The establishment of the first Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) very much facilitated the coming-out process for young people, even more so once the organization started to snowball to the rest of the country. Founded at Concord Academy (in Massachusetts, y'all) by Kevin Jennings — who also founded the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), known originally as the Gay and Lesbian Independent School Teachers Network (GLSTN) — the student group aimed to create and maintain a supportive and safe environment for all students, regardless of sexual identification. In other words, gay students finally had an excuse to meet other gay students and gay-tolerant students, and a forum in which to discuss all things gay and student-y. Plus, the GSA served (and continues to serve) as an introduction to political activism. College-application bonus! There are now thousands of GSAs — more than 4000 of which are registered with GLSEN. (Go to glsen.org for more information.)
The local young LGBT community has, of late, been focusing their efforts on promoting same-sex marriage and combating civil abominations like California's Prop 8. Social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have been instrumental in helping to organize protests, demonstrations, and vigils. The local chapter of Join the Impact used Facebook almost exclusively to unite a localized force of opposition to Prop 8, and, again, to advertise related events. Grassroots politics are charged with power when making good use of online tools — crucial, in this day of instant communication and viral outreach.
Communicating: Then and now
O'Connell recalls that, back in her time, people — especially parents — lacked the vocabulary necessary to have a conversation about homosexuality. Men were "flamboyant" or "mama's boys," not "gay." Women were "spinsters" with "roommates." AIDS was known as the "gay disease." It wasn't cool, as it is now among the liberal-arts-college circuit, to dabble in try-sexuality. And even if it were, nobody was talking about it. In fact, O'Connell says, if you dared come out to your parents, all of their dreams for you died. No wedding, no kids, no future.
Thanks in large part to the aforementioned innovations in technology and entertainment, there are now more opportunities for parents to ask their kids about sexuality, and more jumping-off points for conversation. In fact, for those parents of LGBT offspring who live in the great states of Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont, and Maine, there is a joyously tulle-filled wedding-planning bender in their future.
Mostly, though, today it's okay to talk about sexuality. At least, more so than it used to be. Should you bring up your same-sex affinity for cock while at a family reunion Bible Belt barbecue? Probably not. But, today, it is pretty darn okay to talk with those you love and trust about who you're with, and about who you are.
None of this means that you should flaunt your orientation if you have reservations or fear for your physical or emotional well-being. Coming out should, overall, be a positive experience.
O'Connell and her One in Ten co-host, Keith Orr, advise young listeners who don't feel safe coming out to wait. Thankfully, Boston's Pride events are safe havens, celebrations of self and unity and sexuality and family. And dancing. Good lord, is there dancing. If there ever was a place to be yourself . . . I mean, last year at the parade I saw a woman bound in strips of latex, sporting leather fairy wings and about six pounds of glitter. And it was glorious.