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Published on Friday, June 30, 2000 in the Raleigh News & Observer
Bad Days For Gay Teenagers
by T. Shawn Long
RALEIGH -- Someone I know committed suicide this past Father's Day. His dad had kicked him out of the house because he was gay. He was just a kid, a teenage boy, on the way to becoming a young man. He liked horror and action movies. He moved around and lived with friends. He worked various low-income jobs to get by.

On Father's Day, he decided there was no place for him in this world, so he killed himself.

I try and think of things that he could've done instead of making this final, fatal choice. What are all of the places that kids can supposedly go for support and guidance?

There's school. This is the place where kids are teased and taunted for being "sissies" or "wusses" or worse, where being effete means getting beaten up.

This is the place where teachers are prohibited from even discussing sexual orientation, much less being supportive of a kid in crisis about his.

He could have gone to his church, I suppose, except that many of the churches around here say gays are abominations and sinners, doomed to hell. All of the vaunted talk about "hate the sin, love the sinner" amounts to a lot of the former and none of the latter.

Perhaps the Boy Scouts could've helped him out. They're a classic bit of Americana where teens can go for leadership and learning. Except, of course, the Boy Scouts now say gay boys aren't allowed.

A time-honored tradition for young men without direction is the armed services. Except, again, you can't be openly gay and serve your country. If he'd been in England or France or almost any other part of Europe this would've been an option for him. But not in the U.S..

The company he worked at might've helped, assuming he had some kind of counseling benefit. Except, of course, a lot of companies still fire people just for being gay. It's perfectly legal to do so.

What about the government? Could social services or some other agency have helped? Maybe, but in North Carolina, it's a felony to love someone of the same gender, a crime against nature. You can be gay and pay your taxes, but you'd better not let the law find out.

Maybe he could've even gotten desperate and joined one of the "reparative therapy" groups in the area, the ones that supposedly help people change from gay to straight. But then again, he'd spent years trying to do just that to himself. All of his years of angst had just taught him that he wasn't straight, and that he couldn't be no matter how hard he tried.

What is the final message all of these groups gave him? Sure, none of them killed him, and no doubt they'll all shake their heads and mutter about what a tragedy it is. In the end, though, what did all of the rejections say to him?

They said "You're not welcome. You're different, and that's not acceptable. You're a freak, a mutant, a monster. If you are not the way we want you to be, then we do not want you. We do not want to see you, we do not want you around. You might as well not exist. You might as well be dead."

Make no mistake: he killed himself. No social group or club killed him. His family did not kill him -- I cannot even imagine the torment they are going through. But still, all of the messages, all of the attitudes, all of the rebuffs added up to something. They were all factors that influenced his choice, limited his choice, made him think he had no other choice.

Tragically, he's not alone in this. Everyone's heard that gay teens have a much higher rate of suicide than straight teens, and are more often the victims of violence. Yet the statistics keep growing.

Every day you hear of a church rejecting gays, rappers telling kids to kill gays, baseball players complaining about queers with AIDS. On the radio, and soon to be TV, "Dr. Laura" Schlessinger calls people who are gay "biological errors" and "deviants." (Schlessinger, who professes Judaism, doesn't seem to recognize that she uses the same language that Nazis used when talking about Jews and gays.) All of these words and actions add to an environment of intolerance and even hatred.

My friend is dead, but there a lot of other gay teens out there who are still alive. Until each of us makes a choice against prejudice, until we recognize that bigotry and homophobia are the diseases in our society, until we say that being gay is OK, they'll all be in danger.

T. Shawn Long volunteers with Triangle Community Works!, a nonprofit that "serves and supports the Triangle's gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community and its allies."

Copyright 2000, The News & Observer


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