ACTIVITY 7: Handout 1


Stories of Youth Facing Homophobia

The following readings are personal accounts by a teacher and students of their experiences as lesbian and gay people, and with homophobia. Numbers 1-6 were written by lesbian and gay students, number 7 is by a teacher, and 8-10 were written by straight students. All these testimonials are reprinted from GLSEN training materials.


“I’m 17 and I’m gay. Adolescence is hell for me. I am told that my sexuality is something to be ashamed of, something to hide, something evil. I have cowered in my closet in shame and fear. I found myself lying to my parents and friends, being constantly afraid of discovery, and censoring my words and actions with paranoid concentration. I remember hiding books from my parents because I was ashamed of them discovering about me. In short, I hated my sexuality and myself. My closet wasn’t a refuge; it was a prison and it was destroying me. By staying silent, I was confirming the emotions that were killing me inside. I am not just a statistic. I live in a Boston suburb in a white house with black shutters. I go to school every day, feeling that I can’t be honest, that I have no right to be proud, that I am a second-class citizen. Just this past week, as I was walking down my street in my town where I have lived all of my life, a pick-up truck full of guys ran me off the road, screaming, ‘You lesbian!’ at me. Homophobia is everywhere, and bigotry is inexcusable. It’s time to start showing you care.”


“I wish I could be more open with my parents, but having realized that my father might cause me physical harm, I realize that this is not an option. I live in utter dread that someone will let something slip, or that they’ll see or find something that will tell them I’m a lesbian. Before they arrived for the weekend, I scoured my room, jamming the newspapers, the buttons, the pins, anything with the word ‘gay’ on it in the bottom drawer under every item of summer clothing I could jam in there. When they arrived – early – they spent a moment or two in my room, unguarded. Luckily, they didn’t find anything. Nor, luckily, did they find anything when my mother cleaned my desk out at home. But when I’m with people I’m not out to, I’m always on guard against what might slip out. It makes me very tense.”


“Imagine that you are looking a the world through the bottom of a glass. The image you get is distorted, twisted, and sometimes frightening, and who you are and your life experiences color the way you see things. I look at my life in this way: each part of me is a tint that is put in front of the glass and shades everything around me. Imagine now that I am looking and there is a black tint to the glass. This color, this blackness, represents my race and my background. I come from Harlem, New York. I am a first-generation American, my family being from Jamaica and, without any exaggeration, we are poor. We are on welfare. There are eight of us who live in a two bedroom apartment with three beds to share. I am part of the America most people don’t want to see and never encounter unless it is through the media or while driving through my neighborhood, safely tucked away in their cars. Imagine how baffled I was when I set foot in Wallingford, Connecticut, to attend Choate. Carefully manicured lawns and for the first time in my life I had my own room, my own bed, my own space. Imagine how angry I was last year when a carload of kids drove by and screamed, ‘Nigger, go back to Africa!’ Sometimes, looking at the world through this glass, I lose faith in it and its people. How can some people have so much and others so little? How can some people be so ignorant and malicious? Can you see through the black-tinted glass I am looking through? Now imagine there is a pinkish tint to the glass. Things pink stands for my sexual identity. I am a lesbian. To break it down even further for you: I love women, I don’t hate me, I just love women. But getting to the point where I could say this was not easy. Before I came to terms with my homosexuality, I had to get rid of my own internal homophobia and a lifetime of anti-homosexual programming. Growing up I had feelings for other women. I didn’t know what they meant, but I knew it was something I was taught was not right, and I hated myself for it. I thought I was the most disgusting thing on the face of the earth, not worthy of being loved or of even existing. This winter I had a long talk with a good friend of mine. With her I started a process of questioning, reflecting, and eventually coming out to myself. And now here I am. What does all of this mean? Well, four years ago I would never have said any of this. Four years ago, I was ashamed of my background and terrified that someone might find out I was from Harlem. Four years ago I couldn’t even accept that I was a lesbian. But I have changed and gained strength from the faculty members and friends I have met at Choate, and I feel you can learn something from my experience. Take risks. Be proud of who you are, every part of you. Dare to be different. Dare to be who you are. And even though the glass that we all look through may be frightening, tinted, or for some, even broken, it doesn’t always have to be that way.”


“I remember back in high school, before I dropped out, feeling really out of place and alone. I never quite understood why I felt so different. I didn’t withdraw from anything – in fact, I was kind of popular, playing on the soccer team and all. I had a girlfriend for three years but the whole time it was a lie. Everything I did was never true to me. It was what everybody said I was supposed to be doing or what I thought I was supposed to be doing. I had this friend Mike. He and I were best friends for the longest time and, as time went on, I realized I was in love with him. It felt so wrong, like there was something wrong with me, and I just couldn’t handle it any more. I had nowhere to go, no one to talk to. When I did confide in a school counselor, she screwed my life up. She went back to my parents and told them all these things I had been saying. I never told her I was gay because to me being gay meant you put on lipstick and wore dresses because that’s all you ever see on TV, and I never thought that was me. I got kicked out of my house in July. There was violence involved. My mother came at me with an iron and I called the police. The police came and my mother told them I was always in Boston with fags and that I’m doing this and doing that. The policeman started to crack all these fag jokes and telling me what he would do if his kids were gay and told me that I should leave. I said, ‘Where am I supposed to go?’ He said, ‘That’s not my problem.’ And my mother took my keys and made me leave. I went to a friend’s house. By that time I had come out to a lot of my friends. It was okay to have a gay friend but when it came time and I needed somebody’s support, it wasn’t okay to help me out. ‘What would people say about me?’ these ‘friends’ said.”


“I think it’s fair to say I grew up without any real role models. There aren’t Asian-Americans on TV—Connie Chung and a few Fu Manchu rip-offs don’t really count. There are even fewer gays and lesbians. Experiencing life as a double minority has given me insight into how people focus on the parts of a person rather than on the whole. About a year and a half ago, I came out. Being involved in a support group helped me overcome my confusion and helped me to become proud of my sexuality. But I began to distance myself from my cultural heritage. The Chinese family sees homosexuality as abnormal and immoral. This caused me to hate myself for being yellow. Reconciling and integrating my sexual identity and cultural backboard is a major obstacle for me. I am not ‘out’ to my parents, who highly value Chinese traditions. This puts an incredible barrier between us. I am afraid they will be deeply hurt and confused when I decide to share this part of my life with them.”


“It was easy for me to be ‘out’ because I had dropped out of high school. But for one person in my life it was different—my little brother. He still had to deal with high school peer pressure. When I came out to him, he begged me to keep it from his friends. He said that if his friends ever found out they would leave him, even torment him, all because of me. I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t accept me for who I was and put me ahead of his friends. I didn’t realize how bad it was, until recently. About two months ago my brother invited some of his high school friends to sleep over. That night, I fell asleep watching TV in the living room, which is right next to my brother’s room. Around four in the morning I woke up from the noise they were making. They were talking about a kid who had come out to one of his friends, and that friend had then told their entire school. One of my brother’s friends said that if any gay person came on to him he would kill him. One of the other kids said that homosexuals were sick and that they should be put on an island and bombed. Then someone else said maybe they should ‘straighten this kid out’—meaning, beat him up. Everyone laughed. It was very frightening to hear all this hatred and anger coming from young kids, who have probably never known another gay person in their lives. I sneaked to my room and cried. I cried for myself. I cried for other gays and lesbians who have had to deal with situations like this. I cried for the young boy who had trusted a friend and had been betrayed. But most all, I cried for my brother. You see, through all of this, he kept quiet. He couldn’t stand up for me because he was afraid. Afraid for himself. Afraid he would lose his friends. Afraid that their hatred and anger would be turned on him. For any student trying to get through high school, it is tough. But from someone like my brother, it is a cruel punishment. Right now he is just trying to survive, to graduate, without revealing his secret.”


“At 3:40 today Tracy called me and told me she had slashed her wrists and taken two bottles of pills. Tracy is a brave young woman who has struggled to come to terms with her sexual orientation and has bravely taken the lead in raising awareness on our campus as one of the heads of our Gay-Straight Alliance. She said to me on the phone, ‘I always thought when I reached the breaking point, that it would be some big thing that pushed me over the edge. But it’s not.’ Later at the hospital, while waiting for her father to arrive from out of town, she said to me, ‘What do I say when he asks me why did it?—Dad, I just don’t fit in with the world?’ As Tracy convulsed in her hospital bed, her stomach torn to bits by the pills she had taken, I murmured, ‘I know, I know’ and in fact I do know because—yes, just like you Tracy—I took 140 aspirin one night in high school because I couldn’t see a way out. I couldn’t see a future. I couldn’t see a way to go on. You see, when you’re a gay teenager, you don’t need some big thing to push you over the edge, as Tracy discovered… You get the message every day in your life, just like Tracy did, that you just don’t fit in with the world. You get it driven through your skull. Sooner or later you get the message. You get the point. Tracy got the point at about 3:40 this afternoon. Wonderful, brave Tracy, whom everybody thinks has it so together with her student leadership position and her 1420 on her SATs. Yeah, Tracy got the point today.”


“Two years ago my parents got divorced and my mother started to have a lesbian relationship. This scared and confused me. She tried to talk to me about it, but I always pushed her away. As far as I was concerned, that topic was off-limits. I know I shouldn’t push her away, but it’s so hard for me to deal with. After hearing a speaker on LGBT issues at school, I called her to tell her about it and I felt like what I was really saying was “I realize and accept your relationship.” It was likely I was finally admitting that my mother is a lesbian. I don’t really know though, because I still haven’t really talked to her about it. And I still don’t think I can. That’s the worst part. But I feel like that phone call was the first step. I feel like I’m carrying this big burden on my shoulders. I don’t think any of my friends could understand or, worse still, they wouldn’t want to get to know my mother and she’s such a great person. My best friend adores my mom—in fact, she just invited Mom to her graduation. And I wonder, would she feel the same way if she knew about my mom’s relationship? I remember learning: Don’t expect the worst in people. But it’s hard—it’s hard to know who to trust.”


“Four years ago, I learned that my mother is a lesbian. How is a girl who has just turned 13 supposed to react to that type of news. I felt life as I knew it was over. The woman who had borne me, nourished me, put clothes on my back and a roof over my head was a stranger. Homosexuality isn’t like divorce. When my parents were getting divorced, so were some of my friends’ parents. TV discussed the effects of divorce on children. Family member asked me how I felt and gave me words of advice and shoulders to cry on. But the horizon was bleak for homo sexuality. There were no friends going through the same trauma. Relatives didn’t flock to my side. There were no TV specials telling them how to deal with it. Phil Donahue, where were you? Life as I knew it didn’t really end, though—it just changed slightly. The gay women I have come to know through my mother weren’t flannel-clad bikers but a diverse group which includes corporate managers, lawyers, therapists, teachers, and artists, some of whom are also mothers. These Black women have class, intelligence, and confidence. I am lucky to have them as friends and role models.”


“Matthew and I were walking down the street on our way to the bank. We walked by a man who was sitting on the steps of his brownstone. As we approached he began yelling at us: “Hey, gay boy! Can’t you hear me fag? I’m talking to you! What are you doing with that girl? Stop killing us and stay with your own kind!” We tried to ignore him. “Why don’t you answer me. I’m sick of you fags taking over? Don’t you hear me?” I then realized that I could simply walk out of my house and be victimized by any bigot who chose to hurt me based on who my friends are, who I am, or who he thinks I might be.”