Growing up is complicated enough as it is. How about growing up gay?
Generation Q prepares its float for the annual Pride Parade in Jackson Heights.
By ELLEN THOMPSON
Just as every kid in Queens has a different experience in the classroom, so does each gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender teen. Gay or straight, youth face a slew of troubles and triumphs throughout their days in school.
But for the hundreds of LGBT teens walking down the bustling halls of their high schools each day, there’s a common decision to be made, one much harder than any heterosexual sitting in the desk next to them during history class will have to make. These teens are contemplating whether or not to let their sexuality be known and, if so, where to go from there.
Rabbit, an 18-year-old who prefers to go by his nickname, says he has known since he was very young that there was something different about him.
“I went out with girls all the time when I was younger, and I thought they were pretty and stuff,” he says. “But I would look at the girl and wonder why I had feelings for a boy.
It wasn’t until he was 15, though, that he fully realized he was gay.
“I decided to tell my mom just before I turned 16 and she just looked at me and started crying and then ran out of the house.” A few hours later his mother wiped away the tears and came home. Over time, she has begun to accept her son.
“My older brother took it pretty bad, though,” Rabbit adds. “When I told him, he flipped out and threw me to the pavement and then tried chasing my boyfriend, to beat him up.” Rabbit was able to save that relationship as well, but he has learned that not every relationship can be salvaged.
“You always have the few friends that are supportive and then there are just ones that are ignorant and obviously weren’t your friends to begin with,” he says.
Unfortunately, not every parent or sibling is accepting of their loved ones. Kay, an 18- year-old who was brought up in a strict Hindu household, found his father less than understanding when he told his parents that he was gay a little over a year ago.
“It’s like my father is in denial,’ the first-generation American said. “My mom is finally starting to accept it, but not my father.”
Kay says he had a feeling he was gay at age 11, when he would be taunted by classmates and called gay. By age 13, he knew for sure. Three years later, Kay finally accepted his sexuality-and even decided to speak up about it by starting the first Gay Student Alliance at his high school.
Teens like Rabbit and Kay have found outlets throughout the borough to help with the process of coming out. They take part in youth outreach centers like Generation Q and ones offered by the AIDS Center of Queens County. From time to time, Rabbit finds himself walking up the steps of 30-74 Steinway St. in Astoria to meet with members of Generation Q.
“I think they’re helpful, to an extent,” he says. “The problem is that the masculine thuggish gays usually stay away from those type of places. It seems like a lot of the flamboyant and femme guys go there, but for some reason the thuggish ones stay away.”
Generation Q, a drop-in center established by the Forest Hills Community House for LGBT and questioning teens, offers a great variety of programs for youth.
Gay teens often have trouble fitting in at high school.
“We strive to be youth led and adult supported,” says Marissa Ragonese, director of Generation Q. As well as being an educational source for safe sex, the center prides itself on cultivating an activist environment to hone the leadership skills of today’s youth.
“Prostitution and drug use really seems to be one of the most serious problems that the [young] gay community is in the middle of facing right now,” Kay says. “You have 15-year-old boys selling themselves for drugs to older men. It’s really sad. “If we can stop the drug use then we will have the opportunity to better attack the issue of prostitution among these youths.”
Rabbit and Kay, along with many other young gays, believe that changes need to be made where a majority of Queens youth are spending eight hours of their day-school.
“We really need to change the tone in the classrooms,” said Ragonese, who is pushing for peer education within the schools. “The kids that live here in Queens, they need to be able to walk down the hall of their schools and their own streets feeling safe. It’s great that these kids are taking the activist stance.”
“School for me was bad,” Rabbit says. “I was going into 11th grade and not really out to anyone. It was a week or so before school started and a straight kid from my school was with his girl and he saw me in the Village. On the first day of school he started telling people I was gay, and kids were shouting it in the halls.”
The Department of Education took a step to create a positive environment for gay youth by opening the Harvey Milk High School in Manhattan, an allinclusive school named after the first openly gay civic leader elected to office in the United States. Many gay kids see the school as a welcome haven-but just as many, of course, would choose to be accepted in every hallway over being separated from intolerant peers.