By Michael Walker
Oasis Science and Medical Editor
There's no small amount of talk in the gay community about the great mountain of challenges that we, as queer youth, have yet to climb to achieve the respect, equality, and understanding in general society that we so crave and certainly deserve. What has not received the same amount of discussion recently, however, is the triumphs we have won and enjoyed over the past couple of years. I guess it is easier for most people to talk about things in a critical, even negative manner than it is to celebrate the good that has come from hard work and the perseverance of many people over a considerable amount of time. With this in mind, I would like to address something that I have noticed over the past few months, and something quite positive and refreshing at that.
Recently, I was reading an issue of Teen People, a relatively new teen-oriented mainstream magazine. I don't often read such magazines, but hey, they had a good article on N'Sync in that issue so I decided to pick it up while I was at the grocery store. Aside from learning all about the future plans of one of my favorite bands, I also found that the magazine mentioned gay youth several times, in different articles and columns. Now, a teen magazine talking about gay youth is not all that unusual anymore, but what amazed me to a degree was that these articles were not exclusively about gay youth, that they did not treat gay youth as something of a fad nor as a problem population or a minority or anything else: The pages where gay youth were mentioned in this magazine were pages devoted to assorted teen-related topics and they just happened to deal with gay youth alongside straight youth.
In other words, not much of an ado was being made over us and we were being allowed to share in the arena of regular teenage life. This is special, because it indicates that this publication (and others like it) are starting to see queer youth as something lasting, something that has been here all along and should be recognized as a valid part of the overall demography of adolescence.
This is a magazine primary read by teenage girls (and boys!) from around 13 to 19 years of age, and gay youth are being treated as an integral part of the teenage scene, which is in one way or another something we have been wanting and fighting for since I was in high school. During my early college years, you would have never seen this type of integration of gay youth into the vernacular discussion of everyday adolescence in a mainstream teen-oriented publication. To see it now is more than simply refreshing; to see it now encourages me to realize that a new generation of adolescents (both straight and queer alike) will come of age taking for granted the presence of people of a non-heterosexual orientation as part of "normal" society.
Personally, I came of age not holding any biases towards people based on their skin color, ethnic origin, or gender and that mind-set was largely due to the struggles of people of my parents' generation to dissolve such prejudices. In other words, I did not grow up with latent bias and prejudice around me so I did not automatically incorporate such ideas into my worldview. It is my ardent hope to see this coming generation grow up thinking the same way of persons who are of a non-heterosexual orientation and I see a motion towards that reality in the way magazines such as Teen People are currently treating their articles that include queer youth. Sure, this alone will not change everything, but it's a small yet much-needed measure of mainstream acceptance and it should go a long way towards helping our straight peers realize that we are no different from themselves.
Michael Walker is the Science and Medical Editor for Oasis Magazine, having assumed the role of Medical Editor from Kate Fordham just this month. Kate served in this capacity from December of 1996 to this spring, and her expertise will be greatly missed. Michael can be reached at: MCWalker@hotmail.com