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The least you need to know

By law, privacy can be a matter of where and when
By LISA KEEN  |  May 30, 2007


Gay Pride. It's a phase that has become almost meaningless in our contemporary culture. It is used to sell everything from rainbow flags to porn, for-profit heath services to HIV/AIDS drugs. American culture has moved so far away from the truly, deeply stigmatizing effects of pre-Stonewall life that the breathtakingly radical importance of "gay pride" is difficult, nearly impossible, to imagine.

But "gay pride" — in both its most elevated and debased forms — is intended, really intended, only for adults. If there is any group of people who are still alarmingly close to the stifling, emotionally and legally suffocating effects of pre-Stonewall thinking it is young LGBT people. Deprived of personal autonomy, frequently forced to lie about their lives to their parents (for the sake of sheer survival), and often the targets of peer violence, queer kids are — in many respects — still trapped in the horrors of the homophobic 1950s. Think of it as the nightmare flip side of Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best.

Lisa's Keen's new book, Out Law: What LGBT Youth Should Know About Their Legal Rights (Beacon), marks a brave beginning for moving gay kids out of the darkness. Sure, knowledge is power — but that works only if you can access the knowledge. Out Law is the first book that addresses the legal rights — with regard to privacy, due process, sexual freedom, and access to information — of LGBT youth.

Imagine this: you're sitting in a car with a friend. It's nighttime, and the car's parked in front of a store that's closed. You've just been to a party where you've had some beer, but now you're just two guys sitting in a car, talking. Suddenly, a police car pulls up behind you with its lights flashing. The police smell alcohol on your breath; you're both under 21, so they decide to arrest you for underage drinking. While frisking your friend, the police find a condom, which they decide is evidence that you're both "queer" and must have been planning to have sex in the car. On the way to the police station, one of the officers says he knows your family and that he's going to tell them that you're gay. You've never told anyone you're gay and you know your family will react negatively to this news. What do you do?

There's no easy answer to this question. And there's not just one correct answer. But this is a real-life dilemma that confronted one young man in Pennsylvania in 1997. His response was a tragic one.

Marcus Wayman was 18 and living with his grandfather in the small Pennsylvania community of Minersville. His parents had moved to Texas for work reasons, but Marcus wanted to finish up his senior year in high school, where he was on the football team. Just a month before graduation he had gone to a football party, and afterward he was giving a male friend a ride home. But instead of going directly home, they parked in the empty parking lot of a local store that was closed for the night. Police noticed the car and, knowing the store had recently been burglarized, pulled up behind it to investigate.

In the course of questioning Marcus and his friend, who was 17 at the time, police determined that they had been drinking and began arrest procedures. While frisking them, police found two condoms in the friend's pocket. One of the police officers accused the two young men of being "queers" who were parked there in order to have sex. While sex between same-sex partners was still illegal in some states in 1997, it was not illegal in Pennsylvania. But the officer lectured the young men about the Bible's condemnation of homosexuality, and he told Marcus that he knew his grandfather and that he was going to tell him that Marcus was gay.

Marcus feared that his grandfather would be repulsed by this allegation, and that he would throw the teenager out of the house. Distraught, he went home and wrote a note to his grandfather, saying that he did not want "everyone's life [to] be ruined by mine." He then shot himself in the head, ending his life.

Marcus's sexual orientation is not known. He never told anybody he was gay. But whether he was gay or not doesn't matter. He was horribly injured by the fact that somebody threatened to tell other people that he was gay and he didn't feel that there was anything he could do about it.

His mother filed a lawsuit against the police officers, and years later a federal appeals court ruled that the actions of the officer who made the threat violated rights guaranteed to every citizen under the US Constitution. According to a decision by a federal court, "matters of personal intimacy," including information about a person's sexual orientation, are "protected from threats of disclosure by the right to privacy."1

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  Topics: Lifestyle Features , U.S. Court of Appeals , GLBT Issues , Special Interest Groups ,  More more >
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The least you need to know
Damaging effects of the closet . I believe that is especially important today to discuss the damaging effects that the closet has had and continues to have on gay people. Given the current political climate of a presidential election approaching it is time to put “the closet” in some sort of context. It is also time for all of the candidates to step up to the plate and say how they really feel in spite of what the fear the ramifications may be. Gay rights are a civil rights issue that the candidates need to take a stand on without double speaking to protect their political asses. We need to provide some context for which people can better understand what “the closet” is and what it does to those that are in it. “The closet” is the emotional hiding place that many gay people recoil into out of fear of perhaps losing the love of their families or the acceptance of their school-mates. First of all when children reach a certain age when they begin to understand social expectations and what society deems proper and improper is when “the closet” door goes shut on an important part of early childhood development, being their sexuality. Children learn earlier than perhaps people realize that their same sex attractions are not considered normal but in fact unhealthy and morally reprehensible to many. These processes for heterosexual children as they discover their sexuality are such delicious feelings that add a whole new dimension to their lives. Gay children are denied this. Gay children in an effort to be considered normal will learn to role play or act as if they share the same feelings of opposite sex attractions. Going into the closet is a terrifying and lonely experience that causes gay children feelings of deep loneliness. Suicide among gay teens is epidemic. They feel that they are the only ones in the world with these “abhorrent feelings. All children want and need to feel accepted by their peers in order to develop a healthy sense of self. They are instead bombarded daily by representations and celebrations of heterosexuality in the media, advertisements, at school and basically everywhere they look, those are the only images presented. One important point I would like to make is that other minority children living within a dominant culture at least have their families to go home to that don’t wish that they were of the majority culture. However gay children do go home to straight parents that do wish their children were straight, that is if they even knew the truth which is rare. These closeted children live in constant fear of having their true nature discovered and will therefore often practice through observation what they believe it looks like to appear heterosexual. They will begin editing their speech, their walk, the way they move their bodies all because of the fear of being discovered or “outed” so to speak. This editing process is not only demeaning, exhausting but also damaging to ones self-worth. However, often when gay children graduate from school and go out on their own and perhaps go on to college they will generally find others just like themselves with the same sexual orientation. As any reasonable person can imagine what it must feel like to finally fit in and feel a sense of camaraderie for likely the first time in their lives. These feelings can be an overwhelming wonderful experience. So overpowering and overwhelming that is can also unfortunately be a double edged sword and be dangerous as well. These now young adults will often out of their desperate need to feel those wondrous feelings of total acceptance for who they are will often then merely acquiesce to the pre-established norms and behaviors of the gay culture in which they now find themselves a part of. We need to understand that these men and woman that make up gay culture bring with them their own emotional baggage of what the closet has done to them. These behaviors are not necessarily healthy. The pitfalls that gays need to be ever vigilant about are the fact that addictions of all varieties and suicides are at a much higher rate than their heterosexual counterparts. The damage of the closet then can lead these young men and woman to adopt these behaviors so as to feel a part of that culture as well. There emotional damage has already been done so they are much more easily influenced by the culture enough so that they will follow along with the unhealthy and damaging behaviors as a means of dulling the pain of life long feelings of social denunciation. We as a society need to be more compassionate to these emotionally damaged souls and start accepting them for whom they are no matter what their sexual orientation may be. This will not happen over night but we have to start somewhere if we are to be a part of the process of the healing of generations of gay men and woman that have been stigmatized for only one reason, that being whom they are innately attracted too. Aaron Jason Silver
By aaronjasonsilver on 05/30/2007 at 11:34:02

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