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Owning His Gay Identity -- at 15 Years Old

Saro Harvey, 15, of Arlington, Va., talks about his experience as an openly gay teenager. Video by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post

What did surprise her, however, was "how far out there" he was in style and expression. She said she sometimes asks him to tone it down, not because it bothers her, but because she has seen how it bothers others. She notices the stares from strangers and the way children ask innocent, yet hurtful, questions, such as, "Is he a girl?"

"For an average kid," Emily Harvey said, pausing on the adjective before continuing, "for an average kid, you don't really have to say, 'Maybe the ruffled shirt is not a good idea.' If he was going through a punk stage and dyed his hair purple, it would not be the same conversation as, 'Maybe you shouldn't carry my purse to school.' "

"I worry about him all the time," she added. "All the time."

Her immediate fear: Will someone hurt him? Her long-term concerns: Will he find someone who loves him for him? And if he does, will he have the same rights as everyone else?

Saro's father, James Harvey, said he loves his son but confesses that he has faced his own prejudices as he watches Saro change.

"Sometimes I have the feeling I want to toughen him up," James Harvey said. "It's something I completely don't understand."

He said he struggles to grasp what "triggered" Saro's interest in the same sex. Had his son been molested? he questioned. Could this be just a phase?

* * *

Days before school let out for summer, the pizza had arrived in John Clisham's office at Wakefield High, and the students in the GSA club were spread across the sofa and chairs.

One girl told how she was writing her senior project on same-sex marriage. Another explained how in the past few years many girls at the school, especially African Americans, had started saying they were bisexual, thinking it was cool.

A junior told how he fell into his first "gay talk" in fourth grade. His foster mother had asked why he was so into the red Power Ranger. "I said, 'I don't know; you tell me.' "

Everyone laughed.

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