For gay teens, the common adolescent problems of fitting in and finding love can take on an entirely new meaning.
Common Issues for Gay Teens
Coming out, or openly declaring you are gay, to family and friends can be a big decision for anyone, but it can be especially difficult for teens. It may be tempting to not say anything and pretend to be "normal", asking a girl to the prom or acting interested when your friends talk about hot guys. However, it is unhealthy to constantly hide your true self from everyone around you. It is unsafe for your mental health, and this can also manifest itself as physical illnesses like headaches.
Over the past few decades, society has become increasingly open to homosexuality, leading many people to feel more comfortable about coming out. However, despite the increased media presence of gay figures, pride events, and campaigns for increased civil rights, teens will still face prejudice and outright hostility. For every university that approves domestic partnership benefits, there's a state voting to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Teens can take hope in every positive step and even participate in the fight for more rights themselves.
Family members may take issue with homosexuality from a moral and religious standpoint. It can be especially difficult to change such deeply felt beliefs. Some parents view their child's coming out in terms of what they think they've lost. A mother may lament the potential loss of grandchildren or a father may regret not being able to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. However, after initial reactions of disappointment or shock, most family members accept their gay children, siblings, or cousins with open arms.
Teens may feel uncomfortable around a friend who has recently admitted to being gay. They may worry that their friend will become attracted to them, or if they're particularly insecure, they may worry that others will think they are gay, too. However, true friends will stay by your side. Be open to discussion, and don't get defensive about honest questions.
It can be all too common for teens to say, "That's so gay" when they don't like something. Teen boys, trying to maintain a macho image, may call a friend gay if he is doing something perceived to be feminine. The word gay should not be used as an insult or as a synonym for stupid. Don't be afraid to say something when you witness someone using the word in this manner. If derogatory language is being used in a bullying manner towards you, report it to school officials.
The following resources can help gay teens find support and encouragement. They can also help friends and family members better understand the homosexual teens in their lives.
- Fiction featuring gay characters can help teens come to terms with their own sexuality or just provide an enjoyable read featuring characters they can relate to and issues important to them. A few popular choices include Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden, Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan, and Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez.
- Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays is a support network that is also involved in advocacy for gay rights, sex education, and related issues.
- The Cool Page For Queer Teens is a personal website filled with relevant links. The page is organized around common questions like "Should I come out?" and "How do I do it?" and progresses from issues of identity to practical matters of living as a gay teen. There's even a note intended for parents who come across the site in their child's list of bookmarks or recently visited websites.
- Advocates for Youth, a group focusing on issues of teen sexuality, also provides a useful page of links. The list includes supportive organizations, online resources, hotline numbers, books, and videos.
- The Advocate, a GLBT-focused news site provides a list of links for youth, while the publication as a whole can help gay teens keep in touch with the larger GLBT community and GLBT issues.
- A growing number of schools have formed gay-straight alliances. These student organizations serve as a support network for gay students while also opening a dialogue between gay and straight teens. These groups can simply serve a social purpose, or they may work to raise awareness of gay issues, such as by celebrating Pride Week.