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Wearing orange for acceptance

Lance Gallop | Tuesday, November 16, 2004

I collect coming out stories like other people collect stamps. Some of them come from my readers, while others I gather from various, generally online, sources. This gives me perspective, like a piecemeal Gay State of the Union address, and it gives me hope as well. The stories that I hear are not all sweet and happy, but they speak well of their tellers, that they are strong, bold, stubborn, clever and resourceful. All the gay and lesbian people I have had the honor of meeting at Notre Dame have these kinds of stories.

I collect the other kind of stories as well, the stories of people who could not make it to where we stand today.

One of the most common statistics that I find on the subject, and the result of a number of studies, states that perhaps 25 percent of all teenage suicides are gays and lesbians, many motivated to death precisely because they could not cope with that reality.

A June 27 article in The New York Times noted that as many a half of all homeless youth were kicked out of their homes because their parents discovered, accidentally or through admission, that they were gay. In New York City alone there are thousands. Some of them were very young when they were thrown away.

The most common question I receive, and one of the most common queries about ND’s “orange movement,” is what it is that we actually seek, which we do not have now, and what we actually mean to accomplish? Ironically, I don’t have the right to answer this question, since motivations are unique to individuals, and we the gay and lesbian students of Notre Dame are indeed a minority’s minority, a random cross-section.

So I will speak for myself. I write about gay and lesbian issues for the sake of those other stories, that people do not wish to tell. I write for the sake of the young people, early adolescents, who are just now discovering a part of themselves that the world does not accept, and who are uncertain of how to deal with this. I write for the sake of those who are suffering in silence, or wandering the streets, or flirting with death.

Nothing is born in a vacuum. Gay and lesbian youth are not intrinsically more prone to self-loathing than anyone else. They are very much the product of their culture, of the mindset that surrounds them. We, all of us, are that culture. We are that mindset. It does not matter if we are not openly discriminatory, or if we do not practice hate-speech, there is still an implicit and powerful negative judgment, which lives within us. Humans, especially teenagers, are very fragile creations. It does not take much to crush them.

Acceptance means the end of that negative judgment. Acceptance means that parents do not have a preference over their child’s sexual orientation, and that there is nothing lost in their eyes when a son or daughter tell them he or she is gay. For some of you, someday, it will be your child who has to come out to you. She will already have decided how you will feel based on all of your actions and attitudes over the years. She may well love or hate herself accordingly.

Acceptance means that schools are safe places for children to come to understand their sexuality, whatever it may be. Right now several states have laws prohibiting openly gay persons from teaching in schools. This denies gay and lesbian youth positive role models, and counselors. For most young people, being gay begins as a very lonely experience, and the attitudes of our school systems only reinforce this.

Acceptance means that, on a broad level, the social negativity surrounding being gay, and the hopelessness it spawns, which drives so many young people to suicide, is removed.

Acceptance means changing hearts, and it is for the sake of this slow, painful, but incalculably necessary change that many of use wear orange, and it is for the sake of this change that I wrote this series.

You will see many people dressed in the color of acceptance as you walk around today, some gay, many more simply expressing solidarity. None of them are, I pray to God, facing the types of crises that I have outlined here. But there are still many who are, all over this country. Ultimately there is only one way to help them, and that it what we are doing today. If you open your heart now, in this little Catholic bubble, you will take what you experience with you to influence the wider world. You will be the change that many gay youth so desperately need.

I will say one last time, you, and no one else, possess the power to shape today and create tomorrow. Please do not forget.

This is the final in a series of three articles dealing with GLBT issues. Lance Gallop is a fifth-year with too many majors for his own good. He welcomes comments and can be reached at lgallop@nd.edu. All correspondences are kept confidential.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.