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Certainly there are potential costs for a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender student's honesty … discrimination by teachers, rejection by "friends" and, yes, even assault, rape, or murder. Are these experiences universal consequences of coming out? No. Do they happen? Yes.
But there's a flawed prevailing assumption: that being out necessarily increases a child's risk over some sort of bully-free baseline. Gay and, especially, gender variant children are often harassed long before consciously deciding whether to be out. It starts in primary grades. Gender variant little kids don't "choose" to be defiant about the larger culture's gender straight-jackets; it's how they're born. They may become more overt about it as they become more aware, at puberty, of its meaning and of their rights, but the harassment is hardly something they bring on themselves. In fact, whether you're gender variant or gay/lesbian/bi or both, coming out sometimes reduces the harassment you experience. It's not so much fun to hurl the vicious, "What are you ... gay or something?!" at a person whose response is a simple, non-defensive "yes."
The secrecy of the closet isn't without its own costs. These can include academic decline if you can't pay attention in class for worrying when a word or a gesture might lead to your life's unraveling. The costs can include profound loneliness. You can never be sure if those who love you are loving the mask or the person. You may deny yourself a supportive peer group because even accessing the gay-straight alliance may feel dangerous. You may deny yourself conversations with caring adults, unsure if you'll lose their esteem. You may forgo the typical adolescent social venues and, instead, find yourself in riskier adult environments. The closet can lead to depression and self-harm.
Making Sense of the Senseless: The Murder of Lawrence King
by Beth Reis, Safe Schools Coalition Co-Chair
Published in Teaching Tolerance Magazine, Number 34, Fall 2008
Web Exclusive! What Can Educators Do?
Teaching Tolerance sat down with Beth Reis and Helen Stillman of the Safe Schools Coalition, which shares the latest research, programs and ideas about preventing and responding to anti-gay harassment in schools to zero in on ways teachers can curb anti-gay bullying.
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