Kennedy High School Principal Mary Wilcynski remembers a few years ago, when one of her male students handed her a note asking if it would be all right if he brought another boy as his date to the prom.
Her response to the student was “of course” and “what can we do to help you.”
This contrasts with the experiences of Andy Harrison, a local bar owner whose Iowa family no longer speaks with him since he came out of the closet as a homosexual.
“The biggest obstacle is society, but society is slowly accepting it,” Harrison said.
That theme of slow acceptance was a common one during a Thursday evening forum on local gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual youth issues at McKinley Middle School in Cedar Rapids.
The panel, moderated by KCRG-TV9 anchor Beth Malicki, was sponsored by Diversity Focus, Cedar Rapids City PTA and the local chapter of Parents and Families of Lesbian and Gays to raise awareness of the problems frequently experienced by homosexual teenagers.
KCRG is owned by SourceMedia Group, the parent company of The Gazette.
The general consensus of the panel was that the younger generations are becoming more accepting every year of their GLBT peers, while older adults are slowly coming around.
“I’d say we’re two thirds of the way there,” said Dave Langston, founder of the local PFLAG chapter. “99 percent of the younger community members seem to have no problem.”
But as illustrated by the personal stories of Harrison and panelist Dana De Young, a male-to-female transsexual, many families still struggle with understanding and accepting when their sons and daughters come out of the closet.
Bullying of GLBT youth was a frequent topic throughout the panel, but Wilcynski cautioned attendees from labeling all situations involving youth conflict as bullying. Teen years are a difficult time for students, and not all conflict necessarily is the result of deliberate abuse.
“High school’s just tough, even for straight kids,” she said.
Other members of the panel included the Rev. Tom Capo, a Unitarian minister; Dr. Trudy Goldman, a pediatrician; and Lori Martins, a Postville resident who spoke of supporting her teenage niece, who is a lesbian.
Kelsey Streif, 19, and Jamie Millus, 18, both attended the forum as part of their Kirkwood Community College class ”Marriage and Family.” The two Dubuque students said they admired the public nature of the discussion.
“This was a great resource. I wish more parents would come,” said Streif.