Chronicle blogger blames ‘It Gets Better” project for LGBT teen suicides

Kathleen McKinley

Kathleen McKinley

Kathy McKinley is a self-described “conservative activist” who blogs for the Houston Chronicle under the monicker “TexasSparkle.” In a recent post McKinley took the “It Gets Better” project to task for what she believes is their culpability in the suicides of LGBT teens:

“These kids were sold a bill of goods by people who thought they were being kind. The “It will get better” campaign just didn’t think it through. They didn’t think about the fact that kids are different from adults. They handle things differently. They react differently. Why? BECAUSE THEY ARE KIDS. You can grumble all day long how unfair it is that straight teens can be straight in high school, and gay kids can’t, but life is unfair. Isn’t the price they are paying too high?? Is it so much to ask them to stand at the door of adulthood before they “come out” publically? Because it may save their life.”

McKinnley’s primary confusion about the “It Gets Better” campaign (other than its name) is the assumption that the goal is to encourage teens to come out of the closet, or encourage them to become sexually active:

“Why in the world would you give teenagers a REASON to tease you? Oh, yes, because the adults tell you to embrace who you are, the only problem? Kids that age are just discovering who they are. They really have no idea yet. The adults tell you to “come out,” when what we should be telling them is that sex is for adults, and there is plenty of time for figuring out that later.”

I would like to encourage Ms. McKinley to watch the “It Gets Better” project’s founder Dan Savages’ video. Please, Ms. McKinley, listen, and tell me if you hear Savage or his partner Terry say anything about teens coming out or having sex. I think what you’ll hear them say is that all of the things that most kids, gay and straight, dream of (falling in love, starting a family, having the support of their parents, co-workers and friends) are possible for LGBT teens. I think you’ll hear them talk about how difficult their teen years were, and about the fears they had that their parents would reject them, that they’d never find success and that they’d always be alone.

Choosing to have sex is one of the most personal decision a person will ever make. For LGBT people, choosing to come out is another. I have not watched all of the thousands of videos from people who have participated in the “It Gets Better” project. It’s possible that there are a few that tell kids to come out right away, or to become sexually active, but I doubt it.

Every video in the project that I have seen has had the same simple message: that the person making it understands how tortuously awful the experience of being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender in Junior and High School can be, but there is a wonderful world of loving, vibrant, successful, engaged LGBT adults out there and if queer teens can just hang on, just for a few years, they can join it. I doubt that any of the contributors to the project think that hanging on for a few years will be easy. I suspect that most of them remember, with excruciating clarity, contemplating ending those temporary years of terror with a permanent solution and that is why they choose to reach out.

I grew up without role models, where people like Barbara Gittings, Bayard Rustin and Harvey Milk didn’t exist . I grew up in a small town where the two men with the pink house were talked about in hushed tones that immediately fell silent when I walked into the room, because it wasn’t appropriate for children’s ears. I grew up in a world where my mother wouldn’t tell me what “gay” meant, where the evening news was turned off if it reported on the AIDS crisis, where I wasn’t given words to describe who I was, and so the only word I could find was “alone.”

I was lucky. My suicide attempt failed.

I was lucky, I survived, and went to college, and found a church that embraced and loved LGBT people. That’s where I met doctors and lawyers and business owners and teachers who were like me. That’s where I met two wonderful women who had built a life together for over 50 years. That’s where I discovered I wasn’t alone and that being gay didn’t mean that i couldn’t have all of those things I’d dreamed of.

That is what McKinley missed in her blog post. In her haste to lay blame on anything other than the overwhelming prejudice perpetuated by schools, churches and governments against LGBT people McKinley missed the fact that kids need role models. In her rush to shove queer teens back into the closet she forgot that human beings need the hope of a better world, lest they give up in despair.

McKinley got one thing right in her post. She titled it “Are Adults Also To Blame For Gay Teen Suicides? Yes.” Adults are to blame for LGBT teen suicides. When adults hide the stunning diversity of God’s creation from their children they create a vision of reality that some of those children can’t see themselves in. When adults tell LGBT teens that they should be invisible then it is all too clear who is to blame when those teens believe them, and take steps to make themselves invisible permanently.

To all the LGBT kids out there: it does get better. There are adults who care about you and want all the wonderful things you dream of to come true, but you have to hang on. If you need to keep who are secret to remain safe then do so. If you need someone to talk to please call the Trevor Project at 866-4-U-Trevor (866-488-7386).

—  admin

The right time

Coming out is a personal decision, and each person has to find the right time and the right way for themselves. And while it can still be tough, it doesn’t have to be as tough as it used to be

DAVID WEBB  |  The Rare Reporter

Coming out is still so very hard to do, especially if someone delays doing it for a very long time.

That’s what I learned recently when the 40-something-year-old son of a friend of mine confided to me that he had finally accepted his sexual orientation and now had a boyfriend. He broke the news to me by saying, “I’m involved in a new relationship with someone, and his name is … .”

The ironic part of all this is that my friend, his mother, told me when her son was about 13 years old that she was pretty sure he would be gay. She was an interior decorator, had lived in liberal cities prior to moving to Texas and had quite a few gay and lesbian friends.

I thought that she might be correct in her assessment.

Despite my friend’s worldliness and acceptance of her friends’ homosexuality, she expressed a concern that her son’s life would be much tougher if he indeed turned out to be gay.

We had this conversation about 20 years ago, so her assessment seemed reasonable enough at the time. I had to agree that being gay certainly hadn’t made my life any easier up to that point, especially in light of the raging AIDS epidemic that was killing many of my friends and scaring me to death.

As it turned out, her fears about him being gay seemed to be unfounded. He went off to college, met a girl, lived with her, left her and wound up marrying another girl.

Two of his best friends from high school with whom he grew up went on to come out and live as openly gay. One died of AIDS in the early 1990s.

My friend and I remarked on our surprise about how things had turned out, but we both generally acknowledged that we apparently had been incorrect in our assumptions that he would be gay.

Still, I had this nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right. I wondered if he was bisexual.

My friend’s son and his wife had a child, and they moved away from Texas to the West Coast and a much more liberal environment. They seemed happy for a long time, but then my friend began to confide that her son was having emotional problems. In fact, he had become estranged from other members of his family after a conflict with them before he left Texas.

Finally, I heard that he and his wife had separated, then gotten divorced.

At the same time, my friend and I began drifting apart, even though we had been friends for a quarter-century. I noticed her politics were becoming more conservative. She told me that she didn’t think the country was ready for same-sex couples enjoying the right to become married.

I began to realize that her liberal attitudes were only skin deep, and I was disappointed by that.

When my friend’s son told me that he was gay, I promised not to say anything about it to anyone until he had charted his course of action. I did advise him that if he planned to tell his teenage son that I thought he should first tell his ex-wife, who had become his best friend after their divorce.

He also confided to me that when he was a teenager he had fooled around with one of his male friends, and that he had felt guilt and shame afterwards. He told me that after he accepted his homosexuality and began dating other men, it felt natural for him.

After a couple of months, he told his ex-wife. She took the news excellently, telling him that she wanted him to be happy. His son seemed to take it in stride while posing a lot of questions.

The funniest question he got from his son was, “Are you going to start wearing dresses now?”

Then he called his mother and told her, and she admitted that she had known it all of his life. She also began weeping and told him she was concerned that it would make his life much harder.

In an email to me, she said that she was not shocked by his revelation, but it did make her sad. She also expressed surprise that he had told his son.

I’ve always been of the opinion that people come out when it is the best time for them to do so. His personal time table required him to wait about 20 years longer than I did, but that was right for him. He adores his son, enjoys his close friendship with his ex-wife and hopefully will have a good relationship with another man to round out his life.

In short, I’m hoping he proves his mother wrong. It doesn’t have to make life tougher in this day and age.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. Email him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

—  John Wright