Haven’t We Made Progress?

When current parents were teens, the whole world was not only a “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” zone, but a “Pretend it Doesn’t Exist” zone. A currently middle-aged lesbian remembers,

“My dad half knew [I am lesbian] but didn’t want to know. I broached the subject once but he said, ‘I don’t like that kind of woman,’ and I knew he didn’t want to talk about it.” – GA

We seem to have made a lot of progress:

“Managing the feelings of attraction was harder than I expected growing up. Now it’s much easier for kids because we talk about sexual orientation much more.” – SQ

“It’s a lot more accepted to be gay or lesbian or bisexual now, and experimentation is common. Experimentation is shown commonly in the media and pop culture, like Katie Perry’s song ‘I Kissed A Girl’.”  – SC

““If my son had been 15 years younger he would have looked on the internet and found a community and had a whole different journey toward coming out…. I’m thrilled it’s not 1970. I told my son I’m scared you’re going to the South and get killed, or you’ll get AIDS, and I do worry that his life will be harder, but it’s much better now than it was.” – SF

But it varies a lot by family and community:

“I worry because not everybody [in my extended family] is ready for such an announcement. I’m trying to be practical, but I don’t want [my daughter] to feel there is anything shameful.” -JW

“I will never be able to talk about it with my [Russian] father. He doesn’t have an education beyond 8th grade. He has invested so many hopes in me. In my family we’ve never really talked about sex or relationships even though they have supported my career. But they are not big on verbal encouragement for any aspect of life, the support is more subtle.” – ZI

“He came out to his father two years later [than to me] because he knew it would be more difficult for his father to accept. His father’s family is very religious, very Christian. I think he was so smart; I think he was waiting for me to be a stronger ally. I think we parents often have more issues than the kids. His father was not very pleased, as I expected. He said, ‘Well, I don’t agree with this, but you are my son so what can I do?’ My son was a little disappointed about that.” – MS

The sometimes latent, sometimes blatant homophobia has real costs and damages. A large CDC study found strong correlations between non-heterosexual orientation and unhealthy behaviors, from not wearing helmets while biking, to using tobacco, to driving drunk, to carrying weapons. They were also considerably more likely to have been injured in a fight, experienced dating violence, and been forced to have unwanted sex. Nonstraight teens were more than 3 times more likely than straight peers to attempt suicide. (Download the whole CDC report here: CDC 2011 )

But even where a queer person’s life and safety are not threatened, continuing homophobia hurts and restricts in many other ways:

“Several of my lesbian patients have been kicked out of other gynecologic practices, and told they don’t need a gynecologist, and this makes me furious. Of course they need preventive care, like HPV vaccines and breast exams, just like any woman. Bleeding disorders and cancer are just as common in lesbians as straight women.” – SC

“One gay boy was disowned by his parents and had to legally emancipate himself.” -EL

“I would never want to live in the rural South, myself, but I’ve chosen a subculture [work and neighborhood] where people are quite comfortable with differences. People who have long-term uncertainty about their sexuality face a different dimension of decision-making about what kind of life they will have. A lesbian friend recently told me of not wanting to risk a confrontation if she took her girlfriend and daughter on vacation somewhere she had loved going before she came out.” -GC

“People expect you to follow the rules, meaning behave like TV gay men (where are the prime time TV lesbians, by the way?) or drag queens, or else it’s ok to be out as long you don’t “act gay.” Some straight people think, ‘Gay people are just like straight people only the sex is different.’ Maybe that should be the case, but because  of all the exclusion and intolerance, large and small, it feels more like our lives are totally different from straight people except the sex is pretty much the same.” -TH

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