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On this page: How to Help a Friend?  ~ Gay-Straight Alliances  

How to help a friend?


I would like to know how to help my neighbor's sixteen year old son. I am a good friend of the family yet have been sworn to secrecy by my children NOT to breathe a word about his disclosure to the parents about being gay. My kids only told me because they are worried about his safety as he is meeting people via the internet then meeting much older (19-24) men at their homes -- at times getting into unsafe situations -- already, at least one assault. He doesn't want anyone to know at school so he goes farther away (creating more home strife). I know the family life is somewhat difficult (normal teen angst) in general but the Mom would be more supportive than he thinks. His Dad could be a problem. Is there a 'safe' phone number or local group that can help him develop a happy healthy gay life? How can his friends encourage safer behavior to avoid violence? How do nice gay kids meet other nice gay kids when they have straight friends? I can pass the information through my kids. Any help or direction would be appreciated.

Beth Reis answers: 

Your neighbor and your children are lucky to have an adult like you in their lives. I have a few suggestions.

First, it’s perfectly OK to let him know that you’re afraid for him and to tell him that he needs to start being safer or that you WILL have to get his mom, at least, involved. In the meantime, tell him that you will consider yourself as sort of a surrogate mom. And together, you will negotiate dating rules with him.

Talk to him about the fact that, in many places, guys over 18 could go to jail for having sex – or even talking about having sex – with somebody his age. And it’s not a homophobic thing; those laws apply to heterosexual relationships, too. Explain that we have laws like that for a reason: that it’s so easy for a younger person to get hurt in these relationships. Sometimes physically, as happened to him once already, but almost always emotionally. They may want different things than their older partner out of the relationship. They may go along with things they think are wrong – or just aren’t enjoying – because it’s hard to say “no” to someone who seems older and wiser. They may invest their hearts in a relationship that means more to them than it does to the older person and then get their hearts broken when it ends. In the meantime, they may give up their same-age friends and interests and regret that later. Even a few years can make a huge difference in how much life experience you each have. That doesn’t mean an older guy’s necessarily mature, mind you. There are even 50-year-olds who act like they’re in junior high. But it does put his younger partner at a disadvantage if he thinks one thing and they think another, because he may seem to know better whether he does or not. You and your young neighbor can find some advice about Internet safety here: http://www.elight.org/e/computer-safety.shtml

The next issue is how to find gay guys his own age. You don’t say where you live, but most U.S. cities and some outside the U.S. have support groups for teens who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning. To find one, you might start by checking out this page on our web site: http://www.safeschoolscoalition.org/blackboard-organizations.html If that doesn’t find you a group, try going to Google and typing in “[your town] +gay +youth” and see what you get. Or check with a local gay, lesbian, bisexual transgender (GLBT) community center if there is one in your town. However, if there’s no group within driving distance, or if your young friend doesn’t drive or have public transportation, there are other alternatives. Youth Guardian Services has an email list for GLBT and Questioning YOUTH13-17: http://www.youth-guard.org/projects/  He’d find a webring and message boards at this trustworthy site: http://www.youthresource.com/community/gay/index.cfm There’s a toll-free hotline called The Peer Listening Line where he can talk with other gay youth under the supervision of counseling professionals, staffed (Pacific Standard Time): Monday-Friday, 9:00 p.m.-1:00 a.m. [6-10 Eastern]. http://www.fenwayhealth.org/services/helpline.htm … Phone: 1-800-399-PEER.

Then there’s the issue of the wisdom and way to come out to his parents. There's no easy answer. Some young people who come out to their families end up -- usually after some angst -- being cherished and supported in their quest for healthy adulthood. Others get kicked out or beaten up or forced into the kind of "counseling" that purports to change people's sexual orientations. Together, you and your young friend might want to check out the advice on this web page: http://www.hrc.org/ncop/guide/index.asp Also, your local chapter of PFLAG, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays may be able to give you both a helpful listening ear and a copy of a pamphlet entitled “Read This Before Coming Out to Your Parents.” You can probably find a nearby PFLAG chapter at: http://www.pflag.org/chapters/find.html.

Finally, we can recommend a great book for the two of you (and your children, as his friends): Free Your Mind: The Book For Gay, Lesbian, And Bisexual Youth And Their Allies, Ellen Bass, 1996. (ISBN: 0060951044).

Hope that helps a little, write us again if we can be of other help. And congratulations for being the kind of mom your kids would trust with something this important and for raising the kind of kids who know how to be there for their friend.

-- Beth

 Hi Beth,

Thanks for the great advice. I have been at a loss to know exactly what to do. I never really considered that 'our' kids might be gay.... or what we would do if they were -- one of those 'worry about it, if it happens sort of thing. Hmmm...now I just have to get him alone a minute :-). He's a nice kid yet is struggling with the kind of kid he wants to become -- the sexual orientation stuff has got to make it just that much harder. I am on a steep learning curve -- the websites will help.

BTW, We live in North Seattle. I had hoped your organization was too as I was searching local sites. It is hard to know something this important, and listen to his Mom talking about how hard it is for her to understand her son... which now has a whole different meaning for me. Funny thing is that she thinks he may be gay too... but doesn't know how to ask him! We are fortunate to have close neighbor relationships (4 families), I don't think any of our group would flip out (accept maybe the Dad, at first) if anything, we might overdo in the protective mode.

Thanks again for the info and support

Beth Reis answers:

A couple of other thoughts. I don't know if you found it on our site yet, but there's a group that meets in Shoreline that your young friend might find useful:

“InsideOut” Youth Group: a drop-in group for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning teens. Meets Tuesday nights from 6:30-8:00 at the Center for Human Services, 17018 15th Avenue NE, Shoreline. Contact person: Jane; Phone: 206-362-7282, ext. 231; Email: insideout@chs-nw.org

And there are tons of different groups that meet at Lambert House on Capitol Hill: www.lamberthouse.org

Also, since his mom is already suspecting that he's gay and not knowing how to ask, you could encourage her to work up the courage. She could say something like, "I feel awkward asking this, but I've been wondering if you like girls or guys or both ... because I want you to know that I would love you no matter what." The tricky thing is, if she asks him now, he might think you had violated his trust. Instead, you might just mention to him that she's said to you that she wondered and didn't know how to ask -- and that just might make it easier for HIM to raise the issue with her.

The closest PFLAG chapter for you (and for him and his mom) is probably the one that meets the second Monday, 7:00 p.m., at Seattle First Baptist Church (1111 Harvard Street on Capitol Hill).

I appreciate the steep learning curve -- write again if you have other questions.

-- Beth

Gay-Straight Alliances

Some youth I work with have recently applied to form a Gay Straight Student Alliance at their high school. Their request was denied--even before they were given the opportunity to formally make the request. They appealed to the school district superintendent who has just denied their request as well. We are searching for resources to assist these students. We're not sure what the next step is. Can you help?

Beth Reis answers:

I am so sorry about the barriers the school district is throwing in the path of your students. The federal Equal Access Act requires that if the district allows other non-curricular clubs to meet, if must treat a GSA (or a Christian club, or a Samoan club) the same. The courts have upheld that. But not all school administrators realize this.

First, a little background reading, if you haven't already done it. I would recommend that you/they check out our web site. Specifically, the GSA page, http://www.safeschoolscoalition.org/RG-gaystraightalliances.html. And check out SO, YOU WANT TO START A GSA in the "Out, Safe & Respected: Your Rights at School" publication from Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund's website: http://data.lambdalegal.org/pdf/315.pdf (pdf format) and this one from the Human Rights Campaign: http://www.hrc.org/familynet/chapter.asp?article=412

If your group doesn't yet have a statement of purpose I would suggest students work on crafting one before you carry the request further. One that makes clear this is not a sex club, but rather a place where students can either find safe refuge (sort of a drop out, drug and suicide-prevention effort) and/or a place where students can gather to educate themselves and others about prejudice and violence. For examples of other clubs' mission statements -- and how they developed them -- go to: http://www.galebc.org/GSABooklet.PDF and http://www.glsen.org/binary-data/GLSEN_ARTICLES/pdf_file/1024.pdf (see especially pages 7 and 29) and http://www.glsen.org/binary-data/GLSEN_ARTICLES/pdf_file/1149.pdf

Once you have a statement of purpose (mission or bylaws, or whatever clubs in your school are supposed to have), then I would recommend involving parents, if any students have parents who might be willing to get involved and supportive staff people (the nurse? counselor? everybody's favorite teacher?). Unfortunately, busy administrators can sometimes hear parents and staff people, even when they can't hear students. If there are no parents or staff people you can call on, then community leaders, including clergy and other respected folks, may be able to express your support to the superintendent for his or her doing this short of a lawsuit.

If that is unsuccessful, see if you can identify which school board members are likely to support the students and see if students can set up meetings with them one- or two-on-one, just to explain what they are trying to do and why and to ask for their help. Done in this sort of quiet way, they are more likely to have success than in big, public, angry school board meetings.

And keep a log of all these conversations for future reference.

Finally, if you need to, talk with an attorney. Try: the ACLU [Phone: 212-549-2673 (national) or 206-624-2180 (WA) ; Email: lgbthiv@aclu.org; Web site: www.aclu.org/safeschools], National Center for Lesbian Rights [Phone: 415-392-6257, Email: info@nclrights.org, Web site: www.nclrights.org], Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund [Phone: 212-809-8585; Email: lambdalegal@lambdalegal.org; Web site: www.lambdalegal.org] Jerry Painter, General Counsel at the Washington Education Association [Phone: 253-765-7020; Contact him here]

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