This week's cover story in Newsweek - which we should all recognize is a HUGE deal given the elections, economy and other issues happening in the world - is focused on the two intersecting LGBT issues: the plummeting age of coming out and the horrific murder of Lawrence King. While nowhere near perfect (what journalism is?), this feature tries to explore larger issues related to the coming out experience for the current generation of teenagers. "Young, Gay and Murdered" is quite the provocative title but I believe that the writers and Newsweek were thoughtful and well intentioned in writing this piece. You may not agree.
The reality around this article is this: it had been in the works for a long time, partly because it began as a piece about the lower age of coming out. Full disclosure: I was working with this reporter on behalf of Dr. Caitlin Ryan, whose Family Acceptance Project is conducting groundbreaking research on LGBT youth and coming out. I also helped the reporter find several young people with a variety of coming out experiences via other clients. Then, in 2005, Time magazine came out with a cover story on gay youth and the piece was delayed.
Lawrence King's murder served as a way to write about this issue once again, this time with a tragic but timely news angle. Ryan's work has show the mean age of coming to now be about 13 - onset of puberty - when frankly, everyone realizes what turns them on, so it makes sense. Is our culture, schools, parents and others ready for it? I do not think so, not by a long shot. Things are better for sure, but in our paradoxical culture where youth are both over-sexualized in advertising and media and then expected to "behave" it makes for a messy mix for all youth.
As I said, this article is not perfect. Using the word "flaunt" about Lawrence's behavior is a real emotional trigger for most of us, and of course it would never be used for any other behavior but that of LGBT people. Many of the quotes from local individuals are very unforgiving - no one seems to recognize that both of the young men involved had troubles and issues - and the true blame lies with the school and our institutions that have not caught up with a generation of more empowered, proud and comfortable youth, LGBT and non-LGBT, who express themselves unapologetically.
As someone who has spent decades trying to help journalists understand the double standard that is placed on out community, particularly around the "gay panic defense," it was painful to read this article. But as a media activist is is hard to judge the messenger - especially since I have interacted with him. Journalists who provide an assessment of a situation or event - often through the judgments of other - does not make them judgmental.
I look forward to debate and discussion about this. Sophisticated coverage of issues this complex rarely get the kind of platform a Newsweek cover provides, it should be interesting.