What's it like being gay in high school these days?
February 22, 2014 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Adult gay man here. I wasn't out (publicly) in high school, and nobody else was either. In fact, I remember people still talking about "that one gay guy" who had graduated something like five years before me. I drove to colleges to meet people. What's it like these days? Is it generally no big deal? Is it common to take same-sex dates to events? Does anybody care?
posted by LastOfHisKind to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It depends on the area. I met a kid at a rally in a university town who is currently 17 and goes to high school in a nearby rural area. His experience now sounds a lot like your experience then.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 11:03 AM on February 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

My son is gay. He graduated from HS last year. His experience was basically that nobody cared. He dated some other gay kids, went to prom, and pretty much had a standard HS experience.

But, we lived in Madison, WI. I would expect that if he went to school in the more rural areas he would have had greater difficulty.

My experience of being a parent to a gay kid has changed over the past few years though - where before, I had to be sort of careful who I outed him to. Anymore, I (and he) don't really care who knows and if someone does have a problem with it, they are more than welcome to kiss my ass.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:15 AM on February 22, 2014 [44 favorites]

I don't have any direct anecdotal evidence. But I would browse GLSEN's School Climate Survey including past reports. It will give you a pretty good general background on the issue.
posted by munchingzombie at 11:27 AM on February 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

You might be interested in the book Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan. It's fiction, but it's about the experiences of about six contemporary gay high school boys told from the perspective of gay men who died of HIV/AIDS. It touches a lot on how things are different for gay youth now. Sounds like kind of a weird premise, but it's beautifully written!
posted by wsquared at 11:29 AM on February 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

It's going to vary so widely that there's probably no "in general." Within a school district, let alone across a state or region, you're going to find, say, one school that elects an out lesbian to be their prom king and another that tells an out gay kid that he can't bring his boyfriend to the prom. You'll find one school where the whole student body protests Westboro Baptist coming to their school and another where gay students are bullied into transferring or committing suicide.
posted by rtha at 12:18 PM on February 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

I live in a rural area and the 14-ish year old son of a friend just came out on facebook (kids these days) and I sort of watched with my old school "I had one out gay friend in high school" eyes and was pleasantly surprised how much among his friends (and everyone who commented, to a person) it was no big deal, they were proud of him and there was just no bullshit. No passive aggressive comments. No odd comments from relatives--they were all "We love you!"--just up and down "Way to go!" I'm sure this can't really be generalized and a lot has to do with who holds what positions of power and etc. He is also one of a pretty small group of out gay kids in the high school of our town, but we're a small town that has an LBGT film fest around Pride Week and it's Vermont so people have had a long time to adjust to civil unions (and now gay marriage) which I think has a lot to do with the average levels of tolerance people find here.
posted by jessamyn at 1:52 PM on February 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

More anecdata, but here in the near suburbs of Boston, my kid's middle school has a Gay-Straight Alliance (not highly peopled, but still) and she talks about some of her classmates identifying as bi and gay without raising an eyebrow.
posted by Sublimity at 2:21 PM on February 22, 2014

He dated some other gay kids, went to prom, and pretty much had a standard HS experience.

I should point out that he had it easy with a supportive family and stuff. Some of the kids he dated were still varying levels of closeted, including the poor kid whose mother called me to warn me that her son had "acting kind of gay", and she wanted me to watch him closely and report back.

There was another young man whose father completely freaked out when he came out, and he ran away from home. The cops returned him to his parents some weeks later, and I don't know what became of him - he wasn't allowed to talk to my son anymore.

It was really heartbreaking to see these young men suffer like that. I'd estimate that probably half of the people my son dated were in similar situations with varying degrees of shitty behavior from family.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:22 PM on February 22, 2014

The answer is definitely: it depends. I teach in a very gay-friendly part of the country and advise my school's GSA, and the experience really varies from kid to kid. Some are out, some are not. We kept a tally during No Name-Calling Week in January, and some heard no (homophobic/gender-identity-and-expression-based) slurs at all during the school day, while one kid counted 37 during one class period alone. Some of the kids have super-supportive parents and seem very secure in their identities; some have been kicked out of their houses for being gay. Some teachers enforce school policies regarding name calling; some don't. Most classes do not have an inclusive curriculum most of the time; some do, some of the time. We're working on it. Some kids can and do bring same-sex dates to school events, but it's not a huge number, honestly. Many are still just waiting for college to get out of that environment (as are many of their straight peers).

I do think that on the whole it is considerably better than when I was in high school (I graduated in '96, in NJ). We didn't have a GSA. There were no out students (or teachers). Official policy was still that prom tickets had to be bought in male-female couple pairs only (with special exemptions granted upon applying to the principal and 'proving' that you were in a committed same-sex relationship; needless to say, no one did)--that one always really throws my students for a loop, because it's so different from their experience. Inclusive curriculum was not even a thought; the only time queer people were ever mentioned was during health class when talking about AIDS (as in, "It's not just gay men who contract HIV, so practice safe sex, kids"). That's really not the case anymore.

But are things 100% better for all the kids? Definitely not. There are still days when I go home with my heart broken into pieces for what some of the kids experience. But we're trying, and yes, it's getting better.
posted by lysimache at 4:02 PM on February 22, 2014

I just heard an acquaintance with a 16-year-old son talk about this recently. They live in a small town in southwest Ohio, not far from Kentucky. Her kid has friends at school who are gay, friends who are coming out as trans, AND friends who are creationists.
posted by clavicle at 4:34 PM on February 22, 2014

This isn't the same as gay. But, here in the Lower Mainland (Vancouver, BC), there was a controversy when a transgender teen kissed another and had not disclosed their status. And my friend, whose kid went to the school, said that the kids split into two groups and had quite a brouhaha.

But this issue wasn't about the kid being transgender. It was over whether or not the kid should have disclosed before progressing to what the teens saw as sexual intimacy. Nobody apparently cared at all that the teen was transgender. It was apparently all about whether this constituted informed consent.

Again, transgender doesn't equal gay. But I thought this snippet of real life sort of showed the level of tolerance and the level of questions about rights that were happening here in Vancouver.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 6:32 PM on February 22, 2014

Of course, if they really didn't care about gender, they wouldn't have had any controversy. I get that.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 6:33 PM on February 22, 2014

I graduated from high school four years ago, and came out as gay my senior year. I knew a bunch of people who were out, and had a couple friends who were out too. I never really encountered any hostility. I never had a formal "coming out," but I never lied about it either. We didn't have a gay-straight alliance, but I think we had one in the past. I went to a huge high school of about 4K students in New York City. There was very little bullying of any kind, we didn't even have homecoming or a football team, so I think this is definitely a case of "your mileage may vary."
posted by catwash at 8:29 PM on February 22, 2014

I found out today that my old high school's spring play this year will be "The Laramie Project." This would have been almost unthinkable 10 years ago, when I attended. I'm sure it will still be somewhat controversial but it says a lot that the theater department and school administration think local attitudes have changed enough to stage it.
posted by castlebravo at 2:45 PM on February 24, 2014

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