Troy posters remind people that not all
students are straight, and gays belong in
Some parents worry that hanging "Gay People are
Everyday People" posters in a Michigan high school
promotes homosexual lifestyles and sex. They want
new posters posted that read, "Treat Everyone with
Respect." What they're misunderstanding is that the
original posters are already saying just that.
Some of these same parents stated their concern
that these posters will try to "change their
children." This inadvertently revealing statement
implies that their teenagers are not gay. But this
is exactly why those posters -- and more like them
-- need to go up. The heterosexist idea assumes
that all youth are heterosexual.
All youth are allowed to openly date, go to
dances, hold hands and say "I love you" to those of
the opposite gender. When our culture displays
vignettes and pictures of little boys and girls
holding hands and even kissing each other, it has
no trouble imagining children as heterosexual.
People teasingly ask little boys and girls if
they have an opposite gender girlfriend or
boyfriend; and even speculate that little boys and
girls have a crush on their opposite gender
teachers. We understand this is a matter of romance
and affection, not sex. Shouldn't the same be true
for the gay or lesbian child?
When most people hear the word "gay," they
immediately think of adult sexual activity -- which
is clearly inappropriate among children and
Parents especially voice discomfort over the
sexual lives of teenagers. So it makes sense that
they're uncomfortable discussing something they
think to be sexual only.
I'm an openly gay male, but if I never engage in
sexual activity for the rest of my life, that won't
change me. I'll still be gay. No one, myself
included, can stop me from being attracted to men
-- romantically, spiritually, psychologically,
affectionately and sexually.
The poster affirming that gays are everyday
people educates everyone (gay and straight) that
gays are no more sexual or otherwise different than
their heterosexual counterparts.
Reducing homosexuality down to sex traumatizes
all youth, just as if parents were to tell their
teenage daughters, "You want to date boys just so
you can sleep with them."
It insults the developmental process of youth
whose orientation happens to be gay or lesbian; and
forces those who are essentially straight to worry
that if they might be gay -- or viewed as such --
they will be stigmatized and removed much like the
posters in Troy High.
Straight youth are not so fragile that viewing a
gay-friendly poster can change their orientation.
After all, the overwhelming heterosexist images and
encouragements don't change gays and lesbians. They
simply force them to role-play at being
heterosexual, stay closeted and become increasingly
No wonder that 30 percent of teens who commit
suicide are gay and lesbian. The message sent to
them is clear -- you don't belong.
The experience of belonging is an essential
psychosocial stage that gay and lesbian children
and teenagers do not receive. They are a minority
in their families. Parental honor and support for
their same-gender relationships is absent. Straight
youth receive support for their relationships from
going to proms and school dances.
Gay youth find themselves alone in school
without positive gay role models and peer groups to
support their developing identities. There are no
stories or images taught in schools of prominent
and powerful gay people in history. In essence,
gays are invisible within schools.
Hopefully, posters like those in Troy High can
save the lives of gay and lesbian youth. They tell
everyone that gays belong alongside their
heterosexual peers and teachers.
The Harvey Milk School in New York was created
20 years ago for gay and lesbian youth who are
bullied, harassed and abused in school for being
gay. Is that what we want -- segregation? Can we
really say, along with Jerry Seinfeld, "Not that
there's anything wrong with that!"?
©2010 by Joe Kort
Joe Kort, MA, MSW, has been in practice since 1985.
He specializes in Gay Affirmative Psychotherapy as
well as IMAGO Relationship Therapy, which is a
specific program involving communication exercises
designed for couples to enhance their relationship
and for singles to learn relationship skills. He
also specializes in sexual addiction, childhood
sexual, physical and emotional abuse, depression
and anxiety. He offers workshops for couples and
singles. He runs a gay men's group therapy and a
men's sexuality group therapy for straight, bi and
gay men who are struggling with specific sexual
issues. His therapy services are for gays and
lesbians as well as heterosexuals. His articles and
columns have appeared in The Detroit Free
Press, Between the Lines Newspaper for
Gays and Lesbians, The Detroit News, The
Oakland Press, The Royal Oak Mirror, and
other publications. Besides providing therapy for
individuals and couples, he conducts a number of
groups and workshops for gay men. Now an adjunct
professor teaching Gay and Lesbian Studies at Wayne
State University's School of Social Work, he is
doing more writing and workshops on a national
level. He is the author of 10
Smart Things Gay Men can do to Improve Their
(gay'.dahr, n.): (1) The
ability that lets gays and lesbians identify one
other. (2) This column--where non-gay readers can
improve their gaydar, learning more about gay men's
psychology and social lives. Also, (3) a regular
feature where gay readers can discover the many
questions and hassles their straight
counterparts--and themselves--must face!
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