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LGBT youth meet their elders

Generations (Part 1 - Coming Out)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

LGBT youth meet their elders

Last week, the Blade invited five LGBT youth and five LGBT elders from the D.C. area to our offices for a roundtable discussion about issues facing the community.

With Stonewall’s 40th anniversary later this month and Pride celebrations this weekend, it seemed an apt time to explore some of the generational differences in the community.

Karen Taylor, director of advocacy and training at Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders, moderated the discussion, which tackled a wide range of topics, including coming out, changing perceptions of HIV and violence. Andrew Barnett, executive director of the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, also joined the discussion and offered insights into some of the challenges that LGBT youth face today. Below is an edited transcript of the discussion that unfolded over three hours.


Karen Taylor: Tell us how old you were when you came out — if you’ve come out, because I’m not going to assume that everyone has — and who the first person you came out to was.

John Klenert: I came out when I was 20 and still in the monastery. I was a monk, and the first person I came out to was a fellow monk while we were having intimacy.

Alan Dinsmore: I came out when I was 40, which would have been, if I did the math right, three years after Stonewall. The first person I came out to was to a gay friend. I knew he was gay and his response to me was “Oh, please, you didn’t think that we didn’t know about this for months and months and maybe even years?” But it was a surprise to me.

Laurie Young: I came out when I was 25 and it was to a girlfriend, not a person I was involved with, but a friend, who looked at me and said she had slept with her three other friends … and it was like this instant affirmation.

Bishop Rainey Cheeks: My mother, and when I told her she already knew. It was funny because I didn’t think she knew what I was talking about. I said I need to tell you something, “I’m gay.” She said, “What’s the issue?” I said, ‘I’m a homosexual.’ She said, “What’s the issue?” “I’m attracted to men.” She said, ‘Boy, get to the issue.’ I was like, “Well fine, if it’s not an issue for you, it’s not an issue for me.”

Terra Moore: Coming out… unfortunately I wasn’t given that particular pleasure. There was an incident with a friend of my older brother where he had asked me for a sexual favor and because I declined he went back and told my brother that I had asked him. And that crumbled an entire relationship.

From there on it was me against the world trying to find myself, but I found SMYAL in like 2002 or 2003, and from there I was able to get a hold and say, “You know what? This is me, if you can’t deal that’s not really my problem.” I have to live for me. It was about finding my own hold on life.

Parí Parker: I just came out, I was out there. I never actually told anyone I was gay. Everybody assumed and they assumed right.

Richael Faithful: I don’t think I “came out” when I was 14, it was more of an issue of me finding the words, because like other people mentioned, people knew that my relationship with men wasn’t quite typical and they knew, or assumed for different reasons, mostly because I wasn’t as effeminate as other women. It was more about finding language to describe it.

Nick Benton: One night around the dinner table, my older brother asked my father “What is a homosexual?” All I know was I was just sitting there and turned about 44 shades of purple. I didn’t say a thing, so that was coming out, I guess. My father found out and he threatened to kill me. Since he eventually killed himself, I know he probably meant it.

Antoine Smith: I first came out when I was 17, in my high school choir to my best friend at the time who turned out to become my very first boyfriend. I came out to my mother the same month. She did not react that well.

Tim Robinson: I got a picture of my boyfriend at the time; I was like “I’m dating that person right there.” And my mom said “Where did you get that picture from? From that shoebox where you got all that other stuff?” “So you already knew? ”

Andrew Barnett:
The first person I came out to was one of my closest friends growing up. He and I went to middle school and high school and college together. And he had actually come out to me as transgender about a year before. Even still it was incredibly scary and I remember after I told him, he looked at me and said, “Well, Andrew, as you might imagine, I’m pretty OK with this.”

Karen: Some of you talked about coming out to family members where it was OK, and sometimes when it was really hard to do that. I’d like to ask anyone here as we talk about what it’s like today and the time you first started coming out in the community — who do you wish you could have come out to then that you didn’t? Who did you want in your life? Or if there wasn’t a person, what kind of person do you wish had been there for you when you were first sort of thinking, “this might be who I am?”

Terra: I actually came out twice. I got outed and then that coming out thing happened, and then I came out again. It would have been nice to have someone more supportive … In 2005, I had another coming out as far as transitioning from male to female, and it would have been nice to have someone there who was like “This is cool, you can do this.”

Alan: It would have been very important for me to be able to do this with people my own age. There’s almost a three-step process where you come out to yourself and you want to see other people around you, particularly when you’re 15 or 16 years old, you desperately want to be like everyone else. When I was 15 or 16, that wasn’t possible. There was no coverage, there was no SMYAL, there was no Internet, Facebook or anything.

Antoine: [My mother] was there but she was not there in a way that I would have expected her to. Mothers are supposed to love you unconditionally. But since I came out, it was like I was the outcast of the family. But I got over it.

Nick: I don’t know who as an older person I ever knew growing up till I was well into graduate school that I felt I could have gone to who would not have reacted negatively. It was just the climate of the times.

Karen: When we’re talking between youth and adults, the adults often feel that it’s got to be easier today to come out. I want to ask the youth in the room … back then there wasn’t the gay hotline you could call, there wasn’t the Center, there wasn’t SMYAL. Did that make it easier or is it still really hard?

Andrew: One thing that we’re certainly seeing is that young people are coming out earlier and earlier. A study that came out at the end of last year shows that the average age that youth became aware of their sexuality [was] at age 10. For youth who are heterosexual, it’s a reinforcement of everything they’ve ever been told they would grow up to be. But for youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, it’s the beginning of questions like, “How will my family react? How will my friends react?”

We also know that on average, youth are coming out at age 12 now from that same study, and that to a lot of people almost sounds impossibly young. If you think about where you are developmentally at age 12, you don’t have the supports in place to be able to deal with these questions, and they’re not necessarily getting support from their families and their school and in their communities.

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