Troy posters remind people that not all students are straight, and gays belong in school

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 teenagers.

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 depressed.

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

Related: Issues, Books

Psychotherapist 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 Lives. or

* Gaydar (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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