by Bernadette Hopen and Abbie Goldring
The struggles that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens face in high school are rarely discussed openly. As a result, LGBT teens encounter many obstacles that prevent them from comfortably expressing their sexual orientations in a school environment.
Fears about Coming Out
Students seen as different can often become targets of bullying. According to a 2007 survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, "Eighty-six percent of LGBT students said that they had experienced harassment at school during the previous year."
A common form of bullying LGBT students face is name-calling. Junior Matt Lynn, an openly gay student, said, "I have heard kids mutter under their breath that I’m a fag, refer to a teacher as a fag [or] say a sport was a gay sport."
"I have had ‘fag’ yelled at me from passing cars," said President of the Gay/Straight Alliance senior Tim Lehmberg, also an openly bisexual student.
Because of such bullying, some closeted teens fear disclosing their sexualities. A closeted anonymous source said: "I’m most afraid of what other people will say or think of me. [Others] don’t understand having to have a constant filter for every word that comes out of your mouth and always having to decide if what you’re about to say or do is going to come off as ‘too gay.’ "
A different anonymous source, who considers herself bisexual, said that she feels confident in her sexuality, although she doesn’t see the need to publicize it. She said, "If someone were to [personally] ask me about my sexuality, I would answer honestly, but I have no plans to broadcast the fact that I am bisexual."
According to a 2005 GLSEN and Harris Interactive survey, students said that "actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender expression" was the second most common reason for being bullied. This bullying draws on LGBT stereotypes.
Lehmberg said that these stereotypes mainly included physical appearance and mannerisms. He said, "[LGBT students are] expected to be uninterested in sports, dress a certain way, talk in a certain voice and behave in a certain way."
WHS alum Colleen McCabe, who identifies as a lesbian, pointed to certain stereotypes many lesbians, including herself, face. She said: "Girls who play sports are all suspected of being lesbians.... A girl coming to school in athletic clothes is automatically put onto a ‘questionable’ list."
The anonymous source who considers herself bisexual said that stereotypes against bisexuals stem from the misconception that their orientation is made-up. She said: "I’ve heard the belief that bisexuality doesn’t exist, that it is just a transition phase between straight and gay. In some cases that is true, but not always."
Gay/straight alliances are youth organizations that provide safe environments for both straight and LGBT students. According to usatoday.com, 77 percent of students would support a gay/straight alliance at their schools. In fact, "The GSA at Westfield has been the incubator for other GSAs around the area," said GSA Co-Adviser Mr. Peter Horn.
At WHS, the GSA acts as a support group for LGBT teens by holding discussions, raising awareness and doing charity work for other LGBT support groups, according to Lehmberg.
WHS alum Meghan Sullivan, a straight former member of the GSA, said: "The GSA is full of really awesome [students] who are willing to support all people. It is a great group of friends."
Though many members agree that the GSA provides support, some feel that WHS could be more understanding of LGBT struggles. "Programs like the GSA aren’t very effective for closeted teens because... being branded as gay is the last thing a [questioning] teen wants," said a closeted anonymous student.
He added, "We would love to say what we need to, but we’re silent every day."
Though one in every ten students identifies as LGBT, according to familyeducation.com, they still continue to face a variety of struggles. "You can’t expect the people in your life to be completely comfortable with it until you are completely comfortable with it yourself," said Lynn. "All those videos on Youtube are telling the truth—it does get better."