My name is Dal Long. I'm a twenty-year old student, majoring in psychology at a small liberal arts university in Missouri. I work in the library of a Christian seminary, which simply screams irony. As both a bisexual and a Muslim convert, a seminary is perhaps not the most idyllic place for me. But hey, it pays for my tuition.
I grew up in a small Irish Catholic town. The town consists of mostly older retirees, and there are damned few young people. "Conservative" is the town motto. To most people around here, gays are distasteful creatures who live in San Francisco. Needless to say, when in adolescence I began to ask myself why I was having these strange attractions to guys as well as girls, I spent many years frustrated and lonely. I'm just beginning to admit it to myself. I am bisexual; I love sometimes men, sometimes women. This is not an easy concept to accept, growing up as I did in an isolated and conservative small town.
But most of us are aware of the prejudice and hardships queer youth face in rural or small towns. My only form of social support came when I received access to the Internet a few short months ago and discovered other young people like me. But a lot of gay young people don't even have that much.
I would like to remind people that homosexual and bisexual youths live in every culture. As hard as it may be to believe, gays and lesbians are better received and better protected in the U.S. than in most areas or the world. As a member of the Muslim community in St. Louis, I am very much aware of the dangers surrounding homosexuals and bisexuals in other cultures. "Coming out" is simply not an option within the Islamic world, and even asking questions or acknowledging sexual curiosity is tantamount to abuse, imprisonment, or far worse fates. I've heard stories from immigrant friends of people suspected of homosexual acts who simply disappear. No one asks questions afterwards, not even the family. Many gays and lesbians in the Middle East and Africa live in painful silence, often being forced to marry, and never admitting their sexuality to themselves or others, never dreaming of a lover. This isn't limited to the Islamic world. According to South American and Asian friends, Latin America and the Orient are not much better. Many people in other cultures do not even believe homosexuality really exists. Tolerance and the basic right to be left alone are obviously not accorded.
Homosexual acts are still illegal where I live in Missouri. I never met any gays, and I foolishly once believed my community's consensus that gays are vile or mentally ill. Since my family, neighborhood, and workplace are rather hostile, I am not "out" to anyone except two well-trusted friends. In fact, there was no literature, support groups, or hot-line ever available to me, and it was not until I acquired the Internet through my college and joined the ranks of the Internet junkies that I found information, support, and reassurance. And I am very thankful for that blessed outlet.
Sadly, the limitations of my small town life are insubstantial compared to the isolation of a young lesbian or gay in Egypt, Bolivia, China, or Zimbabwe. Absolutely no information or support exists there. Quite possibly it never will.
Let those of us fortunate enough to be born in the "First World" not forget that the gay youth movement is, for us, a luxury. We must not forget our brothers and sisters in other lands. Be thankful for what freedom we already have.
©1997 Oasis Magazine. All Rights Reserved.