If you're gay, it's hard not to feel optimistic these days. We're a small part of the population, but a solid majority of Americans and much of the political elite is on our side and wants to guarantee our political equality under the law. I was reminded early this morning that despite the amazing progress, life for some of my younger gay friends is, and will remain, quite hard.
I don't mean, or just mean, gay kids who are bullied in schools. That problem has the attention of educators and activists.
I mean this: You're 17, 18, 19 years old. Your family kicks you out. Maybe your father abuses you. You have no money. You have no place to go. You don't live in a city with a vibrant supportive gay community. Or you don't live in a state with a strong domestic/adult dependent abuse safety net.
A young man named C.___ e-mailed me last night. We share some nerdy obsessions, and those have formed the basis for a casual, ongoing conversation.
C.___ is 19 years old. He lives in a small California town. He likes to hike and canoe. He is an aspiring model.
Last month, in a fit of drunken rage, his father, who is much, much larger than he is, threw a large metal pan at C.____. It missed his torso, but it clipped his knee, tearing a ligament.
This was light punishment. Because he is gay, C.____ has been punched and kicked by his father. His mother is under the sway of his father, and so does not, or cannot help him.
C.____ has no money. He needs to get out of his house.
This is not a unique story. Since moving to Los Angeles, I've met a lot of younger gay men who have been kicked out of abusive households. The most heartbreaking of the stories was told to me by a talented young clothing designer. Upon learning he was gay, he was severely beaten, given $500, driven to the airport, had a one-way plane ticket bought in his name, and was abandoned.
He was 16.
The cycle of violence is merciless.
In the six years he spent here in West Hollywood, my young friend was raped twice — and lest you think that he was exaggerating to evoke sympathy, I've seen the medical and police records. He was also assaulted numerous times. He resorted to escorting to make ends meet. His ability to form meaningful friendships is fractured. His life is not very stable.
I don't know how to help these young men. It does seem to me that they're slipping through the safety net that the gay community is building for its most vulnerable.
Political rights are critical. But social equality is probably more meaningful. Parents who abuse children are abominable. But parents of gay children can get away with it more, because there's a stigma, because everyone just wants the problem to go away, because we still lack the guts to challenge some of our brother's darker secrets.
These mothers and fathers still think in such bizarre, incomprehensible ways. Nothing will change until it becomes shameful not to treat your gay child with respect and decency.