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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    There was only one Point scholar at the retreat under 18--Zachery Zyskowski, 17, who is in his second year at UCLA. Zyskowski came out at 13, helped start the GSA at his school and graduated valedictorian; he is far too precocious to be scandalized by a magazine or DVD. (He has watched Hedwig twice. Point executive director Vance Lancaster says the film, a cult musical about the relationship between a drag queen and a young singer, was already a favorite for many scholars. He also says it "reflects reality": "I don't see the negative repercussions to our students, who are very intelligent, thoughtful and mature.")

    But when I opened my gift bag, it occurred to me that gay adults are still figuring out how to deal with gay kids. The gay subculture, after all, had been an almost exclusively adult preserve until the relatively recent phenomena of gay adoption and out teens. Point scholar and Emory College junior Bryan Olsen, who turned 21 in August and has been out since he was 15, told me during the retreat, "It probably sounds anti-gay, but I think there are very few age-appropriate gay activities for a 14-, 15-year-old. There's no roller skating, bowling or any of that kind of thing ... It's Internet, gay porn, gay chats."

    Olsen believes Point is an exception, and despite the gift bags, he's right. The weekend retreat was packed with anodyne activities such as a boat ride to twee Mackinac Island. Lancaster spends an inordinate amount of energy pairing each scholar with a career-appropriate mentor. The mentors are accomplished and tend to be wealthy--a hedge-fund manager, a university president, movie people--and all undergo background checks.

    Point was the brainchild of Bruce Lindstrom, 60, who in 1976 helped Sol Price launch the warehouse retail industry with the first Price Club, in San Diego. Lindstrom had grown up in an evangelical family in Riverside, Calif., and says when his parents and two brothers learned he was gay, they stopped talking to him. His nephew Nathan Lindstrom, 29, says whenever Bruce sent gifts home, the kids were told, "This is from Uncle Bruce, the sodomite."

    For years afterward, Lindstrom tried to find a gay organization that was helping kids "not to go through what I went through." He discovered that few gay groups did much for young people. Many gay activists didn't want to fuel the troglodyte notion that they were recruiting boys and girls. GLSEN'S Jennings recalls that when he first started raising money more than a decade ago, "the attitude was either 'Isn't it cute that you're working with kids?' or 'Why are you working with kids? What are you, f______ crazy?'"

    By the late '90s, Lindstrom was talking about the idea of a scholarship program with his boyfriend Carl Strickland (who is 29 years younger) and with his old friend John Pence, a San Francisco gallery owner and former social aide to Lyndon Johnson. One night in 2001 at Lindstrom and Strickland's home--which they call the Point because it sits on a promontory on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe--the three christened the Point Foundation. Since then, some 5,000 young gays have applied, and 47 Point scholars have been named.

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