For bullied gay teens, the world is still far from accepting

By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 4, 2010; 2:26 PM

Trina Cole remembers the head-to-toe, white linen outfit she wore to junior prom.

And how the outfit looked after she was attacked, how the red cranberry juice her classmates threw at her as they yelled and screamed and shoved her in front of everyone made it look as though she were bleeding, even though it only felt that way.

Rejection, harassment and humiliation - first by her conservative Washington family and then by tormentors in high school and at a college in West Virginia - have left scars all over her arms.

"I used to think of suicide. And I used to cut myself," Cole, now 19, told me, rubbing her hands over the raised crisscrosses and lines up and down both forearms.

This is not how it was supposed to be for this generation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens who are coming out in an era when mainstream future dreams - marriage, kids, home ownership, PTA superstardom - are in their grasp.

They have Ellen as a Covergirl, Ken Mehlman out of the closet, Rachel Maddow reading the news, Rosie sharing family craft tips, Queer Eyes helping divulge style secrets and Will and Grace to explain it all to Mom and Dad.

But what happened across the country in the past couple of weeks, when four gay students killed themselves after being mercilessly bullied at school, shows how little has changed for many teens.

The most recent case was the suicide of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, a student at Rutgers University whose roommate allegedly videotaped him in a sexual encounter with another man and broadcast it on the Internet, both outing and humiliating a quiet, bright young violinist with one, cruel keystroke.

Clementi jumped to his death off a New York bridge, bidding farewell via Facebook.

"I had people calling us all week, shocked this was still happening," said Andrew Barnett, executive director of a Washington area support group called SMYAL, the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League.

"There this feeling in the older LGBT community that coming out is easier for youth now than it was for them," he said. "And that's just not always true."

Nine out of 10 students reported being harassed because of their sexuality last year, according to a report by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

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