Tahoe parents: Let your kids know that ‘Gay is O.K.’ | Mental Health Matters
July 15, 2015
Weeks ago, the Supreme Court decided that same-sex marriage is no different than marriage between a man and a woman and deserves the same protections under the law.
Gay Pride parades in New York and San Francisco were even more deliriously joyful than usual in celebration of the Court's momentous decision.
Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy said, "No union is more profound than marriage,for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family … Their (the petitioners) hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law."
Speaking for the children of same-sex unions he added, "Without the recognition,stability, and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser."
Shortly before the Supreme Court ruling, two eighth graders, as I understand it, posted signs in one of our middle schools declaring that, "Gay is O.K." and stating that they represent an "alliance for students to come together" to "share, support, and educate."
The sign alarmed some parents. I don't know the nature of their concerns, but the episode provides an opportunity to discuss preadolescence, gender orientation and social stigma.
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Forever, it seems, members of disliked and suspect minorities have been stereotyped by majorities as representing a danger to those deemed most vulnerable by the majority.
Examples of this cultural universal abound in history and today. In the Middle Ages, Jews were accused of murdering Christian babies. In America, until not long ago, black men were lynched after false accusations of raping white women.
In the modern era, homosexuals are portrayed as a threat to children. Indeed, in 1970 some 70 percent of the adult population believed that homosexuals were dangerous as teachers because they tried to get involved with children. In a 1999 survey of heterosexual men, 19 percent believed that gay men were likely to molest and abuse children.
In fact, research shows that there is no correlation between homosexuality and child molestation; homosexuals are neither more or less likely to molest children than heterosexuals.
Still, given the stereotypically false fears about the predatory nature of homosexual life, it's not much of stretch to worry that your impressionable child will fall prey to such a person.
What we know about late pre-adolescence and adolescent youth is that most of them will, at some point, question their sexual orientation. This can be a confusing time for youth.
Youth may be fleetingly emotionally attached to one gender, but physically attracted to the other. Identity, who am I, and self-esteem are still unformed and developing.
Childhood is a time of experimenting with new behaviors, but children do not "choose" their sexual orientation any more than they choose their height and hair color.
Kids are generally attracted to one sex or the other, sometimes to both. There isn't much a parent can do about that except to be patient, nonjudgmental, supportive and loving.
It's difficult for lesbian, gay and bisexual youth in part because they are a minority and in part because of negative stereotyping.
Here's what Frank Bruni, writing in the 6/28/15 N.Y. Times said, "I can't speak for everyone. But I can speak for this 12-year-old boy. He stands out among his siblings because he lacks their optimism about things, even their quickness to smile … He's a worrier, a brooder … And while this may be his wiring, it may also be something else. He has noticed that his heart beats faster not for girls but for other boys, and the sensation is as lonely and terrifying as it is intense."
Also, "He doesn't know what to do about it. He's sure he'll be reviled for it, because he hears all of the bigoted jokes that people aren't necessarily aware that they are telling, all of the crude asides they don't always realize that they're muttering. He craves some assurance that he'll be spared their disdain and disgust. But the world hasn't given him any."
Discovering that you are gay is a potential risk factor for suicide. So is the fearful, denigrating posturing of adults and other youth. And the reality of, or the fear of, rejection by your family because of your minority sexual orientation.
Studies indicate that sexual minority youth report feeling unsafe in school, and unsupported by school staff. Obviously not true in all circumstances, but certainly plausible given societies negative stereotypical view of minority sexual orientation.
While parents don't get to change their children's sexual orientation they do have a huge impact on how a child will view their sexual orientation.
So what's become of the two brave young people who hoisted the "Gay is O.K." posters? I don't know. I do hope their parents are loving, supportive and understanding. I do hope that all parents know that "parenting style" has nothing to do with a child's sexual orientation.
I do hope parents who are worried, anxious, or concerned about having gay children in their child's school will approach school administration to discuss these issues. I do hope that those parents and others will reach out to the parents of gay children in a caring and supportive manner and understand that "Gay is O.K."
Incline Village resident Andrew Whyman, MD, is a clinical and forensic psychiatrist. His column focuses on drugs, mental health and substance abuse in an effort to raise better awareness. He can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.