Thursday, June 2, 2011

Safe schools are a myth.

In a 2009 school climate survey conducted by the Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network, a gay student in the United States had an 85% chance of being verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation, and 72% heard remarks like "faggot" or "dyke."
These statistics are astounding.  This means a gay high school student who has the courage to come out of the closet can almost guarantee to be called names, and be verbally assaulted.  Nearly two-thirds of LGBT students felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation.

The results of this study are significant in several ways. 1) Gay teens are coming out of the closet at an earlier age. 2) Gay Straight Alliances and resource centers  decrease the number of harassing incidents in schools. 3) We have a long way to go in the US before it's wrong to harass a kid for being or appearing to be gay.

According to famed psychologist Erik Erikson, the father of social development theory, our adolescent and young adult years are the most crucial in developing our adult identity and relationship skills.  Between the ages of 12 & 18, according to Erikson, our identity is mostly shaped by what we do.  It's through the development of friendships, and a certain freedom in experimentation that we develop our blueprint for life.  It's during these years that we struggle with social interactions, and moral issues.  An unsuccessful journey through these years will leave us with significant role confusion and upheaval.

Between the ages of 18 & 35, according to Erikson, we begin looking for significant relationships through a partner and our friendships.  It's in this early stage of adulthood that we experience emotional intimacy on a very deep level.  If we are not successful in this stage Erikson believed that isolation and distance from such intimacy would occur.

It is especially crucial for anyone working with teens, gay or not, to have an understanding of these basic ideas of development.  If young gay teens are somehow stifled in their adolescent exploration of their philosohpies, talents, and roles this lack of development can hinder the next stage.  I've believed it's this stifling that leads many young gay men and women to have a delayed adolescence in their 20's & early 30's.  It's during this delayed adolescence that we feel the freedom to explore, express ourselves, and begin developing friendships with other gay men and women.

Perhaps an unsuccessful mastery of these development stages sets the foundation for many of the struggles gay men, especially, face in adulthood.  While I recognize that many gay men have very successful relationships, there are many of us who have struggled to find deep and sustainable intimacy. 

The good news is that times are changing.  There are a number of national LGBT advocacy and research centers. LGBT resource centers and student groups are common place in most universities, and slowly we are seeing a more authentic representation of gay couples in the media like Cameron and Mitchell on ABC's Modern Family.

So long as we keep reading, learning, teaching and sharing our stories, it is my hope this progress will continue. And as long as we see a modicum of growth we have to celebrate it and appreciate it.


  1. Heard on the radio yesterday that gay teens are more likely to participate in risk-taking behaviors - smoking, drinking, etc. Interesting. Didn't hear *why*.

  2. I'm going to posit that it's a combination in attention seeking, looking for a place to belong, and the feeling of being alive when engaged in risky behaviors.

    Just a hunch.