Can You Accept Who I Am?

Halton gay and lesbian youth need our support
“In any group of people, I am one of you. I grew up in your neighbourhood, attended your school, played on your school teams with you, competed with you academically, perhaps even sat at your family table. I am different from you in one respect, that of my homosexuality. My most intimate, caring experience will be shared with a member of my own gender. Can you still accept me for who I am?”

These selections from a statement chosen by the gay lesbian and bisexual students attending the support group offered at the Toronto Board of Education reveal the dilemma facing many more of our children than we realize.

Gay, lesbian and bisexual adolescents are present in our schools and community. They always have been. But we as a culture and community have socialized them to hide. And they do hide, because they know it’s not safe to say who they are. The environment in which these students live and study is probably hostile to their existence. They live in constant fear of losing their families and friendships if people close to them learn the truth.

One of the main stressors of remaining hidden is the constant need to monitor their conscious and automatic behaviours. The stress of watching the way you talk, stand, move your body, or use your hands can be unbearable. Hiding who they are means denying who they are. This denial can be costly. Many gay, lesbian and bisexual youth suffer depression and anxiety. Some try alcohol and drugs to numb themselves and to ‘belong.’ Some contemplate suicide. Those gay, lesbian and bisexual youth who cannot hide face, at best, indifference and, more commonly, overt discrimination, cruel, demeaning comments, harassment and even violence.

Lesbian, gay and bisexual adolescents face all the usual problems of adolescence and additional problems unique to their situation. The work of adolescence is to separate from parent and to develop and accept a positive self-image. To realize that they identify with a population feared and rejected by society makes this task overwhelming. Without support, gay lesbian and bisexual adolescents are at great risk of becoming emotionally ill. Generally the stressors that lead to emotional illness arise from society’s reaction to homosexuality, not the orientation itself.

Gay, lesbian and bisexual adolescents need caring adults and peers to help them successfully make the transition to adulthood. Many of these young people do not have caring families they can count on for support. As a community we need to ensure these adolescents receive support and positive, non-judgmental attention. Our challenge is to understand and accept that sexual orientation is not a choice or a preference. To adequately support gay lesbian and bisexual students means we must increase the comfort and support to these students in our schools.

Recommendations made by the Massachusetts Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth (1993) include:

     School policies that ban anti-gay language and harassment.
     Suicide prevention and violence prevention training for teachers and counsellors (A clinical study on issues facing gay or bisexual young men indicated that 31 per cent had attempted suicide; Gerald Mallon, 1993)
     School based support groups for students who are gay and straight.
     Information in school libraries for adolescents who are gay and lesbian.
     Curriculum that includes content about people who are gay and lesbian.

Halton has two resources available that provide support and service to these adolescents and their parents. The Halton Regional Health Department provides workshops on gay, lesbian and bisexual youth for educators, health care and social service providers in Halton. Fabulous Youth of Halton is a peer support resource for gay lesbian and bisexual youth.

For more information call the Halton Regional Health Department, 905-825-6060.
Fabulous Youth can be reached at 905-338-7501.

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