Bullying and suicide often come to mind in daily conversations about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. But young people from these communities confront a wide range of challenges their straight peers never see, often with little support from their families or schools. We hear about the personal experiences and activism of local LGBT youth.


  • Andrew Barnett Executive Director, Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL)
  • Sadie-Ryanne Baker Volunteer Organizer, DC Trans Coalition
  • Kevin Abellano Howard University Student; Historian, Coalition of Activist Students Celebrating the Acceptance of Diversity and Equality (CASCADE)

Related Video

Sydney discusses some of the questions she faces about her sexual orientation and why she participates in SMYAL:

Ashley, a participant in SMYAL (Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League) shares her experiences as a straight ally at an LGBTQ organization:


  • 12:06:43

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Being a teenager can be tough for anyone. Imagine you are about to go to your first high school dance, your nerves are racing, you don't know what to wear and you're anxious. Not because you want to ask out the most popular kid in school, but because you are a boy who wants to take another boy as your date. For many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, normal teen experiences can be made more difficult by their gender or sexual identity. Even though some experience bullying, family rejection and homelessness, many local youth are taking steps to improve their lives and the lives of others.

  • 12:07:39

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to help explore the personal and political aspects of LGBT life are Andrew Barnett. Andrew is the executive director of the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, S-Y-M-L, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that supports LGBT youth through leadership training and activities. Andrew, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:08:01

    MR. ANDREW BARNETTThank you.

  • 12:08:02

    NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Kevin Abellano. He is a student at Howard University and a member of the Coalition of Activist Students Celebrating the Acceptance of Diversity and Equality, that acronym is CASCADE. It's the LGBT student organization at Howard University. Kevin, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:08:22

    MR. KEVIN ABELLANOThank you.

  • 12:08:23

    NNAMDIAlso with us is Sadie-Ryanne Baker. Sadie is a transgender rights activist with the DC Trans Coalition, a volunteer community-based organization dedicated to fighting for the human rights of transgender and gender-diverse people in the District of Columbia. Sadie, good to see you.

  • 12:08:41

    MS. SADIE-RYANNE BAKERIt's great to be here.

  • 12:08:43

    NNAMDIYou can also join this conversation by calling 800-433-8850 or going to our website, kojoshow.org, join the conversation there. Many parents have dreams for their kids such as marriage, going to the prom, having kids. Most assume their kids are going to do this with someone of the opposite sex. How did your parents react to you coming out? How much of their reaction was about you and how much of it was about them in your view, Andrew?

  • 12:09:12

    BARNETTWell, I think that you really hit the nail on the head. When we talk about the coming out process for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, and as they begin to tell people in their lives, including their parents, very often, the folks closest to them go through something in like a period of mourning where they have to come to terms with their child's sex orientation and gender identity within the context of all the hopes and dreams that they have put on their child -- that may include things like marriage, things like having kids -- that they may feel that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people can't do.

  • 12:09:47

    BARNETTSo it -- at SMYAL, we really focus on supporting LGBT youth through this process, but there's also a lot of need for support for parents as they, you know, come to terms with this and figure out how that this is gonna change their family and their relationship with their child.

  • 12:10:06

    NNAMDISadie, how was it for you?

  • 12:10:08

    BAKERI had a pretty hard time with my parents. I think, growing up, we had a lot of conflict steaming from my sexuality or gender or identity. You know, I may not use those terms at the time because I grew up in a fairly rural part of the country in West Virginia and I didn't really have access to a lot of that, you know, kinds of support or just the sorts of communities where I was able to even learn how to talk about how I was feeling. But in retrospect, it was very much about how it's presenting myself and my gender and how I understood myself and clothes I was wearing and that sort of thing. So we had a lot of fights around that. My pants were too tight, my hair is too long, whatever. So that was always difficult. And by the time I came out as trans to them, many years later, I was -- when I was about 21, it was...

  • 12:10:53

    NNAMDISo you did not come out as a teenager to them?

  • 12:10:55

    BAKERWell, no, I didn't. It was hard for me, especially, I guess, because I dated and continued to date primarily women. And so when I was growing up, I didn't really know like how to express that. It was like I know that I'm queer somehow. (laugh) I just didn't know exactly how. I never heard the word transgender before or transsexual or any of that. I'd never heard it. So...

  • 12:11:15

    NNAMDISo when you came out to your parents, you were already over 20 years old?

  • 12:11:18

    BAKERCorrect. Yeah. I...

  • 12:11:19

    NNAMDIYou came out as transgender?

  • 12:11:21

    BAKERYes, that's right.

  • 12:11:21

    NNAMDIWhat was their response?

  • 12:11:23

    BAKERWell, (laugh) my mom kind of freaked out. We were driving somewhere and she actually, like, swerved the car.

  • 12:11:30

    BAKERIt was pretty dramatic for, I think, for both of us. And it was actually over Christmas a few years ago. And they -- my mom was like, okay, we can't talk about this anymore because we don't wanna ruin Christmas for everyone so let's just pretend like this never happened. So we pretended like it never happened. And then, a few months later, I wrote them a letter and I was like, look, like, you need to accept that this happened and this is real and I'm not -- you know, this isn't going away. So at that point, they basically told me never to come home again. And so I -- yeah, I've lost my family since then. And I haven't -- I didn't see them for about two or three years. I finally saw them again in person for the first time recently and -- but things, unfortunately, did not go well there, either.

  • 12:12:13

    NNAMDINothing much has changed since that time. Kevin, how was it for you?

  • 12:12:16

    ABELLANOFor me, personally...

  • 12:12:18

    NNAMDIYou're a homeboy.

  • 12:12:19

    ABELLANOExcuse me?

  • 12:12:19

    NNAMDIYou're a homeboy, born in Washington.

  • 12:12:20

    ABELLANOYes, I was. I was born in Howard University Hospital. And that's where my mom works to this day. And for me, personally, I guess it was a difficult thing. And as Andrew said, there is a mourning period after you come out. For me, coming out -- because I am the only boy in my family and it's a hard thing for them because I am supposed to carry on our name and I'm supposed to carry down -- that I've got the legacy. And for my father and my mother, it was very difficult for them to find out. And they didn't necessarily find out through me. Excuse me.

  • 12:12:56

    NNAMDIHow old were you when they found out?

  • 12:12:57

    ABELLANOI was 15. And they found out through the social media and it wasn't through me. And basically, my father stopped talking to me for about two months and my mother completely ignored the whole situation. Since then, we've had a good relationship, but we just kinda don't really talk about the whole gay aspect of it. And, I mean, they still love me. They still care about me. They just need time to accept what -- who I am as a person.

  • 12:13:31

    NNAMDIWe'd like you to join this conversation by calling 800-433-8850. Has anyone come out to you? How did you respond as a parent, a sibling, a friend? 800-433-8850. Or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, join the conversation there or send us an e-mail to kojo@wamu.org. Sadie, you identify as a transgender woman, which is a gender identity as opposed to a sexual orientation.

  • 12:13:57

    BAKERThat's correct.

  • 12:13:57

    NNAMDIHow does your coming out process, if you will, differ from that of your lesbian, gay or bisexual friends?

  • 12:14:06

    BAKERI think there's a lot of overlap. I think there's a lot of, you know, misunderstanding in the popular culture about us all and I think that that part is very similar and a lot of it is facing the same kinds of rejection and the same sorts of bias and prejudice. I do think that there's some specific things around being trans that are different. I think a lot of times trans people, particularly in the beginning of their transition from one gender to a different gender, often are the most visible parts of the community and often have to deal with some of the most intense violence.

  • 12:14:38

    BAKERWe also live in a world that's predominantly, I mean, gender segregated. Everything from bathrooms to jails are all segregated by gender so trans people have to deal with, well, you know, which bathroom am I gonna use and that sort of, you know, these kinds of everyday things.

  • 12:14:56

    NNAMDIA lot of our listeners may not fully understand the distinction between sexual orientation and gender identity.

  • 12:15:04


  • 12:15:04

    NNAMDIExplain to them what transgendering means.

  • 12:15:07

    BAKEROkay. Well, basically, gender identity is how you understand yourself as male, female or perhaps something else entirely so -- and sexual orientation would be about who you are attracted to, who you fall in love with, you know, that's what your sexuality. So, basically, one way we explain, you know, explain it is your sexual orientation is about other people, and gender identity is sort about yourself and how you understand your own body and how you understand your own sort of identity and how you want, you know, how you want other people to view you as a man or a woman.

  • 12:15:40

    NNAMDIDo you find ignorance about that in -- maybe even discrimination within the gay and lesbian community also?

  • 12:15:46

    BAKERAbsolutely, absolutely. I think that there's a lot of ignorance around that.

  • 12:15:51

    NNAMDIKevin, how does being Filipino-American impact your coming-out process?

  • 12:15:57

    ABELLANOMy coming-out process, it was difficult because more so when you think about Filipinos or Asians in general they're usually under the aspect of Caucasian society where they're -- you don't see them with the urban community as African-Americans and Latinos. So, for me, I grew up without -- not valuing race as much as people do nowadays. And, for me, it was difficult because I couldn't figure out where I belonged or who I could associate with. Because when I came out and trying to find friends, a lot of people in the gay community saw me as -- saw me -- treated me differently because I was Filipino and that I was something new to, like, I guess, the community. And they saw me as different and I couldn't associate with many people.

  • 12:16:52

    NNAMDIDid it surprise you to find, within the gay community, racism? It's my understanding that you were called derogatory racial names in the gay community.

  • 12:17:01


  • 12:17:03

    NNAMDISpecifically what?

  • 12:17:04

    BAKERSpecifically -- like they would call me chink, and it was because they didn't understand my heritage or my cultural background. And basically, from my experiences that when I would go on outings, and so like DuPont Circle or various other places, I would -- no one would talk to me, except for my friends that I came accustomed to and I've, like, associated with. As for when I tried, you know, to make new friends or try to talk to other people, they would just look at me in disgust and kind of separate themselves from me because I am Filipino and I'm not necessarily African-American, Hispanic or Caucasian.

  • 12:17:52

    NNAMDIIs the marginalization within the Asian-American community any different than it is in the white, African-American, Hispanic communities?

  • 12:18:02

    ABELLANOYou don't really see much of the Asian community as it is, so, for me personally, I didn't have anyone to follow, like, to help me out with coming out being Filipino or understanding myself with the Asian community and being gay. So that was very difficult for me because there was no one to, like, reach out and no one to talk to me about it. And that's why I went into places like SMYAL and other youth safe spaces where I could find friends without --regarding to my race.

  • 12:18:35

    NNAMDIAndrew, you went to an Episcopal high school. How did this impact your coming-out process?

  • 12:18:41

    BARNETTThat's an excellent question. I think that -- I did go to an Episcopalian high school and actually middle school and grade school as well. And my coming-out process was somewhat separate from my process in terms of figuring out what I believe spiritually and religiously. I would say that as a senior in high school, I was part of a group of students that co-founded a gay-straight alliance at my high school, and we encountered a lot of challenges in doing that. We were, in some ways, recognized as a regular school club, and in some ways, we weren't.

  • 12:19:16

    BARNETTJust like we weren't allowed to make announcements during morning assemblies, we weren't -- we have a meeting space, but we weren't allowed to officially call ourselves a club. And I know that from what I heard from folks within the administration and the faculty who are sympathetic and who are supporters of us, that some of the static we encountered may have come from folks who felt that being LGBT was incongruent with an Episcopalian outlook.

  • 12:19:44

    NNAMDIIt's my understanding that SMYAL does a lot of work with gay and lesbian young people of color. How do you relate to young people who may have different ethnic and class backgrounds than you, Andrew?

  • 12:19:55

    BARNETTThat's an excellent question. I think that when we're working with LGBT, that SMYAL wants to -- we're really focused on them and their experiences and honoring their experiences. We have a really diverse staff and a really diverse volunteer base, including people from all different kinds of backgrounds, all different regions, all different communities. And so many people in the LGBT community are -- you know, support SMYAL and come to SMYAL and get involved in serving this community because of our own personal experiences.

  • 12:20:26

    BARNETTAnd we all have them. But when we're working with youth, we really focus on, you know, putting our own experiences aside and looking at the challenges that they are facing. So many of the youth that SMYAL serves are coming from backgrounds very different from my personal background and when I'm working with them, I'm focused more on thinking about where they're coming from and how I can support them as opposed to how it may or may not be in line with what I want for them.

  • 12:20:49

    NNAMDIAnd in case you were just joining us, SMYAL does not mean almost a laugh. It means Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, S-M-Y-A-L. And Andrew Barnett is the executive director of SMYAL. It's a Washington, D.C.-based organization that supports LGBT young people through leadership training and social activities.

  • 12:21:09

    NNAMDIWe're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we will continue our conversation on LGBT Youth, the personal and political aspects of it. 800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to join the conversation. Some say gay rights in this -- is this generation's civil rights issue. Do you agree or disagree? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:23:28

    NNAMDIWe're talking about young people who identify as LGBT, that is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Joining us in studio is Sadie Ryanne-Baker, a transgender rights activist with the DC Trans Coalition. Kevin Abellano is a student at Howard University and a member of the Coalition of Activist Students Celebrating the Acceptance of Diversity and Equality, CASCADE. And Andrew Barnett is the executive director of the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, S-M-Y-A-L.

  • 12:23:58

    NNAMDISadie, we hear the term LGBT a lot. We know it means lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, letters being added and shifted constantly. But the term queer has been used by a number of advocacy organizations as a unifying term. However, for some, it may seem like a slur. What do you think about people using that term to describe the LGBT community?

  • 12:24:23

    BAKERI definitely think the term queer is becoming very more -- increasingly popular with youth especially. And I think that that's something that's a, you know, process of reclaiming a word that's been used to hurt us. I personally identify as queer. I am both a trans woman and a trans woman who dates other women so I'm, you know, also identified as a lesbian.

  • 12:24:42

    NNAMDIBack up. Back up. You're beginning to confuse me. You're -- and that's why we need clarification.

  • 12:24:47


  • 12:24:48

    NNAMDIYou're both a trans woman and...

  • 12:24:51

    BAKERAnd a lesbian, correct. I date other women.

  • 12:24:53

    NNAMDIOkay. Okay. I got it. Okay.

  • 12:24:54


  • 12:24:55

    NNAMDIAll right. All right.

  • 12:24:56

    BAKERSo I think, you know, for me, the word queer can feel empowering to use that. I do think it's a sensitive word. I think that, like, you know, when a street person uses it, it's coming from a very different context than when an LGBT person calls himself queer. So I think that, you know, it's a powerful term when we use it.

  • 12:25:13

    NNAMDILet's clarify a little bit. You were born a boy, and having been born biologically a boy, you could have simply been dating women as a boy or a man. But you are a trans woman, correct?

  • 12:25:28

    BAKEROh, that is correct.

  • 12:25:28

    NNAMDISo -- but you date women.

  • 12:25:30


  • 12:25:31

    NNAMDIOkay. So your sexual orientation is that your preference is for women.

  • 12:25:36


  • 12:25:37

    NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Jeff in Baltimore, Md. Jeff, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:25:43

    JEFF(unintelligible) has happened before.

  • 12:25:45

    NNAMDIJeff, you got to turn your radio down so that you talk to me only on the telephone. But you're on the air, Jeff. Go ahead -- Jeff is talking to somebody else so we're gonna have to put Jeff back on hold, and instead go to Chris in Alexandria, Va. Chris, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:26:02

    CHRISHi. I just want to say it was actually a funny moment when my brother came out to me. We kind of figured it out. But he said a couple of things that were funny to me. He said, first of all, I'm trying to clean it up. He said all men are whores and that you should never go straight when you're going directions again. You go gaily forward. And he said also and reminded us that although he's been fighting with the issue for a long time, now that he's telling us, we needed a chance, as your guests said, to warn. He called it when he comes out of the closet -- he -- we the family goes in the closet.

  • 12:26:40

    NNAMDIAnd so how -- we know you responded to it. Well, you thought it was kind of funny. How did the rest of your family members feel?

  • 12:26:46

    CHRISWe tried to keep it from my father because he is very against gay. And when we finally did break down and let my father know, he goes, I've known since he was little. It was never a question.

  • 12:26:58

    NNAMDIAnd so the family is okay with it.

  • 12:27:01

    CHRISWe're okay with it, yeah. We had to have each had a chance to adjust to it in our own way. So -- but, you know, given a little time, it's fine.

  • 12:27:10

    NNAMDIChris, thank you very much for your call. I didn't get to ask you, Kevin, or you, Andrew, how you felt about the use of term queer. Kevin?

  • 12:27:18

    ABELLANOFor me, personally, the term queer has always been used as a derogatory term. So for me, to see, as Sadie said, as empowering, it's hard for me because it's always been used as a term to disrespect me. So for -- I mean...

  • 12:27:33

    NNAMDISo you view it in the same way that a lot of black people view the N word? On the one hand, some people feel that to call ourselves the N word is in some way empowering. Another group of people feel that, no, it's just as bad.

  • 12:27:46

    ABELLANOYeah, exactly.

  • 12:27:46

    NNAMDI(unintelligible) there.

  • 12:27:47

    ABELLANOI think that's how I would take it because to change a word's meaning is very difficult, especially when the word itself has been used derogatory for a long time.

  • 12:27:58

    NNAMDIHow do you feel about it, Andrew?

  • 12:28:00

    BARNETTI actually have different feelings than Kevin. I think that -- when I was younger, when I was going through the coming-out process, I found the term queer to be very empowering and to -- one of the things I really like about it was its ambiguity. It doesn't -- queer can encompass folks of different sexual orientations, folks with different gender identities, folks who might, you know, be heterosexual and have a gender identity that's congruent with their biological sex, but might dress in a way that doesn't necessarily conform with gender expectations.

  • 12:28:34

    BARNETTAnd so I think that queer can be a very empowering term, not only because it's reclaiming a term that was once used to insult our community, but also because it can be seen as very inclusive and bringing in lots of folks' different experiences and perspectives.

  • 12:28:49

    NNAMDIOn to Peter in Washington, D.C. Peter, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:28:54

    PETERHi. Just wanna put forth the idea that I don't think -- and I know a lot of gay folks don't think that gender identity issues and homosexuality has anything to do with each other and that they don't really belong in the same show. And I know that your guests may feel differently, but there's a lot of folks that do take that point of view...

  • 12:29:16

    NNAMDISo, Peter, you object to the term, LGBT? You think it should be...

  • 12:29:20

    PETERI do.

  • 12:29:21

    NNAMDIYou think it should be...

  • 12:29:21

    PETERI do and I know, though -- I do. And as a diversity educator and a mental health person, I absolutely do. I don't think one has anything to do with the other, although...

  • 12:29:31

    NNAMDISo you think -- wait a minute. So you think there should be, like, an LGBT community and a T community that stands by itself?

  • 12:29:40

    PETERI think they're distinct issues. They're distinct communities. And I absolutely don't understand why they are now being grouped together by, you know, (unintelligible).

  • 12:29:50

    NNAMDISadie-Ryanne Baker, that is an interesting question. How do you feel about it?

  • 12:29:54

    BAKERYou know, actually, I somewhat agree. I feel like trans issues often sometimes get subsumed underneath this LGBT broad thing and we actually get ignored by the larger LGBT community. So I think that that can definitely work against trans people...

  • 12:30:12

    NNAMDIAnd it has, as Peter says, nothing to do with sexual orientation.

  • 12:30:15

    BAKERWell, I'm not entirely sure that I agree with that part of it. I would say -- the sort of confusing the two, you know, gender identities and sexual orientation and lumping them together has actually, in some ways, increased the amount of ignorance out there about trans people. A lot of people assume that because LGBT, they see the T and they distinct, oh, they're just another type of gay person, which is actually not entirely true. It is something that's different. And that's part of the reason, you know, I'm an organizer in the trans community, and we work, specifically, on trans issues.

  • 12:30:49

    BAKERWe don't work on, you know, LGBT issues. We work on trans issues. However, I will say, on the other hand, like non-transgender LGB folks can be very sort of our most powerful allies. And then I think a lot of us do come from the same communities, so whether or not the two things, you know...

  • 12:31:09

    NNAMDIWhat do you mean, when we come from the same communities?

  • 12:31:10

    BAKERWell, I mean, that basically a lot of us grow up, you know, like Andrew is saying, queer. We all seem...

  • 12:31:15

    NNAMDIThey (word?) communities.

  • 12:31:16

    BAKERYeah, we're all seen as the same. We're all treated, you know, similarly. We do have some distinct experiences, but we're treated similarly. And I grew up -- everyone thought I was gay. People called me gay all the time. So I know what it's like to have those experiences. And I think that a lot of gay men, particularly, you know, have -- particularly more feminine ones, get treated like trans women and so I think that there's an opportunity for us to sort of like work together.

  • 12:31:41

    BAKERAnd that I think we, you know, can mutually support each other and -- because we've been through a lot of the same things. So I would agree that they are distinct and that sometimes it is problematic to lump them together. But I would also say that we, you know, we belong together in other ways.

  • 12:31:57

    PETERPeter, thank you very much for your call. We move on to Heidi Rose in Germantown, Md. Heidi Rose, hi. You're up next.

  • 12:32:04

    HEIDI ROSEHi. Yeah. One of -- guess a comment, I thought is, you know, I'm bisexual. You know, when I was a teenager, I had occasional issues where I would, you know, go to dances and be in an open relationship where I would have girlfriend and a boyfriend. And, you know, just sharing my experience that sometimes, you know, the bisexual people would get sneered at from some of the, you know, the gays and lesbians, like, oh, well, you know, how can you really be one of us? You know, and now I'm a married woman with two kids, and now I get it from, you know, everybody saying, wait a minute, you're married. You've got kids. How can you be bisexual?

  • 12:32:49

    HEIDI ROSEYou know, and I -- I think it's the whole gay issue, the whole LGBT issue, it's so layered. And it's something that I'm so glad to see that there's more dialogue happening. You know, and I'm curious how are we gonna move forward? How are, you know, both of us that are now growing up and adults now? How are we gonna raise our kids to be those open inclusive so that we don't see these suicides anymore so kids won't have to worry?

  • 12:33:20

    NNAMDIWell, Heidi Rose, apart from the old Woody Allen joke, the best thing about bisexuality is that it doubles your chances for a date on Saturday night. Besides that, how does being a bisexual parent today affect how you are viewed by the people around you in your life, family and friends?

  • 12:33:38

    ROSEThey -- a lot of people questioned both my ability to be in a monogamous relationship -- which my husband has no worries about that. You know, that's between my husband and I. People also wonder am I going to be able to, you know, to show my daughters -- because I've got two girls, you know, how to be a good mom, a good woman, you know. And when people say, oh, look their little girlfriend, boyfriend, I say, well, you know, if my girls wanna be boys or if they choose to like somebody else, you know, somebody of their own gender, that's their choice. Other moms just kind of looked at me askance and walked away. I've lost a few friendships.

  • 12:34:26

    BAKERI think we need more people like you.

  • 12:34:27

    NNAMDIBut more importantly, your kids happy, well adjusted?

  • 12:34:32

    ROSEOh, yes.

  • 12:34:33

    NNAMDIWell, Heidi Rose, thank you very much for sharing that with us. You know, usually, when we hear about an LGBT agenda -- but first, any comments on what you just heard Heidi Rose say, Kevin?

  • 12:34:45

    ABELLANOI think I would have to say is that one thing that I've cherished more so is individuality and that -- for each person, to each his own. And regardless of what society thinks, you do have to cherish yourself more than society itself. And that's something that being part of the LGBT community teaches you, not everyone, but you'd go to the factor of trying to value yourself more over society.

  • 12:35:15

    NNAMDIHere's an e-mail we got from Abby, "Some years ago, a friend whom I've known as a female came over to my house to give me some of her clothes. When I asked why, she said she was getting rid of her female clothes because she had determined she was really a man. I was surprised, but immediately said congratulations, give me a hug. It was only through watching many documentaries over the years that I came to understand the great courage it took for him to do that. One that really put a human face on the issue was the film 'Southern Comfort.' I highly recommend it. Hugs to you all," says Abby.

  • 12:35:47

    NNAMDIWe -- usually when we hear of an LGBT agenda, it's about gay marriage and Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which usually concern LGBT adults. More recently, we've heard about the suicides that have taken place by LGBT students who have been bullied. What other issues do LGBT kids face that we may not know about, Andrew?

  • 12:36:10

    BARNETTThere are a broad range of issues that LGBT face. And the tragic, tragic suicides that made the national news this past fall have brought some of those to the forefront. But lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth are at far greater risks for victimization in schools, both from their peers and also from their teachers. They're also at greater risk for a wide variety of mental health issues, including suicidality.

  • 12:36:35

    BARNETTThey're also at great risk for engaging in unsafe sexual behavior, for engaging in substance abuse, alcohol abuse and in homelessness. And a lot of it comes from the difficulty of going through this process where you must figure out that you're not the person that people told you were going to be. And you -- many of youth that we work with at SMYAL have a background that's not -- have a sort of perspective, that's not unlike folks who have gone through significant trauma.

  • 12:37:06

    BARNETTThey're hypervigilants. They're constantly assessing situations to determine if it's a safe space, if the person they're talking to is safe, if they can disclose important parts about their life to that person. And it has a tremendously detrimental impact on LGBT youth and a lot of -- unfortunately, a lot of youth engaged in really, you know, unsafe risk behavior as a way to try to negotiate through that pain.

  • 12:37:29

    NNAMDIAnything to add to that, Kevin?

  • 12:37:30

    ABELLANOActually, yes. I think that with youth and being involved with risk behavior, it's because they want to be accepted. It's because they feel as though they don't have any love from anybody else. And that any way they can get it, whether through sexual interactions or anything of that nature, like substance abuse, they tend to lead down the wrong path because they feel they get no reassurance that they are loved.

  • 12:38:04

    NNAMDIHow often do you run into this? This is an e-mail from Dowitt, (sp?) "It's a shame that shows like this may help expose the wrongness of homosexuality and may also encourage, unfortunately, the fact that it's out in the open. In my opinion, it is wrong to be a homosexual, lesbian or a bisexual and there is good reason why they are two different sexes." Kevin, how often do you run into that?

  • 12:38:28

    ABELLANOI run into that almost every day. If you...

  • 12:38:31

    NNAMDII should mention that in addition to being Asian American, you were born in a predominantly black hospital, your mother works at a predominantly black institution, and you attend school at a predominantly black institution.

  • 12:38:42

    ABELLANOExactly, yeah. And I get that almost every day because kids are -- well, usually in African-American community, there is a lot of religious value. And with religious value, there is the distinction that being homosexual or being bisexual or anything different other than heterosexual, that you're wrong, that you're going to hell. And I think that it -- I deal with that almost every day because you -- even if I walk down the street, people that hear that I'm possibly homosexual tend to call me out or tend to say something. For me personally, I've dealt with that in high school and I've grown from it and I've definitely become a stronger person to overlook it.

  • 12:39:28

    NNAMDIHow does CASCADE help you to deal with that? For those of our listeners who don't know what that is, Kevin is a member of a group called the Coalition of Activist Students Celebrating the Acceptance of Diversity and Equality, CASCADE.

  • 12:39:40

    ABELLANOCASCADE has been a great place for me. It's kind of like SMYAL, a safe place for students to come and to just be themselves. Whether you're straight, whether you're gay, you're allowed to just harness the fact of your individuality and you're able to just talk about freely about issues that come across on our campus and, you know, be able to understand that as a campus we are accepting of many different people from all colors, from all sexual orientation. Regardless of that fact, we want you to know that we're here and that, you know, it's safe to be who you are.

  • 12:40:21

    NNAMDISadie, we rarely hear about transgender issues in the media. Why do you think that's the case?

  • 12:40:27

    BAKERI mean, I think -- I don't know exactly. I have often asked myself the same question and I wish I knew because then I could probably do something about it.

  • 12:40:33

    NNAMDIWhat are some of the issues that transgender people face that people might not know about? How do these impact you or the people that you know?

  • 12:40:42

    BAKERSure. I mean, I think there's one sort of classic story that I, in working with trans community, I've heard over and over and over again. And that's basically, you know, you start off in high school, you're bullied, everyone makes fun of you. I mean, bullying almost isn't even a powerful enough term to convey the amount of violence that some kids go through, in my opinion. So, you know, you're dealing with this violence and harassment at school every day, so you do poorly, maybe you even drop out.

  • 12:41:06

    BAKERSo then you go home and your parents kick you out and, you know, for being queer or transgender or whatever. And then, all of a sudden, you're on the street, you're homeless and you don't have any kind of education or, you know, high school diploma of any kind. So what are you going to do at that point? Basically, that leaves people with having to engage in different kinds of crime. For a lot of people, it's...

  • 12:41:30

    NNAMDIHow did you find a community, a sense of place, after being rejected by your own family?

  • 12:41:35

    BAKERWell, I actually -- when I was 17 years old, I graduated high school. I was able to graduate and I went to a university on scholarship. So this was in Southern West Virginia and I, you know, had a full ride and everything so it was great. But they -- I mentioned earlier that we live in a world that is completely gender-segregated so they put me in a male dorm. In the male dorm, I was harassed constantly. I was sexually assaulted. I had death threats made against me, all sort of things.

  • 12:42:05

    BAKERSo I didn't -- I didn't even last a full year. I dropped out at the beginning of my first year and then eventually it was like, well, now I -- you know, I don't have a way to support myself. It's really hard to get jobs as a visibly, you know, queer person in West Virginia and other places. So I ended up actually being homeless for a couple of years. I hitchhiked all over the country. I -- you know, one of the first place I went, actually, was San Francisco. It's kind of stereotypical, but that's actually what happened.

  • 12:42:33

    BAKERAnd while I was just hitchhiking around, sleeping on the sides of the highway wherever I could find, I meet some friends who are actually from Montreal, Quebec in Canada. And I ended up living with them for a few years until eventually I had some immigration problems and had to move back to the States. But it was really in Montreal that I had the first taste of what, you know, what a community could be like and the kind of support, whether it's both the institutionalized support in the form of, like, you know, health clinics that I -- that support trans people on what -- even though what we are or just an informal, like, friendship networks.

  • 12:43:09

    NNAMDIJust quickly, as a transgender woman who dates women, is there any shorthand to describe your sexual orientation?

  • 12:43:17

    BAKERI identify as a lesbian, a transgender lesbian.

  • 12:43:21

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation on LGBT young people, the personal and the political. If you're calling and the lines are busy, go to our website, kojoshow.org, join the conversation there or send us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:45:26

    NNAMDIWe're talking about LGBT young people the personal and political aspects of it with Andrew Barnett, executive director of the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, SYMAL. That's a D.C.-based organization that supports LGBT young people through leadership training and social activities. And you go to our website, kojoshow.org, you can see photos of kids involved with SMYAL at our website and other aspects of this discussion. We also had a discussion on gender identity on March the 3rd, 2005. You can go into our archives to find that.

  • 12:46:02

    NNAMDIAlso, joining us in the studio, Sadie-Ryanne Baker, a transgender rights activist with the DC Trans Coalition. That's a volunteer organization dedicated to fighting for the human rights of transgender and gender diverse people in the District of Columbia. And Kevin Abellano is with us. He's a student at Howard University. The organization he's involved with is the Coalition of Activist Students Celebrating the Acceptance of Diversity and Equality. That's the LGBT student organization at Howard University. The acronym spells CASCADE. Now, directly to the telephones, here is Diane in Annapolis, Md. Hi, Diane.

  • 12:46:39

    DIANEHi. Thank you for taking my phone call. I -- both of my sons are gay. And with the oldest one, my husband and I recognized this almost from the get-go. He was very young. We recognized that, more than likely, he was going to be a gay child or -- and -- or gay. And it was nothing. It wasn't just like he was a feminist or there was any -- I don't know how we knew, but we knew. When he was about 16, we became very concerned with him that he might commit suicide. We could tell he was going through a very rough time and we offered counseling. But we never suggested to him -- or never questioned his sexual orientation, although we felt that that was the situation.

  • 12:47:28

    DIANEWhat we did do was took every opportunity to let him know that if indeed he was gay, or if we ever had a gay child, that would make no difference. We would love them regardless and treasure them. So, eventually, he graduated high school, went off to college and in his second year, called us and said he had something to discuss. And right away, I said, oh, I -- you don't need to come home. Just tell me what it is on the phone. And he told us. And I can honestly say I went to bed that night so relieved because, to me, it meant he'd accepted himself and he'd joined the gay community. And as I now know -- albeit years later, he's 36 -- what a great community he's in.

  • 12:48:21

    DIANEAnd with our younger son, when he was a senior in high school, I don't know, I just -- I felt that he might be gay. And so I did ask him, are you gay? Yes. Well, when were you gonna tell us this? And he said, never. And we were like, why? Because surely he'd seen how his older brother had been accepted. And he said, I did not think it was fair of God to do this to you and dad twice.

  • 12:48:52

    NNAMDIAnd, in a lot of ways, Kevin, that mirrors your situation. Being the only male in your family, I guess a part of the reluctance on your part had to do with what you kind of knew your family expectation was. Is that correct?

  • 12:49:05

    ABELLANOYes, that's very true, because your family does have a lot of say in where they think you're going. And with that, I believe that they want -- they have a set standard, as we talked about earlier. But, you know, they kind of have to face the fact that you are who you are. And as the caller is -- I applaud her for accepting her children for the way they are.

  • 12:49:31

    NNAMDIBut here, the part about being a parent of teenagers, Andrew, which I used to be at one point -- a point before that, I used to be a teenager myself -- and that is, you know that teenagers change a lot during their teenage years. And you wanna make sure that you're making a distinction between what might be a fad of the week and what might be permanent. Issues of sexual orientation and gender identity may be a little different in that regard.

  • 12:49:57

    NNAMDIBut teenagers, as a general rule, are seen to be people who want their parents to let them do what they wanna do when they wanna do it, let them be who they wanna be when they feel like being it. What advice do you give to a parent in that situation?

  • 12:50:08

    BARNETTWell, I think that you raised a lot of really good points. Obviously, LGBT adolescents are also adolescents. And they're going through a period of intense change, trying to figure out who they are on the world that has to do with sexual orientation and gender identity for LGBT youth, but also has to do with all the other things, in terms of, you know, do they wanna go to college, do they -- what kind of career do they want, what kinds of friends do they want, which peer groups do they wanna be involved in.

  • 12:50:31

    BARNETTI think it's important for parents and for everyone who works with youth to know that when we -- in working with LGBT youth, there is a period of discovery. There's a period where youth might, you know, sort of try on different hats, different identities to figure out what fits. But that when youth come out as LGBT, you know, studies very -- show that, much more often than not, that's an identity that they will maintain. It's not just necessarily a faze.

  • 12:50:58

    BARNETTThe other thing I wanted to touch on, which -- and I wanna thank Diane for sharing that beautiful story and to let her know how lucky her sons are to have her as a mother. There's actually been some really exciting research that's come out in the last two years that's confirmed what many of us would have believed anyway. It's been done through San Francisco State University. It's called the Family Acceptance Project, run by Dr. Caitlin Ryan.

  • 12:51:21

    BARNETTAnd essentially, what they did was they looked at the impact of accepting and rejecting behaviors in parents on the risk behavior of LGBT youth. And they really broke it down into behavior. They didn't look at beliefs. They looked at things like parents saying, I love you even though you're gay, or I love you, you know, because you're gay, or saying things like, we would love a gay child just as much as we love a straight child.

  • 12:51:44

    BARNETTAnd what they found was that as parents, you know, shifted down the spectrum in terms of engaging and accepting behaviors had a tremendous positive impact on reducing their child's likelihood to think about things like suicide and to think about things like engaging in substance abuse. And so what I would say to the caller and to all parents out there is to know that when you show your child love and you show your child acceptance, it -- you're really helping them. You're really helping them grow into a happy, healthy adult.

  • 12:52:13

    NNAMDIDiane, thank you very much for your call. Sadie, the transgender community has considerable medical concerns when it comes to hormone treatment and surgery. Why has access to health care been so difficult for this community?

  • 12:52:27

    BAKERI think it all comes back to the basic ignorance and the lack of awareness around trans issues. You know, there are very few places in the country where we have, you know, opportunity even to speak with doctors who are knowledgeable about, you know, the existence of trans people. And I think that one thing that often gets overlooked is that that doesn't just stop at things like hormone therapy. You know, we have trouble accessing all kinds of health care because we go to the doctor and they can't make sense of, you know, who we are and they don't know -- they don't understand our bodies.

  • 12:52:57

    BAKERThey don't understand, you know, anything. So even if we're going in for a basic checkup, we got a cold or whatever, we might, you know, get harassed. And I actually know transgender people who have been turned away from clinics. Doctors are saying, no, I think that, you know, you shouldn't be here. Like, I don't wanna treat you. I don't wanna talk to you. Like, get out of my office.

  • 12:53:14

    NNAMDICan you share what the DC Trans Coalition has done to advocate for health care for transgender people?

  • 12:53:20

    BAKERWell, we don't work in -- too much on that issue. In D.C., we're lucky to have Whitman-Walker Clinic, you know, who serve low-income communities and LGBT communities, and they have a transgender health program. So we're actually fairly lucky here in D.C. We do have some established infrastructure, which is, you know, the main reason that I actually moved to D.C.

  • 12:53:41

    NNAMDIHere is Stanley in Arlington, Va. Stanley, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:53:47

    STANLEYYeah. Hi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. Hey, listen. I wanna insert actually a scientific/ethical question into the discussion. You know, I think that we've -- you know, the more science has progressed, we've learned more about, you know, how we become who we are, whether it's gender identification or sex orientation. And I think about, you know, just around the corner, we might be at a point where we can prenatally determine, you know, who you are as an individual.

  • 12:54:17

    STANLEYAnd the ethical question becomes -- and again, I don't know the current science on this, but given this, I do think it's around the corner. What are the ethical implications to parents, since a lot of the discussion has been around parents and how parents accept their children, you know, to -- you know, should parents, ethically, have a right to hormonally treat prenatally, genetically treat prenatally or -- and the worst case scenario, abort a child the day he predetermined to be transgendered or bisexual, homosexual? Thanks. And I'll take...

  • 12:54:57

    NNAMDIWhat do you say to that, Andrew?

  • 12:54:59

    BARNETTI think that -- I'm not so sure that we're so close to the point. In time, we will be able to determine that. That being said, in some sort of, you know -- or really in the future where that might be possible, I would say that our society and our culture will lose out a lot by getting rid of LGBT folks. If you look back over history, there have been so many artists and poets and scientists and architects in every walk of life, folks who are LGBT who have made significant contributions to our culture and to the -- to who we are as a people. And I would say that trying to limit that diversity would be horrible.

  • 12:55:39

    NNAMDIGot to get to this e-mail from Jen. "I just want to say hang in there. It will definitely get better. After all, choosing a party by their genitalia -- a partner by their genitalia is so 20th century. The It Gets Better project is a campaign started by writer Dan Savage and his partner in response to a number of students taking their own lives after they have bullied in school."

  • 12:56:01

    NNAMDIThere has been a lot of discussion in the blog history about the limits of that It Gets Better campaign, some saying that it's too homogenous. What are your thoughts on the campaign and its demographic? Does it speak to you, Kevin?

  • 12:56:15

    ABELLANOFor me, I think that it does. It Gets Better campaign is very helpful to youth because I think that it provides -- it sheds light upon the issue where it's kind of taboo to speak on homosexuality. And I think that It Gets Better campaign provides a lot of famous people and people, in general, just to let kids know that, you know, life -- it's life. You have -- you go through struggles, you go through triumphs. But at the end of the day, as long as, you know, you're proud of who you are and you just look at yourself and just say that, you know, it's okay, just move on. It's one step at a time.

  • 12:56:58

    NNAMDISadie, does it speak to you?

  • 12:57:00

    BAKERI feel pretty complicated about the It Gets Better projects. On the one hand, I do support it. I think it's a great thing. I think that it can definitely help a lot of youth who are struggling, you know, in a world that doesn't accept them. On the other hand, you know, for me, things didn't get better when I finished high school. Things got actually considerably worse. I ended up -- I mean, I faced lots of violence since then. I faced family rejection. I was homeless. You know, all of these things happen to me.

  • 12:57:23

    BAKERAnd when I came out, you know, there wasn't just a gay community waiting to -- with open arms to embrace me. I think there's -- you know, we discussed earlier, there's a lot of misunderstanding even in the gay community about what trans people are. So as a transgender person, I didn't find the same -- just automatically find the same support. It was a lot harder for me.

  • 12:57:41

    NNAMDIAnd in a lot of ways, it seems you had to make it better.

  • 12:57:44

    BAKERExactly. And I think that's the other major point that a lot of the people on the blogs have been making is that things don't just get better magically or maybe they get better for some people, people with relatively -- have more privilege, like wealthier people. But for poor people, transgender people, people of color, we have to make it better for ourselves.

  • 12:57:59

    NNAMDISadie-Ryanne Baker is a transgender rights activist with the DC Trans Coalition. Thank you for joining us. Kevin Abellano is a student at Howard University and a member of the Coalition of Activist Students Celebrating the Acceptance of Diversity and Equality. Kevin, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:58:13

    ABELLANOThank you for having us.

  • 12:58:14

    NNAMDIAnd Andrew Barnett is the executive director of the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, SMYAL. Andrew Barnett, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:58:21

    BARNETTThank you.

  • 12:58:22

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. You can find a lot of links at our website, kojoshow.org, to a variety of aspects of this issue. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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