When you work with kids - as a teacher, a lawyer, a counselor, a doctor, or a parent - issues regarding sexual orientation and/or gender identity can arise on a regular basis.
I was a 21 year old Catholic school teacher when one of my middle schoolers came out of the closet to me. (The wonderful, sweet, and self-assured girl who gave me a heart attack over how I was handling the situation is my facebook friend. Waves, G.!) I wanted to do the right thing for her - say, by not showing shock, horror, and total lack of understanding, even if I felt shock and total lack of understanding that I desperantly hoped would not translate inaccurately as horror. I was worried about my job. My religious convictions were clear; I would support her and love her and not let the school kick her out for her sexual orientation. My financial situation was precarious. If I lost my job, I would have been in a cardboard box - or worse, living with my mom!
As a lawyer, I often represented gay or transgender kids. Obviously, without their approval, I can't discuss the specifics. But I had cross-dressing clients, quietly lesbian and in the closet clients, and kids who were beat by stepparents for being out of the closet. I had straight clients who experimented with same gender partners while in detention and got in trouble for it. (I say straight because those clients self-identify as straight and likely, in the free world, would only take opposite gender partners.) I saw sympathetic judges who understood that sexual orientation and identity issues often resulted in depression or acting out. I saw judgmental judges who practically added "gay" to the list of charges. I saw it all -and I know it's a problem.
I am bringing attention to this because I suspect that it's not on most people's radars. Lots of people think homosexuality is a sin. I guess, in a way, I'm speaking to those people. First, thoughts and feelings, particularly in juveniles, are not sins. Even if you ascribe to the belief that homosexual acts are sinful, a thought, especially a thought of a hormonal teenager, is NOT a sin. I wonder if those who categorize homosexuality as sinful can still understand that we need to serve children who are dealing with these issues, as these issues can be the catalysts for depression and other mental issues.
But I also want to address those people who are fully supportive of gay and lesbian issues. I want to give a heads' up that we often don't think about what it's like for a teenager or preteen dealing with a type of sexuality that is not considered the "norm" in our society.
I don't have solutions. I just want to raise a bit of awareness that, whether you are conservative or liberal, sexuality issues are real among the juvenile population and we need to stop ignoring them as if they are not there. I welcome suggested solutions.