Out Early

Gay and Lesbian teens are shaping a new sexual revolution

| January/February 2001 Issue

A couple of years ago, David Mariner was invited to a coming-out party. But this celebration wasn’t your typical society event. For one thing, it was held at a middle school in Falls Church, Virginia. And David Grossman, the 13-year-old guest of honor, wasn’t just coming out in the traditional sense of the word—he was also proudly identifying himself to friends and family as a gay teen.

"I remember walking into David’s school and thinking, ‘This sure is different,’ " recalls Mariner, who runs youthresource.com, a sexuality awareness Web site operated by a group called Advocates for Youth. "I knew he was awful young to be making such a public statement about his life, but I respected David’s feelings about his sexual orientation. I knew it was im-portant for me to support that."

While Grossman’s party was a unique event, the fact that he chose to announce his sexual orientation at such a young age is not. There’s more than anecdotal evidence to indicate that kids are coming out earlier than ever. One study, conducted by Ritch Savin-Williams, a developmental psychologist at Cornell University, found that in 1980 young men, on average, first publicly acknowledged their sexual orientation in their 20s; by 1998, that average age had dropped to 16. And that number keeps getting lower.

In Nerve (Aug./Sept. 2000), Stacy D’Erasmo talked to kids as young as 13 who say that they have already come out to their parents and friends. Chris-tina, 14, says she told her parents she was a lesbian when she was 11. Since then, she’s become part of the local gay community, attending dances for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth at a queer-friendly church, and even selecting a "gay mother" and "gay father": older, more experienced queerfolk who help guide Christina through the ins and outs of gay life.

Other kids may not have as much support as Christina, but there are a growing number of organizations they can turn to. More and more schools are establishing chapters of Gay-Straight Alliance, a group that works to build connections between homosexual and heterosexual youth, and the Web offers a network for kids interested in exploring their sexual identity.

Mariner’s site, for instance, provides resource links, peer-based telephone support, and online discussion groups for GLBT teens. "Think back to what it was like being 13 and first discovering your body and your sexuality: It is an exciting and beautiful time," Mariner says. "Why should it be any less exciting and beautiful just because you’re gay or lesbian, bisexual or transgender?"

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