Growing up gay in the 70s, I am well aware of what it is like to be a gay teen. I, like most gay teens in those days, stayed in the closet. In fact, I didn’t even know there was a world outside of the closet. I felt I was all alone and there was no one with whom I could share my secret. I knew that it was wrong in society’s eyes but I had no idea how I was supposed to stop being who I was.
There were some really difficult times, times when I was discovered. One such time, a person I had been intimate with – what you might call “experimented” with – decided to reveal to others that I was a “fag” or a “queer” or a “homo”. Those words cut me to my very core and made me want to take my own life. Believe me, I tried a few times. I suppose that person thought if he outed me that it would make him less of a “homo” himself, which is a common belief. Why do you think that people like certain Republican Congressmen who had stood in the forefront of attacking gays when it came to gay rights issues then found themselves caught up in some kind of gay scandal?
So, yes, I’m well aware of what gay teens go through in the discovery part of their lives and the bigotry and hatefulness that can come from some very unlikely sources. One of those sources is Christians, or so-called Christians. Sure, they preach “God is Love” but then turn around and tell you that you’re going to hell – a real consistent message there, don’t you think?
I have believed in God since I was very young and when I began to discover my sexuality, I feared that God would hate me. This is what I was taught and I believed that when I died I’d go to hell unless I figured out a way to stop being who I was. I prayed and prayed, but nothing ever changed. I still had those feelings. After several years of this, I finally gave up believing that God would in some way change me. I began to pray instead for God to let me die because I couldn’t change even though I was ready as far as my spirit was concerned. And yet, I lived despite my attempts of suicide. Finally I realized growing up into adulthood that this was who I was and nothing was going to change it.
School is another of those sources of bigotry; school can be hell to any kid who is different in any way. Being an openly gay kid, especially one whose mannerisms are revealing of what they are, such as an effeminate gay teen, it makes it that much more difficult.
Let’s examine a case in point – The Anoka-Hennepin school district north of Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN, which is part of Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann’s district. It is reported that within the past two years, nine teens have committed suicide, many of whom were gay or had been bullied for being perceived as gay. This school district has a “neutral policy” when it comes to matters regarding sexual orientation. This basically means that school officials such as teachers and principals, or even school nurses, are not to get involved in any way when it comes to anything to do with gay teens. If a gay teen came seeking their help because of being bullied, they would not be allowed to get involved.
Michele Bachmann has stayed silent on the issue of the suicides in her district, but her stand on gay issues is well documented as she has voted against all gay rights legislation throughout her political career. Michele Bachmann wants to be the president of the United States so she can serve and protect the constitutional rights of All Americans, not just those in her district. But she has already shown to me and the world that she’s only interested in protecting the rights of those she agrees with. She allows her religious beliefs to stand in the way of doing her job when it comes to protecting the rights of all citizens of her district, including gay teens and their right to go to school and not be harassed because of their sexual orientation.
As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter how you feel about “Gay Rights” issues. Teenagers going to school should not have to face being bullied for any reason. Real leaders look past their own convictions and prejudices to do the job of serving all of us – even us gays and especially gay teens who are more likely to commit suicide than straight teens. It is reported that one-third of teens who commit suicide are gay, though they only make up one-tenth of the teen population.
Many conservatives believe that teens are recruited by gays and are some way turned gay by this influence. They believe that gays have an agenda. It’s like we have some kind of secret club and we’re conspiring to take over the world with our gay agenda. Of course I would gladly debunk that with my own experience, but then I’m one of them.
Gay teens were gay long before they were teens. Being gay is not something that happens overnight, nor does it come from an experience; its nature taking its course. Some of us grow up to be tall or short, or bald, or male or female, to be healthy or unhealthy, to have freckles or not, to have allergies or not; meaning we’re all different in so many different ways. Some of those differences can’t be seen with the physical eye as it has to do with that person’s character or maybe their taste in something like food for instance.
What I want to know is this: what gives anyone the right to decide that one person’s difference is not the same as all of those other differences, that some of us shouldn’t have the same rights as others because of their differences?
Of course, I’m glad to say that times are better now than they were for me. A gay teen then didn’t dare reveal to anyone they were gay, or face serious harassment. Nowadays, being gay is okay in a lot of places and gay teens have somewhere to turn. There was no such thing as a hotline for gay teens and no one to talk to at all.
I’m glad to know that it’s easier for most gay teens than it was for me back in those difficult times I went through. But even in these enlightened times we’re living in, if a gay teen grows up in certain places, like maybe Rep. Michele Bachmann’s district, that kid is going to have a harder time at it. The reason for that is because presidential candidate Bachmann refuses to protect the rights of anyone with whom she’s religiously opposed. Surely not someone I want as my president.
Stephanie Mencimer “The Teen Suicide Epidemic in Michele Bachmann’s District” Mother Jones Contribution