TIME‘s current cover story, “The Battle Over Gay Teens,” is a cultural development in itself. The very fact that the magazine would devote a cover story to the controversy over teenagers dealing with homosexuality is highly significant.
Most readers would likely be shocked by this section:
Kids are disclosing their homosexuality with unprecedented regularity–and they are doing so much younger. The average gay person now comes out just before or after graduating high school, according to The New Gay Teenager, a book Harvard University Press published this summer. The book quotes a Penn State study of 350 young people from 59 gay groups that found that the mean age at which lesbians first have sexual contact with other girls is 16; it’s just 14 for gay boys. In 1997 there were approximately 100 gay-straight alliances (GSAs)–clubs for gay and gay-friendly kids–on U.S. high school campuses. Today there are at least 3,000 GSAs–nearly 1 in 10 high schools has one–according to the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN, say “glisten”), which registers and advises GSAs. In the 2004-05 academic year, GSAs were established at U.S. schools at the rate of three per day.
TIME gives attention to The Point Foundation, a group that supports teenagers who identify themselves as homosexual with scholarships and other assistance. A particularly interesting section of the article deals with a retreat for teens organized by The Point Foundation. The reporter implies that the foundation actually misunderstands those identified as gay teens and misrepresents their stories in order to exaggerate their distress.
The article also focuses on Exodus Youth, a program of Exodus International. Exodus Youth reaches out to young people struggling with homosexuality and helps them to embrace a biblical understanding of sexuality. At the same time, reporter John Cloud seemed to dismiss these ministries with this sentence: It’s important to note that nearly all mental-health professionals agree that trying to reject one’s homosexual impulses will usually be fruitless and depressing–and can lead to suicide, according to Dr. Jack Drescher of the American Psychiatric Association, who has studied programs that attempt to alter sexuality. What would you expect someone from the American Psychiatric Association to say? After all, this is the group that simply voted to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders after being pressured by homosexual activists.
The book that apparently sparked the TIME cover story, The New Gay Teenager by Ritch C. Savin-Williams, is itself a fascinating volume. Savin-Williams argues that, among teenagers and young people, homosexuality is becoming almost non-controversial. “Coming out” is now an experience validated, accepted, and often celebrated by adolescent peers.
As Harvard University Press explains the book’s thesis:
Gay, straight, bisexual: how much does sexual orientation matter to a teenager’s mental health or sense of identity? In this down-to-earth book, filled with the voices of young people speaking for themselves, Ritch Savin-Williams argues that the standard image of gay youth presented by mental health researchers–as depressed, isolated, drug-dependent, even suicidal–may have been exaggerated even twenty years ago, and is far from accurate today.
The New Gay Teenager gives us a refreshing and frequently controversial introduction to confident, competent, upbeat teenagers with same-sex desires, who worry more about the chemistry test or their curfew than they do about their sexuality. What does “gay” mean, when some adolescents who have had sexual encounters with those of their own sex don’t consider themselves gay, when some who consider themselves gay have had sex with the opposite sex, and when many have never had sex at all? What counts as “having sex,” anyway? Teenagers (unlike social science researchers) are not especially interested in neatly categorizing their sexual orientation.
The TIME magazine cover story and The New Gay Teenager should be read by all who care about America’s young people and their struggles. The normalization of homosexuality among American adolescents should be a focus of Christian attention and concern.
I discussed the “The Battle Over Gay Teens” on Tuesday’s edition of The Albert Mohler Program. I was pleased to have Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International and Scott Davis, director of Exodus Youth as my guests. We discussed a range of issues and I talked to parents about what to do if a child is found to be struggling with homosexuality or same-sex attraction.