Do not let anyone push you out of the closet. You have feet. Walk!
In this day and age, we would be ecstatic to say that America can accept and understand diversity. That we embrace innovation, creativity, and all the differences in the world. That this country is where everyone can be who and what they please. But are we really a nation free from hate and discrimination? Though America should epitomize liberty and respect, there is undeniably an abundance of hate and bigotry - especially when it comes to sexual orientation. We are all too quick to discriminate against homosexuals.
Homosexuals have long been the target of ridicule and bias. With such open bigotry, it's no wonder many feel they must remain hidden. Our nation declares that everyone is created equal, but a double standard, the betrayal of our own words, leads to hurt and grief. Homosexuals are often the victims of hate crimes, including "gay bashing," harassment (physical and verbal), and even being killed.
The gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community of America has many faces that are not seen and voices that are not heard. Many of those belong to the youth - the generation that we are a part of.
Because our world is heterosexually dominant, their reasons for concealing their sexuality are understandable. But take a moment and view the world as homosexually dominant.
Imagine not being able to serve in the military as an open heterosexual.
Pretend you lose out on your dream job because it's discovered you prefer the opposite sex. Picture constant positive images of homosexuals and negative imagery for heterosexuals. And how about the government refusing to recognize your lifelong commitment to a partner, and lacking legal and financial benefits because of who you love? For most people a world like that would be hell, but for homosexuals this is reality - every day is a fight for their lives and dignity.
The discrimination usually begins at home. Homosexuals come from all different races and religions and all walks of life. They come from even the most religious and military homes, proof that anyone can raise a homosexual son or daughter.
Gay youth are now coming out younger and in greater numbers than ever before. Recent studies estimate that four percent of the population is homosexual. Because their sexuality is shunned and condemned, many feel depressed and isolated. Many become afraid of their families and peers and begin to lead double lives, but that too can lead to depression and substance abuse.
Fear of the family will also take its toll when they finally decide to accept who they are and come out. Though many parents are accepting, others take it hard. Fifty percent of homosexual youth report that their parents reject them for their sexual orientation, and in a study of 194 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teenagers, 25 percent were verbally abused and ten percent had to deal with threatened or actual violence. Studies have shown that 42 percent of homeless youth identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Some of these teens - 27 percent - take it upon themselves to flee the brutality they call home and usually have arrangements for shelter. In their fearful state of mind some turn to alcohol and drugs.
Many teens will pretend to be heterosexual in hopes that denial will lead to change, and even consider suicide as a way to free themselves of the shame. In 1993, one study showed that 65 percent of homosexual youth had seriously considered suicide. In the U.S., it is estimated that a teen takes his/her own life every five hours because s/he's gay, bisexual, transgender or lesbian, and cannot deal with the stress of society (lambda.org/youth.htm).
Adolescent homosexuals are five times more likely to miss school for feeling unsafe, and 28 percent drop out. More often than not, homosexuals are the frequent targets of violence due to hate in high school; 27 percent have been physically harassed. More than 80 percent never report the incident. To ensure the safety of all students, Massachusetts became the first state to pass a Gay and Lesbian Students Right Bill. That requires all schools in Massachusetts to reach out to these students.
In a typical class of 30 students, eight will be directly affected by homosexuality in one way or another. Most teenagers, homosexual and straight, say the worst insult is being called gay and 84 percent report hearing homophobic terms like "faggot" and "dyke," while phrases like "That's so gay" and "You're so gay" used as insults are heard by 90 percent.
Many do not realize that some very important and famous people are gay and many will never know because 85 percent of American educators oppose integrating homosexual themes into their curricula. We're talking about people like Alexander the Great, Socrates, Lord Byron, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, Leonard Bernstein, Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin, Andy Warhol, Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Willa Cather, E.M. Forster, Melissa Etheridge, Elton John, Martina Navratilova, Frida Kahlo, Rock Hudson, Janis Joplin, Aristotle and Ani D'Franco, along with many others (lambda.org/famous.htm). But since schools don't include homosexual themes, students won't learn about people like them or Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person elected to public office - in 1978 - and who a year later was shot by a fellow council member.
There have been countless acts of violence toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender beings simply for who they are. That hate usually goes unnoticed by mainstream America, but the last line of the Pledge of Allegiance states: "With liberty and justice for all." It does not say: "Except homosexuals."
Please note: when I use the term homosexual I refer to all gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.