Fighting with Families and Finding Where Gay Youth Belonged

In the 21st century being gay is not a huge deal, it’s still in the process of becoming the norm, but that does not compare to when the process began a few decades ago. It is reasonably accepted now when teenagers come out as being gay, it was not always this simple. In the late 1970’s and 1980’s it was not widely discussed and many people remained in the closest for fear of what would happen if they did reveal their homosexuality.

In 1974, this sparked the Gay Liberation Movement. Teens in big cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Chicago took to the streets and joined the adults who were already fighting for basic human rights for the gay community.

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The Gay community was constantly at heads with the religious community which was much more accepted since the vast majority of the nation at this time identified as Christian. One strong figure on the Christian side was Anita Bryant, a singer and militant anti-homosexual crusader, she would talk on television and write articles for newsletters about how bad homosexuality is.

She would write in magazines about her opinions and encourage that they treat their child’s homosexuality like it could be fixed. Parents could send a slip from a magazine to the provided address and all the newsletters would be sent to them with tips and instructions on “how to bring America back to God and morality”. This caused a rebellion amongst many gay teens and young adults, including Tom Higgins who threw a pie at Bryant during one of her antigay interviews. He went on to be one of the great LGBT rights leaders in the 1980’s.

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Not every young person was as brave as Higgins, many teens who felt homosexual feelings became “closeted”. This often led to dissociation which was when newly self-aware gay people would ignore their gut feeling and pretend it isn’t there to avoid backlash.

This had a great impact on their self-esteem, many years later when these teens became adults they said hiding their sexual identity was like losing your voice.

Similarly, many gay teens joined in on the gay bashing they witnessed to try to pass as heterosexual. They didn’t feel like they fit into their family or their church when they acted as themselves. So they hid behind this wall of self-hatred, and took their feelings out on others in their position.

For teens who did come out openly about being homosexual, it caused immediate tension within their families. Many parents chose to ignore their child’s coming out which resulted in the young man or woman feeling irrelevant and ignored, teens who felt their parents disapproved of them were more susceptible to drug, alcohol, and tobacco use. And to this day, gay teens are 1 or 2 times more likely to attempt or commit suicide. It even reached the point where many gay teens were being kicked out of their homes, left to find their way in the streets.

"William and John" Gay Media History

The disconnect from their families caused many teenagers to desperately try to find acceptance, they found this in the gay community and at pride rallies. This in turn caused more to recognize these groups fighting for their sexuality, or at the very least acknowledge their freedom of speech. Teens began attending rallies, sometimes even bringing parents that were accepting of their lifestyle. More often than not, the teens were left to fight on their own without their parent’s support. But that was alright, they had a strong community backing them and hoping that changes would be seen in the coming decades through their raising awareness now.

It was not until the 90’s that homosexuality was slightly more normalized, in the 2000’s it was much more welcome. This allowed for television shows like Modern Family to air and not cause uproar as it would just 40 years ago.

-Alex Burdo Feb. 20

Info from:
Kohler, Will. “Archival Footage of Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” Campaign Against The Gay Community – Video.” Back2Stonewall. July 10, 2014. Accessed April 22, 2015. http://www.back2stonewall.com/2014/07/achival-footage-of-anita-bryants-save-our-children-campaign-against-gays-video.html.

Robinson, Bryan, Patsy Skeen, Carol Hobson, and Margaret Herrman. “Gay Men’s and Women’s Perceptions of Early Family Life and Their Relationships with Parents.” National Council on Family Relations 31, no. 1, 79-83. Accessed February 15, 2015. Jstor.

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