There Were No Gays in High School
Glennda Testone is a women's rights and gay rights activist and the current executive director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center of New York City. The 34-year-old was selected to lead the LGBT Center in 2009 after a nationwide search, becoming the first woman to run this center and one of the youngest leaders of a major LGBT organization. Founded in 1983, the center is the second-largest LGBT community center in the world after the center in Los Angeles. Previously Testone severed as vice president of the Woman's Media Center for three years and the senior director of media programs at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation before that.
Question: How has the situation for LGTB youth changed in recent years?
Glennda Testone: There’s a lot more visibility. You know, I was thinking about, prompted by this question, well what was it like for gay folks when I was growing up? There were no gay folks. There was no one that was out at my high school. I think there was one woman at college. And this was not that long ago. I mean, we’re talking about the ‘90’s. And it just wasn’t talked about. You just didn’t see it. People made gay jokes, anti-gay jokes in high school. And I remember, you know, my boyfriend and I at the time were both really pretty progressive compared to other folks we went to high school with. And so we would sort of stand up to people and it was, you know, we were in the minority, definitely. But no one was out.
And I... the young people that I see at the center and the kids that I see that come to the center, they run the gamut. You know, what I see really surprises and inspires me is the kids who are so confident and so secure and so like, “Yep. I’m gay. I know it. Here I am. Love me.” You know. And whether it’s a front or it’s real, the fact that it even exists is fabulous and something to be nurtured.
And then there are other kids, you know, I do sit on the Mayor’s Commission, which ended recently for LGTB runaway and homeless youth, and it’s a big problem. You’re an LGTB young person, not living in New York City and you’re not accepted by your family and you don’t have a supportive environment, a lot of those kids come to New York. And it’s expensive here, it’s challenging, it’s isolating. We see a lot of them at the center. We serve a lot of them at the center. And they really need our support and our, you know, they need resources. They need a place to sleep. They need someone who tells them that they’re okay. That it’s okay to be who they are. So, I really see the entire spectrum when it comes to young people.
And you know, I met recently for Pride Week, one of the Grand Marshals was Constance McMillan, who is the lesbian woman who wanted to bring another woman to her prom and wear a tux and the school said, “no.” And they cancelled the prom, and then they faked a prom so she would not be able to go to it, and just this horrific story. And she is so confident and so inspirational. Every step of the way and wants to go to college and get her PhD. and counsel other gay kids and support them, and that’s just amazing.
It’s terrible that we still have to deal with that kind of blatant, almost proud bigotry from her school and her classmates, but it’s amazing that she is standing up and not backing down and saying she deserves to be treated equally. So, I think the young people today, the young LGBT people are really an inspiration and a reason why we all need to engage in the fight to achieve basic rights and protections and treatment.
So, no, I appreciate that. So, in the media, there is such pressure for everybody to conform, gays, straight, you know, you should be beautiful, you should be thin, you should be rich and you should be endlessly interesting. I mean that’s what reality television and some of the media in general is telling us. So, I think it’s up to all of us to be who we are and present a different picture and show the world in all of it’s many facets and support that and find ways to really support that because things do get very homogenous and very anesticized through the media. Everything does. And it’s why I think we need to look outside and build our – outside of the media, build our own communities, talk to real people and just create a world where we can all be who we want to be.
Recorded on July 16, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller
Things have improved tremendously for LGBT youth since Testone was young, but there are still plenty of kids without supportive families who come to New York and end up homeless.
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