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Calif. Lawmaker Steps Out of the Closet

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Nov 3, 2011
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A California State Assembly member has stepped out of the closet to give voice to her concern for LGBT youth, reported local newspaper the Sacramento Bee on Nov. 1.

Cathleen Galgiani became the state’s eighth openly gay lawmaker after coming out. That places California at the top of the list of states with openly gay and lesbian lawmakers, the article said.

Galgiani came out in an interview with the Stockton Record on Nov. 1.

"It sickens me that young people would think about taking their lives because of who they are," said Galgiani, referring to the ongoing suicides of GLBT teens who are harassed and bullied by their peers.

In recent months the media has reported on at least two such instances. A gay teen in New York, Jamey Rodemeyer, killed himself in September. Not long after, a gay teen in Canada, Jamie Hubley, also committed suicide.

The nation has awakened to the fact that GLBT youth are up to six times more likely to engage in suicidal behavior following media reports putting the problem in the spotlight. Several instances of gay youth suicide took place over the summer of 2010; the suicidal leap of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi from the George Washington Bridge in September, 2010, seemed to be a tipping point.

Since then, the media, politicians, and society at large have taken greater notice of the problem. But the trend is far from over; gay and lesbian youths continue to be harassed, and some schools do nothing to protect them. One school district, Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin, has seen so many students commit suicide that the district has come under scrutiny from the Justice Department; meantime, the district also faces two lawsuits from youths who say they were not protected from harassment and bullying.

The Anoka-Hennepin school district has a "neutrality" policy regarding gays and related issues that critics say leave staff unsure of how, or whether, they may intervene in cases of bullying, even when it is happening in front of them.

At least two other high-profile instances of closeted individuals emerging have also been the result of the persistent, intertwined problems of anti-gay bullying and GLBT teen suicide. Actor Zachary Quinto came out, saying that he hoped he could be a role model for young people struggling against anti-gay prejudice. An ABC news anchor, Dan Kloeffler, also stepped out of the closet, outing himself on air during a recent broadcast.

"Galgiani, 47, said it was not until well into adulthood, after she was elected to represent the 17th Assembly District in 2006, that she knew she was gay," the Stockton Record reported.

Such a story is not unusual. Many gay men and women either repress, or simply do not recognize, their sexual feelings for others of the same gender until well into adulthood. Many men, especially from older generations, have stayed closeted into their 50s, 60s, and beyond, having picked up the message that professional and personal life as they know it would be denied them if ever they should emerge from the closet.

But as LGBTs have gained greater acceptance in recent years, younger gays have fewer compunctions about living openly and honestly. Unfortunately, for many there is still a price to be paid in stigma and anti-gay harassment. Some gay youths are even physically attacked for being openly gay.

For women, a growing awareness of same-sex attraction is not unusual as time goes on. A new study shows that older women increasingly recognize such feelings, a Nov. 2 Examiner.com article reported.

"A study carried out by Boise State University found that out of a group of 484 heterosexual women, 60 per cent were sexually attracted to other women; 45 per cent had kissed a woman and 50 per cent had fantasies about the same sex," the article said.

Another researcher followed a group of women for a decade and a half to record how their sexual feelings changed over time, the article said. Lisa Diamond of the University of Utah interviewed her study subjects, all of whom were attracted to other women, repeatedly over the years. Diamond requested that the women define themselves according to commonplace words such as "heterosexual" or "lesbian," and found that as the women aged they often changed how they described themselves, eventually losing interest in such fixed terms.

"We have this idea that sexuality gets clearer and more defined as time goes on," Diamond said. "We consider that a sign of maturity to figure out who you are. I’ve seen it’s really the opposite."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network’s Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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