E. Idaho Teens Come To Terms With Gay Classmates

By Nate Sunderland


Coming to terms with homosexuality is no easy task - especially for a teenager.

It can take months or years for many gay or lesbian teens to "come out" and talk openly about their sexual orientation. Such a decision becomes more difficult when a teen is raised in a religion or culture that doesn't accept homosexual behavior.

That's what Kurt is facing. Kurt is not the 17-year-old high school senior's real name. His name was changed for this article to protect his identity from members of his family, who he said are unaware of his sexual orientation.

Kurt is a member of the Gay-Straight Alliance club at Idaho Falls High School. He joined the club to find acceptance he hadn't found in his family, at church or in the classroom.

The club, whose members are gay and straight, seeks to educate people about homosexuality, build tolerance and share positive stories about acceptance.

Kurt believes he was born with a homosexual inclination. But he didn't begin identifying himself as gay until he was 13.

That self-identification was difficult for Kurt. He realized very quickly that his desire to live as an openly gay man didn't mesh with his family's religion or cultural values.

Kurt is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormon church encourages its membership to love and be accepting of homosexuals. But church doctrine identifies homosexual activity as a sin. As a result, the church disciplines members who engage in same-sex romantic or sexual relationships.

"If God doesn't make mistakes, why would he create people in a way that automatically disposes them to some type of sin?" Kurt said. "That just doesn't make sense."

Although Kurt has disavowed himself from the Mormon church, he continues to attend services and seminary to avoid conflict with family members, who are not aware of his sexual orientation.

Kurt said he plans to tell his family after graduation.

"I know my family will react in a negative way ... and I know this will strain our relationship," Kurt said. "But I love my family ... and I want to preserve (our) relationship for as long as possible, so I have to play the part right now."

Revealing his homosexuality to classmates also was difficult.

Many friends were accepting, but Kurt said he did experience some bullying from his peers.

"It hurt and it bothered me that someone would want to say those kinds of things to me," Kurt said. "Why would someone who claims to follow the teachings of Jesus (Christ) ... who taught love and tolerance ... say (a homosexual person) doesn't deserve to live?"

Homophobic bullying has lessened as Kurt has gotten older. The Gay-Straight Alliance has fostered more acceptance of his sexual orientation, he said. The nationwide high school and college movement aims to increase acceptance of others.

"This club isn't about sex ... or sex education; it's about identity safety," faculty adviser Danny Stapp said. "We don't even ask (about sexual orientation), but if it happens to come up, that's great because they feel safe enough to do that."

The Idaho Falls club is one of the few like it in eastern Idaho. As such, educating peers and parents about equality is a big part of membership.

"In this area ... people are not taught about (homosexuality). They are told how to think, and they never really think for themselves," 15-year-old Samantha Gresham said. "GSA provides a second point of view ... and spreads the education that homosexuality isn't a sin and that a gay person is no different from a straight person."

Students make posters, participate in awareness assemblies and encourage peers to avoid judging others.

The club receives some funding from Breaking Boundaries, a local advocacy group for gay rights.

"We want gay students to feel that they are not alone, that they are part of our society and not second-class citizens," Gay-Straight Alliance President Alexa Chapman said.

The club is finding plenty of support.

"We have many LDS members in our club, and a lot of younger LDS are very supportive of the cause," Stapp said. "The blowback we sometimes find is from ... the older generation."

Kurt hopes the club provides a safe haven for others who want to be open about their sexuality.

"I know what it's like to be in the closet; it's difficult," Kurt said. "So I want to show others that are nervous about coming out that it's OK ... to not hide who you really are."

He believes that groups such as the Gay-Straight Alliance and Breaking Boundaries eventually will change eastern Idaho in positive ways.

"It's vitally important a club like this exists in a very conservative area like eastern Idaho, because the environment here can be a lot more hostile," Kurt said. "But this is the first step toward a better future."

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