No Door Policy
For Lohanthony, it’s already better. Or was pretty good to begin with. Great, even. One at least gets that impression from his spunky, weekly YouTube videos, which show the adolescent (“I love Britney Spears, I can be funny most of the time” reads his profile) spouting off about any number of pop culture subjects, gay bullying, dancing and otherwise having a good time. On June 1, he posted the entry “How To: Twerk,” which features snapping, sass, fierceness and an admittedly saucy dance routine that would send conservatives into yet another tizzy about restricting the Internet (to be fair, Lohanthony does slap a “Scandalous” warning sign across the screen right beforehand). Heck, even Chris Crocker, a predecessor and perhaps even an influence, would probably do a double take over this kid.
In addition to his YouTube, Facebook and Twitter accounts, Lohanthony also maintains a Tumblr page, LindsayLohanthony.tumblr.com. The visual equivalent of Twitter with a little blog realness thrown in, Tumblr hosts hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of openly gay kids’ blogs. These youth post about their current obsessions and, sometimes, homoerotic photos of themselves. Perhaps High School holds its bad days and share of bullshit from ignorant, sadistic assholes, but these kids know who they are, know what they want, and are living la vida out of the closet. Their parents may still not be officially in-the-know, or may be completely clueless about their kids’ online lives, and the bullying-motivated suicides of kids both gay and straight (yet targeted as gay) do continue, but there’s a generation of gay kids and teens whose angst has nothing to do with their sexual identity. They’re, like, over it.
“I haven’t had to come out for a really long time,” admits Jason Galisatus, 18. A freshman at Stanford University with a passion for performance, Galisatus is an inspiring member of the new generation of gay activists. In 2010 he founded the Bay Area Youth Summit, an annual conference to bring together LGBT youth, allies and adults to combat bullying. And he’s been completely out of the closet since his freshman year of high school. “I think because being an activist is so part of my life people already know I’m gay. Honestly, being gay is my identity and something important to me. It’s part of who I am. At the same time my social life doesn’t revolve around it. My social circle isn’t all gay.”
It Began With A Kiss
During the mid-2000s, a trend emerged, one that played a role, or at least reflected a turning of the tide, in how more and more gay kids were coming out younger and younger: emo boys kissing.
Websites featuring photos and videos of slim emo boys kissing—sometimes egged on by their girlfriends, and sometimes audibly whooping it up in the room—cropped up all over the place. There were MySpace groups, blog rings and photo buckets devoted to this phenomenon (and still are). It became so prevalent, almost a dozen Urban Dictionary entries appeared. In fact, the whole emo thing—fey and super-stylized—ushered in a queer-friendly identity and look that made Queer Eye for the Straight Guy metrosexuality look as stuffy and uptight as a GOP conventioneer. In Mexico City, where emo was a major thing, and Mexicans do rock emo looks and skinny jeans better than anyone else, there was a homophobia-fueled war between the rednecks/punks and emos that saw plenty of bashings and near-riots. A Google search nets plenty of queer emo boy material both old and quite new.
Queer kids were suddenly more empowered and comfortable to create MySpace, LiveJournal and Facebook pages that reflected their queer identities and lives, whether or not everyone at school or home knew for a fact that they were gay. Some gay kids have been inadvertently outed by their Facebook pages: in January, one London teen was booted from his home by homophobic parents after they saw that Facebook itself had assigned gay-related ads on his page’s sidebar.
Yet other youth have found outpourings of support thanks to the online presence of fellow queers and allies, like Zach Stark, who as a 16-year-old in 2005 caused a media storm when he posted on MySpace about being sent to an ex-gay program after coming out to his parents. And some have become bona fide leaders and activists, like Arizona’s Caleb Laieski, 16, who at 13 founded Gays and Lesbians United Against Discrimination, a broad support and political action organization. Laieski took action against the Dysart Unified School District last year, threatening a lawsuit unless it added protections against bullying due to sexual orientation and gender identity. He later met President Obama as a result.
The New Milks
Living in the refreshingly liberal town of Ann Arbor, Mich., 15-year-old Graeme Taylor regularly listens to NPR, reads The New York Times and watches MSNBC. He came out to his parents three years ago, at age 12. By 14, he had come out to the entire world thanks to an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show after he spoke at a 2010 Howell School Board meeting in support of a teacher suspended over defending gay students. A bright, articulate, born leader who regularly attends Ann Arbor’s weekly meetings for LGBTQQA youth leadership organization Riot Youth and cites Cleve Jones as a role model, Taylor says being gay causes no friction as far as his identity—or within his social circle, which he says is mostly straight. “I have four friends who are all on the football team and very manly guys and they all watch Ellen every day,” he shares. “It’s their favorite show. I don’t watch it nearly as much as them and they were thrilled when I went on. The average Ann Arbor jock is very accepting of gays and it’s a nonissue with them.”
Taylor feels that his is already transitioning into a new post-closet generation thanks to the work of previous waves of gay activists. When I ask what he thought of Obama’s pro-same sex marriage statement in May, he responds, “It’s pretty momentous that for the first time a sitting president was comfortable enough to say that gays deserve the same rights as heterosexuals. I thought it was a very big deal to some of the old gays, but to some of the new gays including myself it was a good thing—but nothing too large.”
One of the “new gays” that Taylor finds inspiring is Galisatus, whom he recently met (and who reciprocates the sentiment). Raised in San Mateo, Calif., Galisatus came out to a friend in eighth grade, and to his parents the following year. He joined his high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance as a freshman, became its president the following year and organized a rally against Proposition 8 during the 2008 election cycle. He experienced some bullying as a result of his openness—which he admits concerned his parents, although they were fine with his sexual orientation itself—and realized more work needed to be done to combat the harassment of gay youth. He founded the annual Bay Area Youth Summit to do just that, and has plans for the organization—which will be launched as a nonprofit entity this September—to work with middle schools and develop a curriculum.
“I think LGBT organizations stay away from middle schools so they don’t seem creepy or like they are indoctrinating children,” he admits, “but because BAYS is youth-led it’s less so. We will be the first youth-led organization of this kind in the world. I can’t wait for that day.”
Better and Better
Kissing boys and Tumblr aside, and for that matter the pop culture phenomenon that is Glee, international organizations and initiatives like BAYS have played a huge part in creating an environment where more gay kids feel comfortable coming out. They also help provide support and reassurance for those who live in less accepting places than, say, Ann Arbor.
According to a 10-year national study by GLSEN—the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network—almost nine out of 10 LGBT students experience some sort of harassment and discrimination. In addition to programs like Jump Start, GLSEN sponsors national events that involve schools and students, including The Day of Silence, Ally Week and No Name-Calling Week. Andy Marra, GLSEN’s public relations manager, stresses the importance of legislation to help improve things for LGBT students.
“I think if you look at states with comprehensive legislation on the books that address these issues, like New York, which is about to have the Dignity For All Students Act go into effect this July, with strong school legislation [and its effective implementation], we do know things improve and get better. If you look at Massachusetts, California, even Arkansas and West Virginia, which enacted safer student legislation, things do get better.”
Yet, like Galisatus, the students themselves are getting to work on new initiatives of their own right now. “They don’t want to wait until it gets better,” says Vlada Von Shats of Hells Kitchen gay bar, Vlada. “They want to end it today.” Von Shats’ 16-year-old daughter is on the staff of It Ends Today, which was started by a Paramus, NJ Asian-American teenager, Christopher Rim, to staunch all forms of bullying in schools. (Von Shats serves as the organization’s mentor and director of operations and development, and has hosted fundraisers at the bar.) The organization sets up clubs in schools across the state, encourages teens to share their stories online, awards scholarships to those who speak out publicly and gives presentations at assemblies and conferences.
“I started this because Tyler Clementi played violin with my brother,” Rim says. “I got inspired by that. I want to have chapters in all the schools in the country.” Rim has even attempted to partner with one of the young gay generation’s most influential role models—Lady Gaga—through her father’s restaurant, Joanne. “I went to the restaurant website and I’m good with computers and found out who built and registered the website and got her dad’s cell phone number and called it,” he admits. “A lot can happen if you partner with Lady Gaga.” Surely, Lohanthony and his friends would agree.