Helping teenagers deal with their sexual identity

The acceptance of diversity hasn't seemed to improve in today's society. Public opinion consists of interests, attitudes and beliefs that differ in many ways - especially about gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgendered (GLBT) individuals.

During a recent television news program, teenagers insultingly called one another "gay." This term was used in a derogatory way, not as a term for defining sexuality. Although teenagers of previous generations have used the term in a derogatory manner, it is difficult to understand how it is still acceptable among a group of the iPod-toting, Internet-savvy, FCAT-approved youth.

While there have been some improvements in rights of the GLBT community, other issues have worsened. According to several studies over the last 30 years, one out of every 10 people is attracted to those of the same gender at some point in their life.

Unlike anonymous short questionnaires in national magazines, these studies were designed to elicit sensitive personal information from random participants. Accordingly, one out of 10 participants is willing to risk disclosing aspects about their sexual orientation despite the personal and social consequences of being truthful. Most people, however, reported that they are unwilling to discuss their sexual orientation when not knowing how that information might be used.

Regardless of the actual numbers, a substantial GLBT population exists in the United States and there is fear amongst these individuals about talking about their identity with their employers, family and co-workers.

Growing up with such an identity can be difficult. Homosexual teens often see that there isn't much hope of acceptance by society, their immediate peers or their own families. Emotional and confused parents may kick their children out for leading a homosexual life, and teens can be acutely aware of this risk to their well-being. Statistics validate that this fear is real - one-half of homeless youth living on the streets are homosexual, half kicked out by their parents and the other half ran away from home to avoid any unbearable harassment.

Some adolescents don't have the mental strength to protect themselves against verbal abuse by others. With no family/peer support, no role models and no access to resources, homosexual youths are at high risk for depression, substance abuse and suicide. Additional stresses can further intensify feelings of loneliness and "otherness."

Homosexual teenagers who deal with such rejection by loved ones may inflict self-harm and commit suicide more often than the general teenage population. Because adolescents may not have previous experience with such rejection and because they are not fully intellectually mature, substance abuse can also be used as a way to cope.

Treatment of homosexual youth must always take the above issues into account. The social isolation and denial of common civil rights that can protect an individual are just as important to the GLBT population.

While it is disheartening that the term "gay" is still used as an insult, it is hopeful that we can intervene with the teenage population to save this generation. It may also pave the way for complete acceptance by the next generation.

Dayna Haynes
26 May 2007

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