Lesbian and bisexual teens are part of the New York “Times”‘ coming out feature

 
 

It was only nine months ago when the tragic suicide of a gay Rutgers University student unfurled a litany of reports of queer teenage suicides. And in an effort to counter this sadness, there’s been a deluge of timely support for gay teens across the country — from the It Gets Better campaign, to gay teenage characters on prime time television shows — to the life affirming chorus of Lady Gaga’s lead track: “Baby, I was born this way.”

News cycles, however, move at a sickening pace these days, and the importance of a topic such as supporting queer youth could quickly get lost in the media shuffle. So it was definitely uplifting to see the New York Times this week devoting an interactive page to the queer teenage experience in their feature, “Coming Out: Gay Teenagers, In Their Own Words.” Hundreds of queer teenagers from all walks of life were solicited, via LGBT groups, Twitter, YouTube and more, to share their stories for the feature.

“In the face of competing messages, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths just want to be teenagers,” the Times writes. “While they envision a world where they can get married and have doors open to them, they do not want to be defined by their sexuality, regardless of how they are received by their community. It is just one part of their identity.”

Teen voices themselves have been somewhat absent from campaigns like the It Gets Better project, where adults share their experiences to inspire teenagers that they can live through this. While wildly encouraging and important, other campaigns, such as Put This On the {Map}, which produced the Reteaching Gender/Sexuality, made a point of including teenage voices exclusively. (“I don’t want things to get better,” one teen in the video says. “I want my life to be awesome now.”) If the world is ready to support queer teenagers, then a good place to start is with queer youth itself.

Every day this week, the New York Times’ Coming Out feature publishes a photo essay and audio clip profiling a queer teenager in America. The stories, so far, come from a teen in the Bronx who was recently gay bashed, an out gay teenager who is part of the ROTC in Louisiana, and a young Christian gay teenager who feels accepted by both her church and God.

This portrait is of the first lesbian in the series, a 15-year-old girl who goes by K.J. and lives in Texas. K.J. wears her red hair in a bob, and in close up photographs has a sprinkle of freckles across her nose. The most important relationship in her life is her relationship with God.

When coming out, she describes herself as being “heavy with questions.” Ultimately, she has found acceptance through her strong faith. “God knows I am because He created me,” K.J. says, “and He created me to be exactly as I am.”

K.J.’s confidence is striking, and the acceptance she feels is profound. She considers herself Christian and wants people to see that as the largest part of her identity. Her church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, is accepting of gay people as well. And even when faced with prejudice, 15-year-old K.J. is even keeled and practical. Of her Christian friend who will acknowledge that she is a lesbian but doesn’t want to hear about it, she says, “I’m okay with her accepting me. That’s all I ask of her.”

The Times is also publishing stories submitted by readers — some anonymous, some not. Queer women’s experiences can be found in a handful of the more than 50 stories currently part of the feature. One young woman shared anonymously about her struggle with coming out as bisexual. She writes: “It is still a daily struggle for me. My family is openly homophobic; they do not understand how their words affect me. I have not come “out of the closet”, so to speak, to them. I do not think that they would disown me if I did come out, but their response would definitely be negative. The stress that I put upon myself to keep my sexuality a secret is almost stifling. It is as if I can not speak at all.”

Another portrait is of Nowmee S., a 19-year-old lesbian from Georgia, who began to identify as a lesbian shortly after immigrating to America when she was a sophomore in high school. “I had never met an LGBT person of color,” she writes. “There is not even a word for queer or lesbian in my native language and thinking that I somehow don’t have an identity in my culture is scary.” She shares the touching story of how she braved her first GSA meeting with the support of her brother, who accompanied her. “Today,” she writes, “I am a committed LGBT youth activist and have found agency through advocacy at the local and national level. And as I look back at the journey that brought me here I am amazed, and as I look into the future I am hopeful.”

Hope is palpable in these terrific snapshots of queer youth exactly as it is today. Readers are invited to share their stories, whether they are writing as a young queer person, or someone remembering how it was to grow up queer. Here’s hoping these stories find a permanent place in the canon of American experience. Queer youth is more than just an interactive feature; it’s a potent reality that needs all the love and support it can get.

 
 

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