality with unprecedented regularity—and they are doing so much younger, reports TIME’s John Cloud. The appearance of so many gay adolescents has, predictably, worried social conservatives, but it has also surprised gay activists, who for years did little to help the few teenagers who were coming out. Both sides sense high stakes, reports TIME.
In the 1960s, gay men recalled first desiring other males at an average age of 14; 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 Ritch Savin-Williams, author of The New Gay Teenager, who chairs Cornell’s human-development department. The book quotes a Penn State study of 350 young people from 59 gay groups that found that the mean age at which lesbians first have sexual contact with other girls is 16; it’s just 14 for gay boys. The average gay person now comes out just before or after graduating high school, according to the book.
“Same-sex marriage—that’s out there. But something going on in a more fierce and insidious way, under the radar, is what’s happening in our schools,” says Mathew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, an influential conservative litigation group that earlier this year won a court order blocking a new Montgomery County, Md., teachers’ guide that disparaged Evangelicals for their views on gays.
In 1997, there were approximately 100 gay-straight alliances (GSAs)—clubs for gay and gay-friendly kids on U.S. high school campuses. Today there are at least 3,000 GSAs—nearly 1 in 10 high schools has one—according to the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN, say “glisten”), which registers and advises GSAs. In the 2004-05 academic year, GSAs were established at U.S. schools at the rate of three per day.
One of the few national groups conceived explicitly to help gay kids is the Point Foundation. Launched in 2001, Point gives lavish (often full-ride) scholarships to gay students. It is a leading example of how the gay movement is responding to the emergence this decade of hundreds of thousands of openly gay youths, TIME reports. Point candidates must prove both academic success and commitment to gay causes.
Bryan Olsen, a Point Scholar, said that after his Mormon family learned he was gay when he was 15, he was sent to a boot camp for wayward teens in Ensenada, Mexico. Bryan’s father, Randy Olsen, 53, says his first reaction to Bryan’s teen homosexuality was, “I’m going to find him the best hooker I can.” Bryan’s parents aren’t paying for his education. Bryan says they told him he had to choose between their financial help and “this lifestyle”. But Olsen and his partner, Kyle Ogiela, 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, “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.”
From young ages, straight kids are growing up with more openly bisexual, gay and sexually uncertain classmates, reports TIME. Maya Marcel-Keyes of Chicago, the 20-year-old daughter of conservative activist and former presidential candidate Alan Keyes, has a girlfriend but has dated two boys; identifies herself as queer (not lesbian), pro-life and “anarchist” and attends Mass.
On talk radio, on the Internet and in churches, social conservatives’ canniest strategy for combatting the emergence of gay youth is to highlight the existence of people who battle—and, some claim, overcome—their homosexual attractions, writes Cloud. As recently as the late ’90s, Exodus International, the premier organization for Christians battling same-sex attractions, had no youth program. Today, according to president Alan Chambers, the group spends a quarter of its $1 million budget on Exodus Youth; about 80 of Exodus’ 125 North American ministries offer help to adolescents.
Nearly all mental-health professionals agree that trying to reject one’s homosexual impulses will usually be fruitless and depressing—and can lead to suicide, according to Dr. Jack Drescher of the American Psychiatric Association, who has studied programs that attempt to alter sexuality.
Corey Clark, 18, who is featured on TIME’s cover, came out when he was 17, belongs to his GSA at Governor Mifflin Senior High in Shillington, Pa., and says he sees nothing wrong with being gay. He attended Exodus’ Youth Day, because he wanted to better understand his evangelical church and friends who say gays should change. “Actually,” he says, “I’ve heard so many good things about gay pride”—in the media and at school—“but I hadn’t heard directly about the downside.”
TIME’s John Cloud, who himself came out at 23, will answer questions online all week on time.com
Online go to: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1112771,00.html
Contact: Jennifer Zawadzinski, TIME 212-522-9046 or Debra Richman, TIME 212-522-6856