Gay Pride. It's a phase that has become almost meaningless in our contemporary culture. It is used to sell everything from rainbow flags to porn, for-profit heath services to HIV/AIDS drugs. American culture has moved so far away from the truly, deeply stigmatizing effects of pre-Stonewall life that the breathtakingly radical importance of "gay pride" is difficult, nearly impossible, to imagine.
But "gay pride" — in both its most elevated and debased forms — is intended, really intended, only for adults. If there is any group of people who are still alarmingly close to the stifling, emotionally and legally suffocating effects of pre-Stonewall thinking it is young LGBT people. Deprived of personal autonomy, frequently forced to lie about their lives to their parents (for the sake of sheer survival), and often the targets of peer violence, queer kids are — in many respects — still trapped in the horrors of the homophobic 1950s. Think of it as the nightmare flip side of Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best.
Lisa's Keen's new book, Out Law: What LGBT Youth Should Know About Their Legal Rights (Beacon), marks a brave beginning for moving gay kids out of the darkness. Sure, knowledge is power — but that works only if you can access the knowledge. Out Law is the first book that addresses the legal rights — with regard to privacy, due process, sexual freedom, and access to information — of LGBT youth.
Imagine this: you're sitting in a car with a friend. It's nighttime, and the car's parked in front of a store that's closed. You've just been to a party where you've had some beer, but now you're just two guys sitting in a car, talking. Suddenly, a police car pulls up behind you with its lights flashing. The police smell alcohol on your breath; you're both under 21, so they decide to arrest you for underage drinking. While frisking your friend, the police find a condom, which they decide is evidence that you're both "queer" and must have been planning to have sex in the car. On the way to the police station, one of the officers says he knows your family and that he's going to tell them that you're gay. You've never told anyone you're gay and you know your family will react negatively to this news. What do you do?
There's no easy answer to this question. And there's not just one correct answer. But this is a real-life dilemma that confronted one young man in Pennsylvania in 1997. His response was a tragic one.
Marcus Wayman was 18 and living with his grandfather in the small Pennsylvania community of Minersville. His parents had moved to Texas for work reasons, but Marcus wanted to finish up his senior year in high school, where he was on the football team. Just a month before graduation he had gone to a football party, and afterward he was giving a male friend a ride home. But instead of going directly home, they parked in the empty parking lot of a local store that was closed for the night. Police noticed the car and, knowing the store had recently been burglarized, pulled up behind it to investigate.
In the course of questioning Marcus and his friend, who was 17 at the time, police determined that they had been drinking and began arrest procedures. While frisking them, police found two condoms in the friend's pocket. One of the police officers accused the two young men of being "queers" who were parked there in order to have sex. While sex between same-sex partners was still illegal in some states in 1997, it was not illegal in Pennsylvania. But the officer lectured the young men about the Bible's condemnation of homosexuality, and he told Marcus that he knew his grandfather and that he was going to tell him that Marcus was gay.
Marcus feared that his grandfather would be repulsed by this allegation, and that he would throw the teenager out of the house. Distraught, he went home and wrote a note to his grandfather, saying that he did not want "everyone's life [to] be ruined by mine." He then shot himself in the head, ending his life.
Marcus's sexual orientation is not known. He never told anybody he was gay. But whether he was gay or not doesn't matter. He was horribly injured by the fact that somebody threatened to tell other people that he was gay and he didn't feel that there was anything he could do about it.
His mother filed a lawsuit against the police officers, and years later a federal appeals court ruled that the actions of the officer who made the threat violated rights guaranteed to every citizen under the US Constitution. According to a decision by a federal court, "matters of personal intimacy," including information about a person's sexual orientation, are "protected from threats of disclosure by the right to privacy."1