Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Notes from the Pennsylvania Equality Summit

by Ashley Gold for The Daily Collegian:

In 17 of Pennsylvania's municipalities, citizens are protected from harassment in the workplace for being gay. But in the remaining 2,459, it's still possible for an employee to be fired because of his or her sexual orientation.

Equality advocates think they've found and answer in House Bill 300, a non-discrimination bill adopted by those 17 municipalities -- State College included -- that prohibits such discrimination.

This bill, along with other pieces of equality legislation, was discussed at the Pennsylvania Equality Summit, held Saturday at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 780 Waupelani Drive Extension. The Value All Families Coalition, Equality Advocates Pennsylvania and the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, among other gay rights interest groups from across the state, gathered to discuss goals and plans of action for the coming months.

Jake Kaskey of Equality Advocates Pennsylvania said his group wanted to pull people from all across Pennsylvania to State College for the event.

"What's amazing is the diversity of the people here today -- straight, gay, people of faith," Kaskey said. "What we're doing here today is educating, planning, idea-sharing and getting a plan for the next few months."

Kaskey said the summit's main focus is passing House Bill 300 in all municipalities of Pennsylvania. He said the largest amount of complaints Equality Advocates Pennsylvania receives are related to workplace discrimination.

Event attendees arrived excited to gain momentum and see bills passed for lesbian, gay and transgender rights, Kaskey said.

One of the groups present at the event was Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG) of Pittsburgh. Bev Belkowski, a member of the group, said the organization aims to support lesbians, gays and their families in what is sometimes a "not so-supportive" society.

The summit was a great place to collaborate, she said.

"There's different organizations doing different things, but a lot of us have the same goals," she said. "We all have the same ideas and want to come together."

The groups listened to Kaskey and Andy Hoover, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), speak about their goals. One of the other pieces of legislation deals with bullying against gay students in schools, and members contributed their personal stories.

After a group discussion, people from different areas of the state broke off into groups to discuss specific regional goals. Joanne Tosti-Vasey, president of the Bellefonte-based Pennsylvania chapter of National Organization for Women (NOW), said enforcement of the law prohibiting discrimination in the workplace in State College is a problem and must be re-addressed by the State College Borough Council.

Tosti-Vasey said the borough also needs to address gender identity in its fair housing law and pass a public accommodations law that would allow for events like commitment ceremonies to take place in public parks without opposition.

She urged those present to call the borough and ask for a public hearing to discuss this legislation.

"It's time we can get this passed," she said. "We need to have a full program passed in State College."

High School Teachers Accused of Bullying

This Article Raises Issues That Starkly Resemble Problems That Continue To Plague Venango County's Franklin High School

By Tony Dokoupil for Newsweek:

Teachers are supposed to prevent harassment of students. But in a controversial case, they were allegedly the harassers.

Alex Merritt was not used to being the butt of jokes. Solidly built with a smooth face and shaved blond hair, he cruised to junior year of high school without the usual social speed bumps. But, enrolled in a part-time vocational program, he was taking his first lumps, scorned for being gay—or so his tormentors claimed. "Alex's fence swings both ways," they taunted. "Alex's boat floats in a different direction than the rest of the guys in the class." Suddenly everything Alex did seemed to offer evidence against him: when he mentioned Ben Franklin in a report on the Industrial Age, it was because he has "a thing for older men." When he covered Abraham Lincoln in another presentation, it was because Honest Abe and Merritt were "made for each other." Even the name of his car, a Ford Probe, was viewed as a sign of his homosexuality—the perfect vehicle for a boy who "enjoys wearing woman's clothes."

That was 2007, during the fall semester of the Secondary Technical Education Program (STEP) in Anoka, Minn., a suburb 20 miles from Minneapolis. As the year progressed, the sneers sharpened and spread through much of the student body. "Kids were calling me fag, they were calling me queer," recalls Merritt, who says that he is straight. The Minnesota native, then 16, says that he initially decided to laugh along with the verbal attacks, hoping they would disappear. Instead, he says they escalated. The final straw came in December that year, when Merritt asked to use the bathroom. Did he want a fellow student "to sit in the stall next to him and stomp his foot?" he was asked—reference to former senator Larry Craig, whom police arrested earlier that year in Minneapolis for allegedly using the move to solicit sex with an undercover officer in an airport bathroom. What makes this juvenile behavior so unusual? Merritt's bullies, who allegedly made all of these remarks, were his teachers.

In a damning report issued by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and made public last month, the alleged incidents at STEP were perpetrated by social-studies instructor Diane Cleveland and Walter Filson, a former cop who taught a course on law enforcement. While enrolled in a traditional high school nearby, Merritt came to STEP for three periods a day in search of college credit. What he found, according to the report—which draws on interviews with Merritt's classmates and echoes an initial report by the school district—was "regular comments, jokes and innuendo about his perceived sexual orientation," resulting in an environment that "a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive." Stained in the eyes of fellow students, who brought the STEP punch lines back to his regular high school, Merritt says he was forced to transfer out of the district to escape the bullying. As part of a temporary reassignment following Merritt's initial complaint to the district, Cleveland was ordered to spend the remainder of the fall semester—five days—working on a social-studies curriculum and "reflecting on diversity." She called in sick after serving just one day. While Filson has yet to be disciplined, the district later suspended Cleveland for two days without pay and agreed to give Merritt's family $25,000 for what a district spokesperson has called the "inconvenience" of his having to commute 25 miles to a new school.

Both Filson and Cleveland deny Merritt's allegations, and maintain that they have been miscast as homophobes. "I treat all students equally," Filson tells NEWSWEEK, adding that "live and let live" is his policy toward gays. Cleveland, for her part, recently told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that "the insinuation that I’m homophobic, that I’m a bigot, bothers me to no end." The school district, despite its own findings, has not acknowledged wrongdoing. And last week, some students and teachers came forward to offer a different accounting of events more sympathetic to the teachers. The case reflects a broader cultural paradox: at a time when same-sex relationships and gay culture have never been more mainstream, the classroom remains rife with homophobia. The percentage of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) middle and high-school students who report harassment has hovered above 80 percent since 1999, according to the New York-based Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which conducts a biennial survey of school climates. Long after it has become taboo to publicly lampoon other minorities, homophobic humor still flies—even in a public school. "There isn't the same recognition that antigay bias is wrong the way bias based on gender, race, or ethnicity or religion is wrong," says Ellen Kahn, family project director for the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based advocacy group for the LGBT community.

The ambivalence over homophobic humor is reflected in weak legal protections for gays: only 21 states ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and in 29 states a person can still be fired on the basis of their bedroom partner. More than 40 states have antibullying laws, but less than a third specifically prohibit bullying on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. Intent on plugging this gap, LGBT activists have long lobbied Congress for a federal law that requires public schools to adopt such codes—although they are hardly foolproof. Merritt's home state of Minnesota has had a comprehensive antidiscrimination policy on the books such 1993. (Although the DHR found probable cause that Filson and Cleveland's actions violated Minnesota's Human Rights Act, the school district avoided court and denied liability as part of its cash settlement with Merritt.)

It's perhaps understandable, given the state of popular culture, that public-school teachers and kids would be confused about what passes as school-ready humor. Their fictional counterparts on Fox's new fall series Glee—a comedy about a high-school music club—don't offer much of an example. In the show's second episode, which aired recently, the coach is along for the ride as a kid mocks a song as "really gay" and the coach's wife calls a pink and lace-strewn room in a model house the place "where our daughter, or gay son, will live." Last fall in partnership with GLSEN, the Advertising Council, which directs public-service campaigns on behalf of Madison Avenue, launched a campaign aimed at discouraging use of the word "gay" as a synonym for "uncool" or "undesirable." "When you say 'That's so gay,' do you realize what you say?" the ads ask. For millions of people, the answer is still "no."

Merritt himself seems confused over what passes as good, clean fun in the classroom. The teen says that he was not offended by his teachers' alleged homophobic humor, at least not at first. "A joke is a joke," the self-described class clown says of his initial reaction, "and I thought it would get old." (It was his mother, Jodi, who intervened against his wishes after she heard the Larry Craig joke.) According to the school district report, a partial copy of which was leaked to local press and obtained by NEWSWEEK, Cleveland also ignored comments like "that's so gay" if they were said without malice. (Details on Filson remain private as his case is still under dispute.)

The best way to clear the fog, according to a 2009 report by the National Education Association, a 3-million-strong union of public-school teachers—including Filson and Cleveland—is to provide programs that promote tolerance among students, provide training for educators and include policies that specifically prohibit harassment and bullying on the basis of sexual orientation. But many states are wary of deploying such a "rainbow" approach, which can fall foul of conservative parents and religious groups that view homosexuality as a sin and sex education as outside the bounds of public school.

Back in Minnesota, both Cleveland and Filson still have their jobs. But all isn't exactly rosy for the two teachers. Some parents, students and gay-rights supporters packed last month's school board meeting and protested on the first day of classes, calling for Cleveland and Filson to be fired. More than 2,000 people have joined a Facebook group dedicated to the same cause. Cleveland has taken an indefinite unpaid leave, "because of all the news coverage in this case and the pressure it has brought to bear on her," according to her lawyer. Filson has done the same, but he tells NEWSWEEK that his absence is due to Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare nerve disorder. Merritt, for his part, joined the Army earlier this month, partly because "they have rules to prevent this sort of thing." Then again, so does Minnesota.

Monday, September 28, 2009

This Pennsylvania Politician Is A Hater. It's Time To Let Him Know

by Michael Jones for Change.org:

When you think of Pennsylvania State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, it would probably be best if you let the following words float into your head: homophobe, radical, wingnut, and downright mean. Why? Well, when it comes to LGBT rights, Rep. Metcalfe has been an uncontrollable foe, opposed to anything that he can twist into fitting what he calls a "homosexual agenda." Case in point, he blocked efforts by the Pennsylvania legislature this week to recognize October as "Domestic Violence Awareness" month.

Why would a politician oppose a largely symbolic measure that honors victims of domestic violence? Because Rep. Metcalfe thought that doing so would be catering to a gay rights agenda.

This is a politician that, simply put, can't tell his ass from his elbow, nor decency from complete idiocy. He's so out of touch with the reality of Pennsylvania voters that a local paper even branded his last name a verb that means "wantonly engaging in acts of stupefying redundancy." They've certainly got the stupefying right.

Rep. Metcalfe has also been obsessed with getting Pennsylvania to ban gay marriage. He's a member of a small fringe team of legislators that crafted langauge for a marriage ban, and he's called LGBT people "not normal," "sinful," and said that he "chose" his heterosexuality. But the nice thing about Rep. Metcalfe is that he hasn't just kept his insanity focused on the gays. He's also gotten involved in bashing Muslims too (which means he fits the latest Pew Forum report on discrimination to a tee). Rep. Metcalfe refused to vote to honor the 60th anniversary of a Muslim group in Pennsylvania because "Muslims don't recognize Jesus Christ as God."

Huh...so I wonder what Rep. Metcalfe thinks of Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists, too?

Does it seem ridiculous that this man draws a salary from Pennsylvania taxpayers? Sure does. Local activists have already created a Web site, Dump Daryl Metcalfe, to try and draw attention to this man's homophobic and bigoted career.

Now, here on change.org, you can add your voice, too, by signing an email campaign that goes directly to Rep. Metcalfe, to Rep. Samuel Smith (the Minority Leader of Pennsylvania's State House and the highest State House official in Rep. Metcalfe's party), as well as Rep. Sandra Major (the State House Republican Party Caucus Chair). It's time to send the message to these folks that Rep. Metcalfe's brand of hatred is both an embarrassment to the Republican Party, as well as an embarrassment to Pennsylvania voters.

Sign the petition here if you'd like. And for more information, visit Dump Daryl Metcalfe.

Your Brain On Tea Bags

Max Blumenthal covers the 9.12 anti-Obama rally on the National Mall, where tens of thousands of teabaggers, including a busload from Venango County organized by "Christian" radio station WAWN and the American "Family" Association of Pennsylvania, demonstrated their opposition to healthcare reform by calling Obama the biggest Nazi in the world, claiming he wants to put "real" Americans in concentration camps, and was born in Kenya. But how many of them have health insurance, and do they know they're pawns in the game of healthcare industry front man Dick Armey? Of course not.

Bill Moyers: Conservative Radicals and the Politics of Vengeance

Intellectual conservatism is dead. And the angriest, most intellectually bankrupt elements have taken over the movement.

In the following interview, Bill Moyers and powerhouse NYT editor and author of "The Death of Conservatism," Sam Tanenhaus, discuss the last gasps of the conservative movement. Tanenhaus says that far from signifying a resurgence of conservative ideals, the Tea Party protesters and shock jocks like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh spell the doom of the conservative movement.

See the full interview HERE

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Does Western Penna. Grow Anti-Gay Crazies?

Pennsylvania Lawmaker Sees Gay Agenda In A Resolution

By Amy Worden for the Philadelphia Inquirer:

HARRISBURG - The state House of Representatives churns out uncontroversial resolutions every week to commemorate the dead, honor people's achievements, raise awareness of health issues, and recognize things important to Pennsylvania, such as pretzels.

So it took many people by surprise when a resolution designating October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month was derailed Wednesday by Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler), who claimed it "had a homosexual agenda."

The Western Pennsylvania legislator said he detected that agenda in this phrase: "one in six women and one in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape."

Metcalfe's objection, which under House rules meant the bill was sent back to committee, mystified the bill's sponsor and angered groups that advocate for victims of domestic violence and for gay rights.

"His comments show incredible insensitivity about what domestic violence is, combined with bigotry against lesbians, gays, bisexual, and transgendered people," said Michael Morrill, executive director of Keystone Progress, an advocacy group in Harrisburg.

Morrill said he was urging supporters to send faxes and e-mails to Metcalf's office demanding that he apologize to Pennsylvanians for his remarks.

Metcalfe, in an interview yesterday, said he opposed the resolution because it went beyond what he considered traditional domestic-violence programs that help battered women and children.

"It had language woven through it that brought men into the situation," said Metcalfe, who voted for similar resolutions in the last two years. "I don't support the resolution or funding for groups that go beyond helping women."

Victims' advocacy groups say men are victims of domestic violence in both homosexual and heterosexual relationships. There were 835,000 reported cases of male victims of domestic violence in the nation last year, according to the resolution.

Metcalfe says he voted for the resolution in the past because he did not notice references to sexual violence against men.

The measure's sponsor, Rep. John Siptroth (D., Monroe), said the language of this year's bill had been modified only slightly and called Metcalfe's action "completely out of line."

"There was no mention at all about homosexual activity," Siptroth said. "It could be that a [victimized] partner was a man, but it did not promote that."

Groups that provide domestic-violence counseling, housing, and other support services for victims said they were discouraged that Metcalfe would block the resolution at a time when the state budget crisis had left some shelters with empty freezers and resorting to "blast" e-mails to round up toilet paper.

Judy Yupcavage, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said there were 50 fatalities statewide in domestic-violence cases.

The Victim Outreach Intervention Center in Evans City last year served 2,300 men and women in and around Metcalfe's district. Director Elizabeth Clark-Smith said her group had seen a spike in such violence recently. She said she was discouraged that the region's representative appeared "completely confused" about the issue.

Metcalfe said that although the resolution was symbolic and did not authorize any funding, it could be seen as promoting groups that serve homosexuals.

Siptroth said he hoped the House would consider the resolution in the next two weeks, in time for him to participate in an event with a domestic-violence services group in his district. He said he wanted to present the group with a copy of the approved resolution.

Metcalfe, who has served in the House for a decade, said he looked forward to debating the issue on the House floor. Of Morrill's apology campaign, the lawmaker said, "Tell him, don't hold his breath."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Santorum Runs

from Savage Love by Dan Savage:

I just had to share with you my first reaction to reading this headline: "Santorum dips toes in 2012 Iowa waters." My first thought was "Ewwww," followed quickly by "Is that even possible?" After all, santorum is something that is dipped into, not something that can dip. And then I remembered that before "santorum" meant santorum it actually designated a person, a senator. But it took me a few seconds.

Congratulations on a job well done. I expect I am not the only one who had this moment of cognitive dissonance upon reading this headline.

Signed, A Faithful Reader

Ben Smith at Politico reported last Tuesday that Republican former U.S. senator Rick Santorum plans to run for president. Political Wire linked to Smith's post and added that "Santorum has a serious Google problem." Truthdig linked to Political Wire's post and spelled out Santorum's Google problem: "The former senator's rampant homophobia inspired sex columnist Dan Savage to launch a campaign to usurp the conservative's name. The result: If you type 'Santorum' into Google, you'll find that it refers not to a former senator, but 'that frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex.'"

From uppercase Santorum to lowercase santorum—in just three links.

And who deserves the credit? Not me. The credit is yours, dear readers. It's thanks to you that SpreadingSantorum.com—a blog that I haven't updated since July of 2004—remains the number-one hit on Google when you search "Santorum." It was a Savage Love reader who first suggested that we usurp Rick Santorum's name, another Savage Love reader who suggested the "frothy mixture" definition, and Savage Love readers who chose the winning definition in a free and fair election. Well done, gang.

We can't take credit for Santorum losing his seat in the U.S. Senate to Bob Casey by 18 points. That was Rick's doing. But we helped to make him ridiculous—there were so many headlines during his failed reelection campaign with "froth" or "frothy" in them. And for a politician, being an object of ridicule is a problem, which is why SpreadingSantorum.com and the "frothy mixture" definition of santorum are going to be a problem for Santorum.

"Maybe it's time to start updating Spreading Santorum.com again," writes Savage Love reader P.B., "now that Rick is running for president."

I couldn't agree more, P.B., but I'm a busy guy. Back when I was writing for Spreading Santorum.com, I had only the column on my plate. Now I blog every day on Slog, I do a podcast, I've got a bad case of talking headism, and I'm working on another book. I don't have the time to give SpreadingSantorum.com the attention it needs.

But maybe some Savage Love readers do?

If SpreadingSantorum.com is going to remain Google's top hit when you search "santorum"—and it should—then the site needs to come back to life. So I'm looking for a few folks who want to torment Rick Santorum by following every twist and turn of his sure-to-be-disastrous run for the White House on SpreadingSantorum.com. (I may dip in every once in a while and post myself.) It would be labor of love—read: a nonpaying gig—but you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that you're driving Rick Santorum and his supporters absolutely batshit (batshittier?).

If you think you're the right person for this gig—if you think you're right for Spreading Santorum.com—write me at mail@savagelove .net.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday Find: Brilliant Colors Oil City PA

Check Out This Beautiful New Site On The Alternative And Arts Scene In And Around Oil City Pennsylvania:

Brilliant Colors Oil City PA

Coming Out In Middle School

As Reports Surface Once Again About The Franklin High School Principal's Involvement In Anti-GLBT Student Harassment, This New York Times Article Seems Particularly Timely And Relevant

By BENOIT DENIZET-LEWIS for the New York Times Magazine:

Austin didn’t know what to wear to his first gay dance last spring. It was bad enough that the gangly 13-year-old from Sand Springs, Okla., had to go without his boyfriend at the time, a 14-year-old star athlete at another middle school, but there were also laundry issues. “I don’t have any clean clothes!” he complained to me by text message, his favored method of communication.

When I met up with him an hour later, he had weathered his wardrobe crisis (he was in jeans and a beige T-shirt with musical instruments on it) but was still a nervous wreck. “I’m kind of scared,” he confessed. “Who am I going to talk to? I wish my boyfriend could come.” But his boyfriend couldn’t find anyone to give him a ride nor, Austin explained, could his boyfriend ask his father for one. “His dad would give him up for adoption if he knew he was gay,” Austin told me. “I’m serious. He has the strictest, scariest dad ever. He has to date girls and act all tough so that people won’t suspect.”

Austin doesn’t have to play “the pretend game,” as he calls it, anymore. At his middle school, he has come out to his close friends, who have been supportive. A few of his female friends responded that they were bisexual. “Half the girls I know are bisexual,” he said. He hadn’t planned on coming out to his mom yet, but she found out a week before the dance. “I told my cousin, my cousin told this other girl, she told her mother, her mother told my mom and then my mom told me,” Austin explained. “The only person who really has a problem with it is my older sister, who keeps saying: ‘It’s just a phase! It’s just a phase!’ ”

Austin’s mom was on vacation in another state during my visit to Oklahoma, so a family friend drove him to the weekly youth dance at the Openarms Youth Project in Tulsa, which is housed in a white cement-block building next to a redbrick Baptist church on the east side of town. We arrived unfashionably on time, and Austin tried to park himself on a couch in a corner but was whisked away by Ben, a 16-year-old Openarms regular, who gave him an impromptu tour and introduced him to his mom, who works the concession area most weeks.

Openarms is practically overrun with supportive moms. While Austin and Ben were on the patio, a 14-year-old named Nick arrived with his mom. Nick came out to her when he was 12 but had yet to go on a date or even kiss a boy, which prompted his younger sister to opine that maybe he wasn’t actually gay. “She said, ‘Maybe you’re bisexual,’ ” Nick told me. “But I don’t have to have sex with a girl to know I’m not interested.”

Ninety minutes after we arrived, Openarms was packed with about 130 teenagers who had come from all corners of the state. Some danced to the Lady Gaga song “Poker Face,” others battled one another in pool or foosball and a handful of young couples held hands on the outdoor patio. In one corner, a short, perky eighth-grade girl kissed her ninth-grade girlfriend of one year. I asked them where they met. “In church,” they told me. Not far from them, a 14-year-old named Misti — who came out to classmates at her middle school when she was 12 and weathered anti-gay harassment and bullying, including having food thrown at her in the cafeteria — sat on a wooden bench and cuddled with a new girlfriend.

Austin had practically forgotten about his boyfriend. Instead, he was confessing to me — mostly by text message, though we were standing next to each other — his crush on Laddie, a 16-year-old who had just moved to Tulsa from a small town in Texas. Like Austin, Laddie was attending the dance for the first time, but he came off as much more comfortable in his skin and had a handful of admirers on the patio. Laddie told them that he came out in eighth grade and that the announcement sent shock waves through his Texas school.

“I definitely lost some friends,” he said, “but no one really made fun of me or called me names, probably because I was one of the most popular kids when I came out. I don’t think I would have come out if I wasn’t popular.”

“When I first realized I was gay,” Austin interjected, “I just assumed I would hide it and be miserable for the rest of my life. But then I said, ‘O.K., wait, I don’t want to hide this and be miserable my whole life.’ ”

I asked him how old he was when he made that decision.

“Eleven,” he said.

As the dance wound down and the boys waited for their rides home, I joined Tim Gillean, one of Openarms’s founders, in the D.J. booth, where he was preparing to play the Rihanna song “Disturbia.” An affable 52-year-old with wire-rimmed glasses and salt-and-pepper hair, he founded Openarms in 2002 with his longtime partner, Ken Draper. In addition to the weekly dances, the couple lead discussion groups every Thursday — about self-esteem, healthy relationships and H.I.V./AIDS.

When I asked Gillean if he ever expected kids as young as Nick and Austin to show up at Openarms, he chuckled and shook his head. Like many adult gay men who came out in college or later, Gillean couldn’t imagine openly gay middle-school students. “But here they are,” he said, looking out over the crowd. “More and more of them every week.”

I heard similar accounts from those who work with gay youth all across the country. Though most adolescents who come out do so in high school, sex researchers and counselors say that middle-school students are increasingly coming out to friends or family or to an adult in school. Just how they’re faring in a world that wasn’t expecting them — and that isn’t so sure a 12-year-old can know if he’s gay — is a complicated question that defies simple geographical explanations. Though gay kids in the South and in rural areas tend to have a harder time than those on the coasts, I met gay youth who were doing well in socially conservative areas like Tulsa and others in progressive cities who were afraid to come out.

What is clear is that for many gay youth, middle school is more survival than learning — one parent of a gay teenager I spent time with likened her child’s middle school to a “war zone.” In a 2007 survey of 626 gay, bisexual and transgender middle-schoolers from across the country by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (Glsen), 81 percent reported being regularly harassed on campus because of their sexual orientation. Another 39 percent reported physical assaults. Of the students who told teachers or administrators about the bullying, only 29 percent said it resulted in effective intervention.

A middle-school counselor in Maine summed up the view of many educators I spoke to when she conceded that her school was “totally unprepared” for openly gay students. “We always knew middle school was a time when kids struggle with their identity,” she told me, “but it was easy to let anti-gay language slide because it’s so imbedded in middle-school culture and because we didn’t have students who were out to us or their classmates. Now we do, so we’re playing catch up to try to keep them safe.”

As a response to anti-gay bullying and harassment, at least 120 middle schools across the country have formed gay-straight alliance (G.S.A.) groups, where gay and lesbian students — and their straight peers — meet to brainstorm strategies for making their campus safer. Other schools are letting students be part of the national Day of Silence each April (participants take a vow of silence for a day to symbolize the silencing effect of anti-gay harassment), which last year was held in memory of Lawrence King, a 15-year-old gay junior-high student in Oxnard, Calif., who was shot and killed at school by a 14-year-old classmate.

Both G.S.A.’s and the Day of Silence have been controversial in places, as some parents and faculty members object to what they see as the promotion of homosexuality in public schools and the “premature sexualization of the students,” as a lawyer for a school in central Florida that was fighting the creation of a G.S.A. put it. But there is a growing consensus among parents and middle-school educators that something needs to be done to curb anti-gay bullying, which a 2008 study at an all-male school by researchers at the University of Nebraska and Harvard Medical School found to be the most psychologically harmful type of bullying.

“I certainly don’t believe school districts should force a sexual agenda on the community,” says Finn Laursen, the executive director of the Christian Educators Association International, “but we can’t just put our heads in the sand and ignore the kind of harassment that’s going on.”

The challenging school experience of so many gay and lesbian students — and the suicides last spring of a sixth grader in Massachusetts and a fifth grader in Georgia, both of whom were relentlessly bullied at school for appearing gay — reinforces the longtime narrative of gay youth in crisis. Studies in the ’80s and ’90s found gay teenagers to be at a significantly higher risk for depression, substance abuse and suicide than their heterosexual peers.

When I went to work in 1998 for XY, a national magazine for young gay men, we received dozens of letters each week from teenagers in the depths of despair. Some had been thrown out by their families; others lived at home but were reminded often that they were intrinsically flawed. My arrival at XY (at 23, I was only three years out of the closet myself) coincided with the founding of the Trevor Project, which runs a national 24-hour crisis and suicide hot line for gay and questioning youth, and with the firstlarge wave of G.S.A.’s in high schools. (They are now in more than 4,000 high schools, according to Glsen.)

But by the time I stopped writing for the magazine nearly three years later, the content of the letters we received was beginning to change. A new kind of gay adolescent was appearing on the page — proud, resilient, sometimes even happy. We profiled many of them in the magazine, including a seventh grader in suburban Philadelphia who was out to his classmates and a high-school varsity-football player from Massachusetts who came out to his teammates and was shocked to find unconditional support.

That’s not to say that gay teenagers didn’t still suffer harassment at school or rejection at home, but many seemed less burdened with shame and self-loathing than their older gay peers. What had changed? Not only were there increasingly accurate and positive portrayals of gays and lesbians in popular culture, but most teenagers were by then regular Internet users. Going online broke through the isolation that had been a hallmark of being young and gay, and it allowed gay teenagers to find information to refute what their families or churches sometimes still told them — namely, that they would never find happiness and love.

Today, nearly a decade after my time at XY, young people with same-sex attractions are increasingly coming out and living lives that would be “nearly incomprehensible to earlier generations of gay youth,” Ritch Savin-Williams writes in his book “The New Gay Teenager.” A professor of developmental psychology at Cornell University, Savin-Williams told me recently that being young and gay is no longer an automatic prescription for a traumatic childhood.

In particular, openly gay youth who are perceived as conforming to adolescent gender norms are often fully integrated into their peer and school social circles. Girls who come out as bisexual but are still considered “feminine” are often immune from harassment, as are some gay boys, like Laddie, who come out but are still considered “masculine.” “Bisexual girls have it the easiest,” Austin told me in Oklahoma. “Most of the straight guys at school think that’s hot, so that can make the girl even more popular.”

Still, the younger they are when they come out, the more that youth with same-sex attractions face an obstacle that would be unimaginable to their straight peers. When a 12-year-old boy matter-of-factly tells his parents — or a school counselor — that he likes girls, their reaction tends not to be one of disbelief, dismissal or rejection. “No one says to them: ‘Are you sure? You’re too young to know if you like girls. It’s probably just a phase,’ ” says Eileen Ross, the director of the Outlet Program, a support service for gay youth in Mountain View, Calif. “But that’s what we say too often to gay youth. We deny them their feelings and truth in a way we would never do with a heterosexual young person.”

I was guilty of my share of that, too, the first time I met Kera — then a 12-year-old seventh grader — and her 13-year-old best friend, Justin, last spring in a city in New England. Kera had small, delicate features. Justin had freckles and braces. They seemed like kids. Yet there they were at a bookstore coffee shop after school, talking nonchalantly — when they weren’t giggling uncontrollably about one of their many inside jokes, that is — about their sexual identities. Kera said she was bisexual. Justin said he was gay. The effect was initially surreal to me, and before long I heard myself blurt out, “But you’re so young!”

My reaction surprised me. After all, I’d known on some level that I was gay when I was their age. If I were growing up today, it’s possible that I would feel emboldened enough to confide in my parents, or at least a close friend, that I was gay. I’d also spent the morning of my visit reading a handful of studies about when gay and lesbian youth first report an awareness of same-sex attraction. Though most didn’t self-identify as gay or lesbian until they were 14, 15 or 16, the mean age at which they first became aware of that attraction was 10. Boys tended to be aware about a year earlier than girls. (Of course, not all kids with same-sex attractions go on to self-identify as gay.)

Those findings are consistent with what many adult gay men have been reporting for years: they may not have come out until adulthood, but they knew they were attracted to the same sex as early as elementary or middle school. Kera and Justin knew that, too, but they’re among the first generation of young gay adolescents to take on an identity that many parents and educators associate with adult lifestyle choices.

Kera says she was 10 when she realized she was interested in both sexes. “It was confusing for a while, because for some reason I thought that you had to be straight or gay, and that you couldn’t be both,” she told me at the coffee shop. “So I thought about it a lot, like I do about everything, and I went online and looked up bisexuality to read more about it. I realized that was me.”

She told her mom soon after (more on that later) and then came out to her close friends at school, including Justin, who she had suspected was gay. Last year, the entire school found out when she briefly dated a female classmate. “We didn’t think we had anything to be ashamed of, so we didn’t want to go around hiding,” she told me. “It was a whole big drama at school. Some guys made fun of us, others hit on us. Most middle-school guys are total, complete morons.”

Though he wishes he could be as “brave” as Kera, Justin is out to only a few friends at school. “I lie when people ask me if I’m gay,” he told me. “Sometimes they leave me alone after that, but other times they still call me names.”

Kera doesn’t back down when someone harasses her or one of her gay friends. “I don’t want to be a bully back, but if I get mad, I will say mean things back,” she told me, adding that she has gotten into two fights at school.

Middle school was even worse last year for another boy named Austin, who lives in a small town in Michigan. A tall, heavyset 15-year-old now in his first year of high school, Austin said his eighth-grade classmates regularly called him the “gay freak.” They groped themselves in front of him. Not a day went by when someone didn’t call him a “fag,” sometimes with teachers present. And at a football game last fall, several classmates forced him off the bleachers because it wasn’t “the queer section.”

“I would have preferred that he not come out in school, but he wanted to be honest — he wanted to be true to himself,” Austin’s mother, Nadia, told me. “So I took a job as the lunch lady at school because I felt like I needed to be his bodyguard. It seems like I spent the entire year in the principal’s office trying to get them to protect my son. But they would say things like, ‘Well, what did he do to provoke them?’ We live in a very conservative area with very vocal parents, and I believe the school didn’t want to be seen as going out of their way at all to protect a gay student.”

The school’s principal would not comment specifically about Austin, but he insisted that the school “does not tolerate harassment and bullying of any kind.” He did concede that teachers don’t react to anti-gay language as consistently as he would like, which is something I also heard from a counselor at Kera’s school. “We have veteran teachers who have been teaching for 25 years, and some just see the language as so imbedded in the language of middle-schoolers that it’s essentially unchangeable,” she said. “Others are afraid to address the language because they feel like it would mean talking about sexuality, which they aren’t comfortable doing in a middle school setting.”

Jennifer Mathieu Blessington, who teaches at Johnston Middle School in Houston, said she has been forced to address the issue in her class. “Many boys at that age are so unsure of themselves and are incredibly worried about being perceived as gay, so they call everything and everyone else gay,” she told me. She relayed to me a recent incident when a boy in her class held up a book with a pink cover and said he wouldn’t want to read it because it “looks gay.” “Everyone in the class started laughing like it was the funniest thing they’d ever heard,” Blessington continued, “but I said: ‘We don’t use the word “gay” in a negative way in this classroom. Gay people are human beings, and that’s the way we talk about them in here. Is that understood?’ ”

By far the most common usage of the word “gay” in middle schools is in the expression “that’s so gay,” a popular adolescent phrase that means that something is dumb or lame. The phrase has become so ubiquitous in the culture of the average middle school that even friends of gay students sometimes use it. Still, the expression is offensive to many, and last year Glsen and the Ad Council embarked on a media campaign to combat it. (Glsen would have preferred to go after more incendiary language, “but broadcasters would be very reluctant to let us say the word ‘faggot’ on television,” Eliza Byard, Glsen’s executive director, told me.)

Though the commercials (featuring the celebrities Hilary Duff and Wanda Sykes) are aimed at teenagers, many of those who work with gay youth say that teachers also need to get the message. “Teachers would never let students say, ‘That’s so black,’ ” says Eileen Ross from the Outlet Program in Mountain View, “but I’ve had teachers look at me like I’m crazy when I suggest that they should say something to a student who says ‘that’s so gay.’ They’ll say, ‘If I have to stop what I’m doing every time a student says that, I won’t have any time to teach!’ ”

A few years ago, when I first heard from educators that young adolescents were coming out of the closet, I visited a middle school in Northern California where three eighth graders (a gay boy named Justin and two heterosexual girls, Alison and Amelia) took me on a tour of the school. They wanted to show me how many students were gay, bisexual or “confused,” but they wanted to do it discreetly — or as discreetly as middle-schoolers can.

All three were members of the school’s G.S.A. “Even though this is a liberal area,” Alison explained, “it’s still hard to be gay at this school. Most people won’t even come to G.S.A. meetings because they don’t want people other than their close friends to know they’re gay or lesbians, even though straight people also come to meetings. I get called a lesbian all the time even though I’m not.” She continued, “People are totally paranoid.” She suggested that they “come up with some code words on the down low so we can tell you what’s up without anyone knowing what we’re saying!” (They settled on “paw” for gay and “woof” for bisexual.)

As we walked past the gym, a group of boys came rushing out. Justin pointed to a short, muscular eighth grader in a baseball cap. “Paw!” he said.

Alison looked surprised. “Isn’t he a woof?”

“No, he just thinks he’s a woof,” Justin said.

Amelia looked confused. “What does woof mean again?”

A minute later, they fixed their gaze on a boy sitting against a wall listening to his iPod. “Paw,” Alison told me. “I mean woof!”

“Yeah, he’ll make out with anyone,” Justin confirmed. “Totally bisexual.”

“No, he’s not!” Amelia said, apparently distraught by the news.

“Oh, stop getting all mad just ’cause you like him,” Alison told her. “Everyone knows he’s a woof.”

After pointing out a handful of girls who are “definitely woofs,” Alison turned to me and recalled a recent “lesbian moment” of hers. “I totally had the hots for this girl in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ ” she said with a giggle. “I was, like, ‘Whoa, I’m really attracted to you right now!’ ”

“Jesus was hot in that, too,” Justin offered.

Midway through our tour we were joined by Sayre, a handsome and soft-spoken 12-year-old. Sayre was one of the few students at the school who was out to everyone, which had earned him the respect of the G.S.A.’s dozen or so members. “I really admire him,” Justin told me as we walked. “I’ve only come out to my close friends, but Sayre doesn’t care what people think.”

I asked Sayre if he was interested in any boys at the school. “I like this one guy over there,” he said, pointing toward classmates playing soccer on a grass field, “but I think he’s straight, so that’s probably not going to happen.” A few minutes later, Sayre added that he was in no rush to start dating. “It’s not like I have a lot of options anyway,” he said, echoing what I would go on to hear from many gay middle-schoolers. “I like guys who are nice and caring and don’t act like jerks to everyone. But this is middle school, where guys think it’s funny to pick their nose and fart really loud and laugh.”

As we came to the end of our tour, we approached a handful of boys sitting in a circle on the pavement eating lunch. “Woof, woof, woof, woof, woof!” Justin said, barely able to contain himself. “They’re all woofs.” One boy heard him and turned to us. “What’s a woof?” he asked us.

“Never mind,” Justin said.

“I don’t think he’s really a woof,” Alison told me, referring to a boy in the circle. “I think he’s straight but just confused.”

“He’s not confused,” Justin assured her. “He’s confused,” he said, referring to another boy in the circle. “He doesn’t know what he is. He changes his mind a lot.”

I was certainly confused trying to keep track of it all, but Alison told me not to worry. “We can’t even keep up with who’s gay or bi and who’s into who, and we go to school here!” she said.

All of this fluidity, confusion and experimentation can be understandably disorienting for parents and educators. Is an eighth grader who says he’s gay just experimenting? Could he change his mind in a week, as 13-year-olds routinely do with other identities — skater, prep, goth, jock — they try on for a while and then shed for another? And if sexuality is so fluid, should he really box himself in with a gay identity? Many parents told me they especially struggled with that last question.

Nadia, the mother of Austin in Michigan, told me that she and her husband “blew up” at him when he came out to them. “I really lost it, and my husband took it even harder than I did,” she said. “We just couldn’t wrap our heads around the idea that Austin would know what he was at 13, and that he would want to tell other people.”

A year earlier they asked Austin if he was gay after they discovered his call to a gay chat line. He promised them that he was straight, and he promised himself that he would cover his tracks better. It’s not uncommon for gay youth to have their same-sex attraction discovered thanks to a rogue number on a phone bill or, more often these days, a poorly concealed Internet search history. “We see a lot of kids get outed by porn on the computer,” Tim Gillean told me in Tulsa. “I knew one kid who told his mom: ‘I don’t know how that got there. Maybe it was dad!’ ”

Austin eventually ended up telling his parents he was bisexual, which he knew was a lie (he wasn’t attracted to girls) but which he hoped would lessen the blow. But the plan backfired. “My mom said something like: ‘What does that mean, you’re bisexual? Do you just wake up in the morning and willy-nilly decide what you’re going to be that day? Straight yesterday, bi today, gay tomorrow?’ ” Austin recalled. “For the next two months my parents tried to convince me that I couldn’t know what I was. But I knew I was different in second grade — I just didn’t really put a name to it until I was 11. My parents said, ‘How do you know what your sexuality is if you haven’t had any sexual experiences?’ I was like, ‘Should I go and have one and then report back?’ ”

While Austin’s mother correctly assumed that Austin wasn’t yet sexually active, other parents heard the words “gay” or “bisexual” and immediately thought “sex.” In reality, many of their kids hadn’t had any yet. Some (including Kera’s friend Justin) hadn’t even kissed anyone. Those who had been sexual in some form often reported that it was with a heterosexual friend who they presumed was just experimenting.

Though many of the parents I spoke to needed a period of adjustment before accepting their children’s announcement that they were gay or bisexual, others offered immediate and unequivocal support. “The biggest difference I’ve seen in the last 10 years isn’t with gay kids — it’s with their families,” says Dan Woog, an openly gay varsity boys’ soccer coach at Staples High School in Westport, Conn., who helped found a gay-straight alliance at his school in 1993. “Many parents just don’t assume anymore that their kids will have a sad, difficult life just because they’re gay.”

That was certainly the case for Kera’s mother, who told me she hardly batted an eye when Kera came out to her. I visited them last spring in their small two-story house on a quiet street in a middle-class neighborhood. We sat at the kitchen table. Kera’s mother, who had just finished her shift as a nurse, hadn’t had time to change out of her blue scrubs.

Kera handed me a poem she wrote for her mom a year earlier. “It’s not one of my best,” she insisted, covering her ears in embarrassment after she agreed that I could read a portion of it into my tape recorder.

I like girls. I know it’s true

I like girls, I really do

Not just boys, but girls as well

I’m bisexual as you can tell

“My first reaction to the poem, which she slipped under my bedroom door before going to hide in her room, was that she seemed really worked up about this,” her mother recalled. “But I knew I was interested in boys when I was her age, so it didn’t strike me as unusual that Kera might know she’s interested in boys and girls, put two and two together and call herself bisexual. Kids just know what those words mean a lot earlier than when I was growing up.”

On the national Day of Silence last April, I visited Daniel Webster Middle School in Los Angeles, one of 21 middle schools in California with a G.S.A. California is one of only 12 states that have passed laws to protect students from bullying and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. (In May, Representative Linda Sanchez of California introduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act, a federal anti-bullying bill that would require schools to implement comprehensive anti-bullying policies that include protections for gay students.)

I arrived at Daniel Webster, a school of some 850 students, most of them Hispanic or African-American, at lunchtime. About 50 kids milled around two large wooden tables at the center of the school’s leafy courtyard. Many of them wore pink T-shirts, and some filled out cards that would later be strung together and displayed: “You Are What You Are — Embrace It,” “Never Put Someone Down, and Never Let Someone Put You Down.” Others communicated using hand gestures or by writing notes to one another. But most had given up trying to be mute. “Good luck getting middle-schoolers not to talk,” the school’s counselor and G.S.A. co-adviser at the time, Ruben Valerio, told me with a smile.

One of the loudest students at the tables was Johnny (a nickname), a tall, handsome seventh grader. A leader of the G.S.A., he had only managed to stay quiet for about 30 seconds that morning. “It’s just really exciting to be at a school where it’s O.K. to be gay,” he told me as he bear-hugged his friend, an outgoing seventh grader known to her friends as Lala, who’d come out earlier that year as bisexual. At his previous school, Johnny didn’t feel safe and had little support when he came out to his mother. “She would go back and forth between saying things like: ‘I love you. I just don’t understand why you would choose this lifestyle at this age,’ to ‘It’s disgusting what you’re doing. Are you a faggot now?’ No one would ever use that word here.”

Johnny estimated that there were about 35 girls and 10 boys at Daniel Webster who were out as bisexual, lesbian or gay. (The vast majority of those girls identified as bisexual.) He introduced me to a handful of them, including two members of the G.S.A.: Tina (also a nickname), a seventh grader who considered herself bisexual and was dating a boy at another school; and a popular eighth-grade girl who used to date Tina.

They were joined at the tables by dozens of their straight friends and a handful of teachers. One teacher, Richard Mandl, approached me and asked what I thought of the school. I told him that I’d never seen so many happy gay kids in one place. “It’s a little disorienting,” I told him. “I feel like I’m in a parallel gay universe.”

He laughed. “Yeah, it’s pretty unusual what’s happened here,” he said. “It definitely wasn’t always this way.”

When Mandl began teaching at the school in 2002, he said that there weren’t any openly gay students — and that it was common to hear anti-gay language. “Kids would run by you and be screaming at another kid: ‘You fag! You’re so gay!’ ” he said. “It wasn’t until a few years ago when the faculty sort of came together and said: ‘You know what? We need to stop this.’ ”

That became a lot easier two years ago when one of the school’s most popular boys came out to his classmates. Because he was so well liked, and because so many of his friends rallied around him, “it became cooler at Daniel Webster to be accepting and open-minded,” Mandl said.

The principal, Kendra Wallace, told me that she didn’t hesitate when the school’s science teacher approached her (on behalf of the boy and several of his friends) about starting a G.S.A. “I had some staff who were livid at first, because they thought it would be about sex, or us endorsing a lifestyle,” she said. “But the G.S.A. isn’t about that, and they’ve come around. This is a club that promotes safety, and it gives kids a voice. And the most amazing thing has happened since the G.S.A. started. Bullying of all kinds is way down. The G.S.A. created this pervasive anti-bullying culture on campus that affects everyone.”

Not all principals have reacted as enthusiastically to students or teachers hoping to start a G.S.A. (Teachers often wait for students to make the request, because they don’t want to be perceived as “having a political agenda,” as one school counselor told me.) At a middle school in Massachusetts, the G.S.A. adviser told me that the school’s principal initially balked when students asked to observe the Day of Silence and start a G.S.A. “She argued that it wasn’t age-appropriate, and she worried about having to deal with negative editorials in the local paper,” the adviser said. But because the school had other extracurricular clubs, “the principal was made aware that blocking a G.S.A. from forming is against the law.”

Indeed, courts — citing the Equal Access Act, which requires public schools to provide equal access to extracurricular clubs — have consistently ruled against schools that try to block G.S.A.’s from starting. (The 1984 law was the brainchild of Christian groups fighting to allow students to form religious clubs in schools.)

When Yulee High School in northeast Florida was forced by a federal judge last spring to let a G.S.A. meet on campus, the school asked students to change the name of their proposed club to something other than Gay Straight Alliance. The students refused, and a court backed them up in August. Administrators at Austin’s middle school in Michigan used the same tactic when he tried to start a G.S.A. there, he said. “They told me I needed to change the name to something ‘less controversial,’ ” Austin recalled. “I didn’t feel like fighting them, so I just called it the Peace Alliance.”

And because there were so few openly gay students at Austin’s middle school last year, all but 2 of the 15 or so students who attended each meeting were straight. At G.S.A. meetings at Daniel Webster, gay and straight members spend two periods a week reading and discussing news stories about gay issues, organizing events like the Day of Silence and talking about navigating the outside world — which isn’t always as supportive as their campus. Lala, for example, said the backing of the G.S.A. was critical when she came out to her family.

“They’re a lot better now, but the first thing one of my relatives did when I told them I was bisexual was hit me on the head with a Bible,” she told me. “So while I was dealing with that insanity at home, I at least had a safe place at school to talk about what was happening.”

Later that day, as I sat in a conference room with a handful of the G.S.A members from Daniel Webster, they spent a lot of time talking about dating. Asking 13- or 14-year-olds if they think they’re old enough to date is a little like asking them if they’re old enough to stay up past 11, so I didn’t even bother. I was more interested in learning how their parents reacted to the news that they not only had gay kids — but also that those kids had same-sex boyfriends or girlfriends.

Tina surprised me when she said her father actually prefers that she date girls. “His biggest fear has always been that I’ll get pregnant before I’m 18,” she told us, “so my dad’s really supportive of the girl thing.”

Johnny said his mom has made it very clear that he’s not allowed to bring a boyfriend over to the house. “She’s like, ‘O.K., I accept you, but you better not bring any of those people around,’ ” he told me.

That’s one of about 50 “rejecting behaviors” identified by Caitlin Ryan of San Francisco State University, who has spent the last eight years studying the link between family acceptance or rejection of gay children and their mental health in early adulthood. (Ryan found that teenagers in “rejecting families” were significantly more likely to have attempted suicide, used drugs and engaged in unprotected sex than those who were raised in accepting families.)

Of course, many parents of middle-schoolers don’t want their child dating yet, no matter their sexual orientation. But several parents I spoke to conceded that it wasn’t always easy to fashion the same rules for their gay and straight kids. Their instinct was to tell their gay children to wait longer before they could date. Austin from Michigan said he could see the struggle playing out in his parents. “When I came out, they said I couldn’t date anyone until I was 18,” he said. “Then I think they realized that was ridiculous, so they changed it to 16.”

In a rural area outside of Tulsa a few years ago, I visited a mother and her 14-year-old gay son, Ely, who were struggling to fashion the rules of when, and in what context, he could date. I listened as Ely tried to persuade his mother to let his latest crush spend time in his room (“With the door shut,” he clarified):

Ely: So, can we hang out in my room?

Mother: I don’t trust you two alone in there. Period.

Ely: What about if there are no body parts touching?

Mother: You don’t have that kind of self-control.

Ely: Yes, I do!

Mother: No you don’t. How old is he again?

Ely: 15.

Mother: And he has a shaved head and piercings everywhere. Is this who you really want to date?

Ely: All kinds of people have shaved heads.

Mother: I don’t think you’re ready to have a relationship right now.

Ely: Ugh.

Mother: I know, I know, you can’t wait to move away from me. You have the most unfair mother in the world!

As I listened to them bicker, I couldn’t help remembering what Ritch Savin-Williams, the professor of developmental psychology at Cornell, told me the first time we spoke: “This is the first generation of gay kids who have the great joy of being able to argue with their parents about dating, just like their straight peers do.”

Though dating and sexual activity were a reality for some of the middle-schoolers I spent time with, others were more concerned with simply making gay friends their age. Those who attended a school with other openly gay students or who lived near a gay youth group (Openarms in Tulsa, for example) were the lucky ones. But many, like Austin in Michigan, had never met another openly gay boy.

“He has his close girl friends, but he doesn’t have any gay friends,” his mother told me. To meet other gay people, he has gone with his father to nearby meetings of Pflag (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), where gay kids often accompany their parents. And in June, she agreed to let him attend the gay-pride parade two hours away in Chicago.

“I told Austin he could go if either me or his dad went with him,” she recalled. “So he chose his dad, probably because he knew it would be the thing his dad would want to do least in the world. But off they went, and I give my husband credit, because he will do anything for his son. He doesn’t totally understand why Austin is gay, or how he can know for sure at his age, but he’s trying to be there for him. And he’s rarely seen Austin happier than at the parade. Austin warned his dad, ‘You can’t get mad at me when I scream at cute guys in Speedos!’ And boy, did Austin scream. He was in gay teenage heaven.”

Benoit Denizet-Lewis, a contributing writer for the magazine, is the author of “America Anonymous: Eight Addicts in Search of a Life.” His new book, “American Voyeur,” a collection of his writing, will be published in January.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The March On Washington

by Wayne Besen:

Fresh off its wing nut wingding on the National Mall, the far-out fringe held its "Values Voter" summit in Washington last week. The highlight was jilted former Miss California, Carrie Prejean, starting a brand new religion - "MEvangelical Christianity". In her remarkably self-centered, narcissistic speech, she cast herself as a martyr on a mission and repeatedly had to remind the audience that she wasn't as stuck up as she appeared on stage.

Prejean's introspective idolatry was almost outdone by Michael Schwartz, the chief of staff for Sen. Tom Coburn. For those who do not remember, Coburn is the Oklahoma Republican who once criticized the movie Schindler's List for its nudity. Thank God for our watchdog, Senator Coburn, or lusting after malnourished and gaunt holocaust victims might have caught on.

With a mentor like Coburn, it was only natural for Schwartz to become an expert on pornography, and we were fortunate to have him share his wisdom at a Values Voter discussion on "The New Masculinity".

On the cusp of insulting gay people, Schwartz told the rabid right crowd that he was about to get "politically incorrect." Why bother with a disclaimer, as if gay bashing is actually controversial at such rallies? If he really wanted to shock the crowd, he would have introduced "Schwartz' List" - naming all the social conservatives caught in tawdry sex scandals. But, alas he only had an hour, clearly not enough time for this endeavor.

Schwartz called pornography a "blight" and a "disease".

Although he failed to point out it disproportionally afflicts Republicans, with "Red States" having the highest rates of pornography subscriptions.

The porno politico then agreed with an "ex-gay" friend of his that said, "'All pornography is homosexual pornography because all pornography turns your sexual drive inwards.' Now think about that. And if you, if you tell an 11-year-old boy about that, do you think he's going to want to go out and get a copy of Playboy? I'm pretty sure he'll lose interest. That's the last thing he wants.' You know, that's a, that's a good comment. It's a good point and it's a good thing to teach young people."

So, straight porn will turn you gay and holocaust nudity is erotic. Just plain, homespun common sense.

Now that the loons have finally left DC, there is the question of whether the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community should march on Washington. The main event is scheduled for October 11th and it is highly anticipated by a new breed of Internet-age activists.

There is, however, opposition from many local GLBT organizations and movement activists who believe that resources spent in Washington would be put to better use fighting battles in the states.

I am highly sympathetic to statewide leaders who have performed heroic work, even though they lack crucial resources. And they are correct that the GLBT movement needs to continue fighting and educating at the local level. This will not only bring us victory in the states, but will change the facts on the ground in congressional districts, increasing the chance Congress will vote for equality.

Still, I agree with Equality Across America organizer Cleve Jones and long-time activist David Mixner that now is the time to go to Washington. No matter how much state organizers would prefer we march on state capitols, it is not the same. A rally in sleepy towns like Tallahassee or Albany changes your afternoon plans, while a trip to DC changes your life.

Detractors of the big march say that not enough organizing has been done to lobby members of Congress. But, what exactly would these citizen-lobbyists say that has not already been said by Human Rights Campaign lobbyists 1,000 times before? Besides, those who come to DC can always lobby the Representative in their district when they return home.

The march is really about inspiring a new generation. One of the highlights of my young activism career was attending the 1993 March on Washington. It moved me to a lifetime of advocacy and I believe that today's youth deserve the same opportunity I got to come to DC and be counted.

Let's not be jaded and forget how mesmerizing it was to step on the lawn and witness a sea of homosexuals and their allies campaigning for equal rights. I think those who oppose the march should close their eyes and relive the experience.

This march will likely be smaller than those in the past due to the economic recession. It will likely not spur an overnight legislative victory. But, it will invigorate and initiate a fire inside thousands of activists that will burn long after the last candle is blown out on the National Mall. And, as a bonus, compared to the crazies who marched last week, a gay pride march will finally seem positively boring.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Stories of Discrimination at the ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) Hearing

Reminder: Pennsylvania Equality Summit - Sept. 26 - State College

As more and more states progress toward full equality for LGBT citizens, pro-equality legislation remains bottle-necked in the Pennsylvania legislature. It is now more important than ever before for activists from across the state, from every region, to come together and share ideas, take part in educational programming, network, and build the infrastructure necessary to be the change we wish to see in Pennsylvania.

Join activists, organizations, and supporters from across the Commonwealth at the first-ever state-wide Pennsylvania Equality Summit on Saturday, September 26 in State College, PA!

Sponsored by the Value All Families Coalition, Equality Advocates Pennsylvania, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, this important and first-of-its-kind summit will train and prepare activists of all backgrounds, from all parts of the state, and equip them with tools and information to bring back to their own communities to continue the work and organizing necessary to see full equality for LGBT Pennsylvanians.

Sessions and panels will include speakers and experts focusing specifically on pending LGBT-related bills in the Pennsylvania legislature. Included in the summit will be dedicated time for regional working groups, networking, and a viewing of the ground-breaking documentary "Out in the Silence," with time for a question and answer session with film-makers Joe Wilson & Dean Hamer. Lunch and all training materials will be provided.

WHAT: Pennsylvania Equality Summit

WHEN: Saturday, September 26 from 10:00am - 6:00pm

WHERE: Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Centre County

780 Waupenlani Drive Extension, State College, PA 16801

(Portions of the summit will be live-streamed for those unable to attend)

COST: The summit is free to attend, though donations are encouraged to help cover costs

RSVP: Participants are encouraged to RSVP HERE. Space is limited.

QUESTIONS: Please direct all questions to Jake Kaskey at Equality Advocates Pennsylvania

Jake can be reached at: jkaskey@equalitypa.org or 215-731-1447 x 14.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"AMERICAN FASCISTS" - The Christian Right vs USA

This is an interview on CBC's "THE HOUR" from 2007 with author Chris Hedges who examines the growing right-wing fundamentalist movement in America and argues that it resembles the early fascist, cult-like movements of Germany and Italy in the 1920's and 30's.

Monday, September 21, 2009

An Open Letter to Cleve Jones from the Equality Federation

Dear Cleve,

We don't really know each other, but I've always respected your work, especially as a leader working on HIV and AIDS issues. And I know that hundreds of thousands of LGBT people still look up to you, especially since your early days of activism have been immortalized on the big screen.

But over the past year, I've become increasingly disillusioned by your comments in the press about the work of our movement in the states. You have repeatedly said that "the state strategy is a failed strategy." Cleve, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Over the past three decades, our movement has passed hundreds of laws at the state and local level. By way of contrast, we have been unable to pass any laws at the federal level that would prohibit discrimination against LGBT people, let alone bring us closer to equality.

Cleve, it is a fact that the only success our movement has had in securing equal rights for LGBT people to date is at the state level, even as most of our movement's resources have been focused on the national level. Your claim of a failed state strategy simply is not supported by reality. Without our work to achieve equality in the states, LGBT people in this country would have no rights at all.

Federal vs State Level Rights

In twenty-one states and the District of Columbia, lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are protected from employment discrimination. Transgender people are protected from employment discrimination in 13 states and DC. Currently, federal law provides no employment protections - and even after ENDA passes at the federal level, hundreds of thousands of LGBT people will still be protected only under state laws, because ENDA won't apply to most small businesses.

Relationship recognition is also currently only available at the state and local level for same-sex couples. Marriage, for example, is governed primarily at the state level. And while only six states currently allow same-sex couple to marry, the federal government does not currently recognize those marriages at all. Increasing numbers of states and localities are beginning to recognize domestic partnerships, as well - so at this point in history, only state and local governments provide any recognition for LGBT people and our families.

Other family law issues - from adoption to domestic violence - are also covered under state (and not federal) laws. Hate crimes laws exist at the state level, but not federally. Safe schools and anti-bullying laws are passing at the state level - but not yet federally.

Are the protections we currently have in some states enough? Absolutely not. Do we need to take advantage of the opportunity to begin passing the federal laws we have been unable to pass since the Stonewall riots 40 years ago? Absolutely.

But, Cleve, your repeated denouncing of the work we have done in the states over the past 40 years shows a surprising lack of understanding of the history of our movement, as well as a lack of sophistication about what has been required to put our movement in a position to pass federal laws.

Federal Legislation Begins Locally

The work we need to do begins in our neighborhoods and continues in our nation's capitol. Federal legislation - and litigation, for that matter - does not succeed in a vacuum. Given your years of experience, you must know that elected officials follow their constituents far more often than they lead them. One of the best predictors of a federal legislator's support for LGBT issues is the status of LGBT laws in that legislator's home state.

Indeed, a thoughtful look at the history of every other social justice movement shows us that winning policy changes in at least a majority of states is almost always a necessary precursor to legislative and legal victories at the federal level. It is the work we've done in the states that has brought us to this moment of opportunity federally and it is the work in the states that will keep pushing our movement closer to full equality.

Cleve, the federal strategy you support is absolutely critical for taking this movement even further toward equality. This is a strategy that most activists in the states support. In fact, most of us who work and collaborate on strategies for equality believe that we have to work at all levels of government - local, state, and federal; legislatures, courts, and the ballot - if we are going to be successful in achieving the equality we seek. You seem to suggest that we can do it all at the federal level - but I don't know anyone else in this movement who believes that.

Still, I do agree with you that now is the time to pass federal legislation. I could be wrong, but I think we also agree that sustainable change has to happen from the ground up - not from the top down. If we don't begin the education work in our own communities and neighborhoods, we will never be able to make change in Congress. Working for change at the local and state level gives us the opportunity to build relationships, recruit allies, and educate the public - all necessary components of any effort to create change.

The work on the ground is something state equality groups have been doing for a couple of decades now (some have been doing the work for a lot longer and some are just getting started). Without this strong history of local and state-based activism, we would not have been able to coalesce as a community to reject a top-down strategy directing that we take transgender people out of the federal employment nondiscrimination act.

In fact, the reason we knew that removing gender identity from ENDA would be a failed strategy is because we had already learned that lesson in the states - and because we had already built support in the states for including all members of our community in legislation affecting our community. That's not what Washington wanted to do - that was what people on the ground demanded.

We Have Achieved Key Victories

Cleve, we are not so far apart in that we have both been moved by the amazing increase in grassroots support for equality since the passage of Prop 8 in California last fall. Certainly we both believe that the energy and passion of young activists can carry this movement to the next level.

New strategies and new tactics can be a good thing, and every movement needs to consider and employ a wide range of both. But it is, quite frankly, an irresponsible waste of resources and talent - not to mention insulting to thousands of activists who have been doing this work for years - to suggest that we have had no successes in this movement, or that we should ditch our work in the states, or that we cannot learn from our movement's history.

That's what troubles me most, Cleve. Your place in history is assured, but I am struggling with the way your statements about work in the states actually revise history in a way that is simply not accurate. I am shocked that you have so little respect for those activists and advocates who have been working for years to give us the protections that we do have in this country - and that set the stage for the federal solutions you are now seeking.

So let me make a very public request of you, Cleve. Could you please stop saying that the state strategy is a failed strategy? Instead, could you acknowledge that we have achieved key victories for equality in the states? I understand that you believe the time has come for a federal strategy, and I'm not challenging that opinion here or suggesting that you modify your views. I am, however, asking that you get your facts straight.

As a public figure and as someone celebrated by many as a leader in the LGBT movement, you have been given both a gift and a responsibility. You can use your position to help others understand our history, or you can rewrite history to serve your own agenda.

Cleve, I believe that you are promoting the March for Equality and a new federal strategy for the same reason that I work to promote the work of state equality groups. Both of us want to see full equality for LGBT people in our lifetimes - in every state and throughout this country. But I think you diminish your own role as a leader by disrespecting the work of thousands of activists in the states who have also made a huge difference for this movement by bringing the LGBT people in their states very real protections and rights. So let's disagree on strategies or tactics, but support the work of all activists who are working for equality.

The movement needs all of us.


Toni Broaddus

Toni Broaddus is the Executive Director of the Equality Federation. The Federation is the national alliance of state-based lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy organizations.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

People Of Faith Out For Equality

Unitarian Universalists have affirmed the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, and transgender people since 1970. We support marriage equality...we proudly stand on the side of love!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The 'Ex-Gay' Movement That Wasn't

from Truth Wins Out:

In an excellent article, The Washington City Paper exposes Parents & Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) as a shady front group for rabidly anti-gay legal organizations.

Amanda Hess, the reporter, could not even find real "ex-gays" in Washington, DC to interview who were not getting paid to say they had "changed".

The article rightfully calls PFOX a "smokescreen" and also raises the important question of whether the group has a strategy of staging hate crimes, to portray so-called "ex-gays" as victims.

Here's the article: The Ex-Gay Movement That Wasn't

Friday, September 18, 2009

Gay in Oil City

The fight for GLBT rights in rural America is far from over.

By Gary Barlow for IN THESE TIMES September 18, 2009

Forty years ago, the Stonewall Riots sparked a revolution in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) rights in the United States. Since then, gays and lesbians have seen laws passed across the country protecting their right to work, to associate freely and live where they want, and even, in some places, to marry. Coinciding with those transformations, gays created huge urban communities to openly celebrate their lives, with New York's Greenwich Village, Chicago's Boystown, San Francisco's Castro and similar neighborhoods around the country becoming meccas of queer culture.

The progress has been remarkable, to the point that one of the primary arguments anti-gay activists use against non-discrimination laws is that gays and lesbians are no longer a disadvantaged minority. The anti-GLBT crowd relies on this argument because they are aware that in this age of gay celebrities and corporate-endorsed pride parades, it seems on the surface to be true. It is not, of course, and Out in the Silence, a new documentary by Joe Wilson and Dean Hamer, brings home that point in a complex 57-minute portrait of GLBT lives and issues in small-town America.

The film takes place in Oil City, Pa., a Rust Belt town in the rough hill country north of Pittsburgh. It is Wilson's hometown, a place he left after high school. Although he and Hamer lived in Washington, D.C., after they got married in Canada in 2004, they decided to publish a wedding announcement in the Oil City Derrick, which led to an onslaught of negative letters to the editor in the paper.

But then Wilson received a letter from Kathy Springer, the mother of an Oil City student who had faced unrelenting harassment in the town's high school. Her gay son, C.J. Bills, was forced to drop out and enroll in an online GED program because every school day had become, in his words, "eight hours of pure hell." The letter spurred Wilson, accompanied by Hamer, to return to Oil City to see if there was a story to tell. There was, and then some. Out in the Silence details the ultimately successful battle of Bills and Springer, with help from the ACLU, to get the local school board to implement comprehensive diversity training. It also documents the efforts of a lesbian couple there to re-open a landmark Art Deco theater and Wilson's own realization that stereotypes work both ways.

About as mainstream as a small-town boy can be, Bills works on old cars, tends his family's game birds and jokes around with friends. But after he came out--not as a political statement but in a heated moment defending another harassed boy--he came face to face with anti-gay prejudice and the tacit endorsement of it by teachers who turned a blind eye. Springer, who describes herself as "just a little old back hills mom," was incensed enough to fight for her son and other GLBT students.

At the same time, lesbian partners Roxanne Hitchcock and Linda Henderson were refurbishing the long-closed Latonia Theater. Unlike Wilson, they had stayed in Oil City and found each other. Their story, as they face down prejudice to open the Latonia and win community acceptance, is also compelling stuff, and worth a film of its own.

The most intriguing part of Out in the Silence may be Wilson's meeting of hearts, if not minds, with Pastor Mark Micklos, a Christian minister in Oil City. The two men, with their spouses, approached each other warily, and they do not end up agreeing on GLBT issues by the film's end. But they do become good friends and win each other's respect and trust.

That's a powerful thing to watch, and says much about where the fight for GLBT rights is in America today and about where it may well end. Despite the progress lesbians and gays have made since Stonewall, the movement still struggles to bring change to the thousands of small towns that make up the bulk of the country. It just isn't enough to tell kids in those places that, if you make it through the hell of growing up gay and alone in a small town, you can escape and live in a big city paradise.

Out in the Silence points to a different future, one where GLBT folks can stay home and do small-town things like bring an old community landmark back to life, go to school board meetings and help kids grow up a little better, even sit and chat and become friends not because you share ideology, but simply because when everybody in town is your neighbor, you need to find ways to get to know each other. That's not an easy journey, but Out in the Silence is a thoughtful film that shows "small-town" doesn't have to mean small-minded, and in doing so offers a vision of a better world for LGBT people everywhere. 

Gary Barlow, a Chicago-based writer, grew up in Petal, Miss. He is a former managing editor and staff reporter for the Chicago Free Press, the Dallas Voice and Windy City Times. In the 1990s, he helped organize campaigns that defeated anti-gay ballot initiatives in Florida and Idaho, and worked on environmental and HIV/AIDS issues.

The Out in the Silence Community Engagement Campaign expands awareness about the struggles GLBT people face in rural and small town America, and promotes dialogue and action in communities around the country to help strengthen the struggle for fairness and equality for all. Find out more at: OutintheSilence.com

Gary Barlow is a Chicago-based writer. He is a former managing editor and staff reporter for the Chicago Free Press, the Dallas Voice and Windy City Times. In the 1990s, before becoming a full-time writer, he helped organize campaigns that defeated anti-gay ballot initiatives in Florida and Idaho, and worked as well on environmental and HIV/AIDS issues.