I was reading an article in The Salt Lake Tribune this morning about the growth of gay/straight alliances in Utah high schools, and I thought to myself, "These kids are so fortunate to be growing up gay in this day and age." Of course, I also had to stop and remind myself that it likely isn't easy for most kids to grow up gay, especially in a place where the predominant religion and culture is so conservative and, often, anti-gay.
Yet, there is a part of me that envies these kids. While it is rarely easy coming to terms with one's sexuality, especially when there are many forces telling you that who you are and what you feel is wrong, I do envy the fact that some of these kids have some advantages that I didn't have when I was their age.
Just the fact of even having a gay/straight alliance to go to while you're at such an impressionable young age is a blessing. To actually have a place that one can go where like-minded people exist and be able to share one's feelings, challenges, and struggles seems so wonderful to me. That did not exist in my high school (or any high school I was aware of) when I was that age. And for someone to even be out enough to create or attend such a club seemed unfathomable at the time.
Yet I am quite sure there are kids who are not yet comfortable enough with their sexuality or the sexuality of those they care about to attend such a club at a time when they could surely benefit from it. I'm sure there are also kids who are teased or bullied or judged for attending such a club, so I understand these kids are not without their own set of challenges.
When I was young, it was very rare that a celebrity would actually admit they were gay. It would ruin their career. The first celebrity I really remember who was exposed as being gay was Rock Hudson, and that's because he had AIDS (what was known then as "the gay disease," and it was only after his death that his homosexuality even came out. Not exactly a glowing endorsement for coming out of the closet! Most celebrities you read about being gay were after their deaths. many of these celebrities led double lives while they were alive and few acknowledged their sexuality publicly.
Now it seems like we've got celebrities coming out left and right and straight counterparts showing great amounts of support for them. These people are proud of who they are and set positive examples and lend words of encouragement and support to those young people who may be currently struggling with their own sexuality. That didn't seem to exist when I was young. I often felt like I was the only one in the world who was gay (and I'm sure there are still young people today who feel the same way, so we still have a way to go).
In today's world there are far more gay characters on TV than there were when I was young. I remember Jodie (played by Billy Crystal) on "Soap," which was a great source of solace to me. I remember a very controversial episode of "thirtysomething" that showed two men in bed together (which was very scandalous at the time). I also remember "An Early Frost" about a son coming home to die of AIDS, a made-for-TV movie called "Our Sons" about two mothers, one of whom is having an especially difficult time accepting her son's homosexuality; and another made-for-TV movie called "Doing Time on Maple Drive, a drama in which one of the characters was gay (and incidentally, is the first thing I remember seeing Jim Carrey in (he did a good job, too, which is why I've never had a problem seeing him as a dramatic actor). And, of course, I remember Pedro Zamora from "The Real World." But none of these examples made me feel particularly positive about being gay (although they sometimes made me feel less alone).
Now gay people are all over the screen, often in extremely positive ways. You've got Kurt on "Glee," Mitchell and Cameron on "Modern Family," Oscar on "The Office," Kevin and Scotty on "Brothers and Sisters," you had Marc and Justin on "Ugly Betty," just to name a few.
I remember how characters like Rickie on "My So-Called Life" or celebrities like Ellen Degeneres on "Ellen" or Rosie O'Donnell or coming out and how it made things feel less lonely and more normal. Now kids have all sorts of role-models out there helping them know they are not alone.
YouTube videos pop up telling kids things actually will "get better," although when one sees the amount of kids who are still killing themselves over this issue, one knows we still have much work to do before people understand that being gay is not a bad thing.
When I was young, gays either weren't allowed into the military at all (if it was known they were gay) or they were prevented from revealing that essential part of themselves and were regularly discharged if they did. Although "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is finally due to be repealed, there is still much that needs to be done.
As a Mormon growing up, the LDS Church's language and policies regarding gay people was a lot harder than it seems to be now (although I think the LDS Church has quite a way to go regarding this particular issue. General Authorities and church leaders rarely talked about homosexuality at all. It was a very taboo subject, and the only access I had to anything within the church about homosexuality were talks and books about what a horrible, perverted, terrible sinner I was and how what I was feeling was probably second only to murder. A lot of information available about homosexuality at that time was just plain wrong, and finding positive or informed information was not always easy.
Gay people were still very much encouraged to marry in the hopes that it would cure them. Homosexual feelings and homosexual actions were basically indistinguishable and both were terrible to have or do. Remnants of electroshock therapy still existed.
Today I at least feel church leaders are trying to understand homosexuality a bit better, and they at least admit that they don't know what causes it and that it may never go away in this life. The fact that they have endorsed anti-discrimination laws and have softened their language towards gay people are steps in the right direction. But I believe there is still much ignorance within the church regarding homosexuality.
Even though gay marriage is not the law of the land everywhere, it is certainly further along than it was when I was young. To even imagine that two gay people could marry each other was unthinkable; yet now you can at least legally marry in Iowa, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington D.C., and New York, Rhode Island, and Maryland recognize same-sex marriages even if they don't perform them. Several states recognize or allow civil unions and/or domestic partnerships (including Nevada, where my partner and I reside). The issue is being actively debated and will probably go to the Supreme Court eventually, and I believe, like other civil rights battles before it, the day will come when gays and lesbians will find marital equality. None of this even seemed possible or attainable when I was a lad.
One reads frequently stories about gay issues in local newspapers, and here in Utah we even have access to a newspaper dedicated solely to LGBT issues (something I certainly didn't have access to when I was young). One can go to gay nightclubs or gay-friendly establishments with much more ease than one could when I was a teenager.
My point is that although it may always be tough to be a gay teenager, I do think now is a good time to be gay, and I think 20 years from now will be an even better time to be gay, and 40 years from now will be an even greater time to be gay. We have been on the cusp of a great civil-rights movement, and although we may not be conscious of it, we are right in the middle of a very historical time.
It has gotten so much better since I was young, and I predict it will continue to do so. What a great time to be alive!