The Battle Over Gay Teens

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


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

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    So the Christian right has found its strategy--inclusion, prayer, the promise of change--and the gay movement has found one--GSAs, scholarships, the promise of acceptance. But what of the kids themselves? In July, I met 30 way-out-and-proud LGBT youths at a Michigan retreat arranged by the Point Foundation; these high-achieving Point scholars are getting from $4,000 to $30,000 a year to pay for their educations and are considered by some gays to be the movement's future leaders. A few days later at Exodus' Youth Day in North Carolina, I interviewed 13 of the kids fighting their attractions. Few at either conclave seemed interested in the roles their movements had set for them. Instead they were gay or Christian (or both) in startlingly complex ways.

    Take Point scholar Maya Marcel-Keyes of Chicago, for instance. The 20-year-old daughter of conservative activist and former presidential candidate Alan Keyes, Marcel-Keyes has a girlfriend but has dated two boys; identifies herself as queer (not lesbian), pro-life and "anarchist"; and attends Mass whenever she can spare the time from her menagerie. (When Marcel-Keyes and I spoke recently, she and her girlfriend had a rabbit, a ferret, a cockatiel, two rats and two salamanders.) For their part, several of the young Exodus Christians seemed more stereotypically gay--"I love that Prada bag!" a 16-year-old boy at the Youth Day squealed several times--than some of the Point scholars who had been out for years. Others had gone to Exodus with no intention of going straight. Corey Clark, 18, belongs to his GSA at Governor Mifflin Senior High in Shillington, Pa., and says he sees nothing wrong with being gay. He attended 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."

    It's remarkable that a boy like Clark could grow up in a small town and hear more good than bad about gays. But he still waited until he was 17 to come out. You don't have to be a right-wing ideologue to ask whether it's always a good idea for a child to claim a gay identity at 13 or 14. Cornell's Savin-Williams, who is generally sunny about gay kids' prospects, notes that those who come out early tend to have a harder time at school, at home and with their friends than those who don't.

    Perhaps it's not surprising that the straight world isn't always ready to accept a gay kid. But the gay world doesn't seem ready either.

    On the first day of the Point Foundation's retreat, which was held in a town on Little Traverse Bay called Harbor Springs, Mich., the 38 students who made the trip were given gift bags that contained, among other items:

    •A 9 -oz. jar of American Spoon Sour Cherry Preserves •A Fujifilm QuickSnap Flash camera •A small tin of Trendy Mints from Henri Bendel, New York City •A DVD of the 2001 film Hedwig and the Angry Inch, in which a teenage boy is masturbated by an adult •The Harbor Springs Visitors Guide •The Aug. 16 issue of the gay magazine the Advocate, whose cover featured a shirtless man and blared, SUMMER SEX ISSUE.

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