An interesting, but not surprising, recent article in USA Today looks at research that shows gay teens are finding more acceptance within the culture and are thus coming out earlier than past generations:
Gay teenagers are "coming out" earlier than ever, and many feel better about themselves than earlier generations of gays, youth leaders and researchers say. The change is happening in the wake of opinion polls that show growing acceptance of gays, more supportive adults and positive gay role models in popular media."In my generation, you definitely didn't come out in high school. You had to move away from home to be gay," says Kevin Jennings, 43, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, a national group that promotes a positive school climate for gay children. "Now so many are out while they're still at home. They're more vocal than we were."Still, many continue to have a tough time. The worst off, experts say, are young people in conservative rural regions and children whose parents cannot abide having gay offspring. Taunting at school is still common. Cyber-bullying is "the new big thing," says Laura Sorensen of
Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center in Ferndale, Mich. "Kids are getting hate mail and taunts on MySpace or Facebook."But as young gays become more visible targets, they also have more sources of help, experts say. In the 11 years since Jennings founded the education network, parents have become more supportive of gay teens, he says. Also, the network has trained thousands of school officials on how to reduce gay bashing.
I have counseled several gay teens in my years of youth ministry. Sadly, these teens had discovered that the Church was the place where they found the least love or acceptance. Based on what they heard from religious leaders in the media, they had concluded there was no place for them in the Church. Certainly, some leaders of the religious right have been quick to stigmatize gay youth and to share their belief that gay people, particularly gay teens, tend to be more depressed, and have more drug and alcohol problems than other teens. They offer only faulty and anecdotal "research" to support these claims while using them to demonstrate just how unhealthy (read:sinful) the "gay lifestyle" truly is. But even if these assertions were true, one has to ask: Are these teens depressed because of their sexual orientation or because of the oppressive reaction to their sexual orientation by the surrounding culture? This research would seem to support the latter. And as our culture moves away from discrimination and oppression against gay youth, I think we will see the trend of emotionally healthier gay teens continue to rise (and regardless of one's views on homosexuality, this should be the goal of all people who care about teenagers).
In fact, the trend does seem to be in favor of gay teens across society. Stats show that the younger a person is, the more likely they are to be accepting of different sexual orientations (see below). Such stats might explain why there has been a flurry of activity in recent years to pass laws discriminating against gay people. The handwriting is on the wall for those wanting to impose by law one particular interpretation of scripture: it's now or never. (See here for an example of what could happen to gay youth if we were to enforce certain literalistic readings of scripture).
Hat tip to Hit the Back Button to Move Fwd blog for the USA Today article.