In 1994, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services convened a national working conference
on the health care needs of sexual minority youth. One result of this conference was the 1998
publication of the book Lesbian and Gay Youth: Care and Counseling, now considered the
authoritative book on the mental health needs of these youth, as well as on barriers to meeting
The participants of the conference identified the following needs of all youth:
The participants also identified several factors that often interfere with these needs in the
case of sexual minority youth. These barriers to full mental health stem from society's lack
of knowledge and negative perceptions of such youth. We at Age Taboo believe that because the
lack of knowledge and negative perceptions are significantly greater in the case of gay youth
attracted to younger males, these barriers are even more severe for them. They are outlined below.
- Protection of their mental health
- Protection of their physical health
- Development of a consolidated positive identity
- Development of social skills
- Development of satisfying close relationships
- Development of life and career goals
Stigma threatens the mental health of sexual minority youth by leading to intense stress,
feelings of rejection, depression, anxiety, separation of social and sexual identities, and
alienation from family and society. Rejection by parents can lead to running away or being
forced out of their home and ending up in the criminal justice system or in foster care/social
services. Stigma threatens physical health by leading to risky behavior such as substance abuse,
sexual acting out, and suicide attempts in an effort to deal with self-hate or depression. Stigma
interferes with self-acceptance and identity integration, an essential developmental task of
adolescence. Stigma makes self-disclosure to others difficult or impossible, resulting in
impaired social development. It can also lead to school and job failure, limiting educational,
career, and life choices.
Social and emotional isolation mean these youth often have no one to talk to about their
feelings and problems. This isolation is due to fear of discovery and feelings of rejection. Such
youth feel separated affectionally and emotionally from others. Such isolation exacerbates mental
health problems and leads to maladaptive coping behavior. Isolation is a principle cause of suicide.
It also inhibits socialization, the development of communication and disclosure skills, and the
formation of satisfying close relationships. It leads to increased vulnerability to psychological
harm resulting from emotional or physical abuse due to discovery or suspicion of their sexuality.
Isolation from others with a similar sexuality prevents them from learning about, understanding,
and accepting their sexuality, which is necessary for development of a consolidated positive identity.
The severe stress that results from having a stigmatized sexuality also threatens mental
health. Typical stressors for sexual minority youth include coming out or being discovered,
strained relationships with family, being ridiculed, experiencing harassment, sensing others'
negative attitudes, and feeling powerful pressure to conform to the norm. These stressors
increase the potential for depression, risky behaviors, and suicidal ideation.
A lack of information about their sexuality leaves sexual minority youth vulnerable to
accepting society's stereotypes and false information about themselves, intensifying the
effects of stigma. This lack prevents them from understanding and accepting their sexuality,
and developing a positive integrated self-concept. A similar lack of knowledge on the part of
care providers leads to refusal to provide care, an attitude of rejection toward sexual minority
youth, or inappropriate, inadequate, or unethical treatment which can cause severe psychological
damage. Such treatment also causes sexual minority youth to distrust mental health professionals
and avoid or delay getting help when they need it.
A lack of role models also interferes with proper development. Most straight youth see
many role models around them: men and women who are emotionally healthy and who express their
sexuality in responsible ways. They have people they can talk to for advice or to listen to
their difficulties. Such role models are more difficult to find for gay youth, and virtually
impossible for those who are attracted to boys younger than themselves. Thus, such youth have
no example by which to understand and integrate their sexuality into their self-concept and
personal ethical code. They may be unaware of positive options for relationships, education, and careers.
The mission of Age Taboo, then, is to assist youth who are attracted to younger boys surmount
these obstacles, using many of the ideas recommended by the contributors to the conference, as
well as ideas used by other gay youth support sites.
You may also wish to read our guiding principles.
- We help them deal with stigma by challenging myths, providing examples of important
historical figures who had a similar sexuality, and allowing them to exchange ideas with peers
and experienced adults about managing stigma. We help them see people's perceptions as resulting
from incorrect preconceptions rather than from a personal failure on the part of the youth.
- We end isolation by creating a place where they can find acceptance and validation, a
connection to an accepting community, and supportive relationships with peers and compassionate
adults. We give them a forum where they can safely express themselves artistically, and read
and write about issues important to them. They can read each others' personal stories and give
and receive advice in order to deal with their feelings, to develop close relationships, to cope
with depression and stressors, to deal with hostility and humiliation, to learn to express their
sexuality in ways that are responsible and will not harm others, and to consider the possibility
of coming out.
- We provide them with accurate information about their sexuality and related issues such as
stigma and coming out. We also point them to places where they can find more information.
Accurate information is necessary to dispel negative stereotypes.
- We give them the opportunity to learn from role models--older people who have developed
ways of coping with stressors, developed a positive sense of self and sexual identity, found
satisfying, ethical, and responsible ways of living with their sexuality, found fulfilling
careers, and developed a framework of ethics.
*Caitlin Ryan & Donna Futterman, Lesbian and Gay Youth:
Care & Counseling, New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.