Safe Spaces for Gay Youth

Last issue, Steve Charing highlighted the opening of The Den (Baltimore OUTloud, The Den Opens Its Doors to LGBT Youth),  a safe space for GLBT youth ages 13 to 24. Kalima Young, one of the driving forces behind The Den, told Steve that “youth have suffered from our unwillingness as adults to address structural issues such as poverty, classicism, racism and sexism in the LGBTQ community that directly impacts where and how youth experience the LGBTQ community.”

It is critical – because the situation GLBT youth face in Baltimore City is dire. According to a recent Baltimore City Health Department study, between the years 1999-2000 and 2007-2008, 92% of the youth victims and perpetrators of violence were chronically truant in at least one academic year. 62% had a history of out of school suspension and/or expulsion; and 38 % repeated two or more grades. This data suggests that academic participation in schools immunizes students against being a perpetrator or a victim of violence. In addition to violence, GLBT youth face an even greater risk than their peers of dropping out of school, experiencing homelessness, or acquiring HIV.

The Den offers a refuge for these kids from these far too adult pressures, a “safe space to simply exist without judgment from societal pressure.”

And in addition to the great need for help with the massive structural problems they face, I am going to suggest something that these kids need.

A little tenderness.

Over the last year, numerous GLBT youth in Baltimore City have contacted me – confidentially, privately – to express fear. Not fear of gay bashing by right-wing bigots, not fear of being fired from a job, not fear of coming out.

Rather, these youth fear other members of the GLBT community. It seems that, in our quest for equality, a certain orthodoxy has developed around what GLBT youth – and “genderqueer” youth (many of whom, incidentally, are heterosexual) – must believe. This new generation is certainly geared towards social justice, but their mechanism for social justice policing includes violent death threats – specifically with regard to the acceptance of transgender men and women as the sex to which they transition. Unfortunately, the Internet and its innumerable iterations of social media networking has emboldened this trend, with users able to shield themselves behind a nom de guerre as they metaphorically let guns blaze when someone dares express the opinion that transgender people are not the sex they present themselves as. One rather ominous post on Tumblr noted that you need at least 15 people to “break (the) spirit” of anyone who disagrees with the party line.

Break the spirit? Break the spirit? Are you insane? That’s right wing talk. That’s not supportive GLBT Talk.

Why is this happening? In what movement is it appropriate for one group of people to demand blind acceptance?

According to the Pew Charitable Trust, this generation of 18 to 24 year olds uses technology and the Internet more than any prior generation to connect with people through text messaging, instant messaging and social media websites like Facebook and blogging sites like Tumblr – the “Look at Me” generation.

This tendency towards over disclosure of personal information gives frightening insight into what some of these kids are thinking. A recent Internet meme – Die Cis Scum – was coined in response to perceived oppression by nontransgender people against transgender people. Those that proclaim “Die Cis Scum” give us the electronic equivalent of setting a cat on fire or bedwetting – and although some of these kids will likely grow out of their antisocial expressions, I wonder how many young sociopaths are being bred on a lethal combination of unearned indignation, instant access to information with little to no understanding of what that information means and youth culture that celebrates appearance and political ideology as a marker of inclusion in a nihilistic “in” group.

So, what do we do? Do we do anything? Do we let the next generation of GLBT folks whip nonconformists into submission? Or do we force a time out?

The GLBT community has advanced as far as it has – in a relatively short period of time – in part because of the innovative think bread by nonconformist thought. It is essential to question everything, and it is essential to have the room to question things. One of my greatest worries is that GLBT youth have no space to question things in an environment that demands strict adherence to a set of beliefs, because deviations from the accepted dogma of the GLBT Church earn severe social punishments.

This sounds like fascism.

Kids need room to breathe – a safe space. Safe space is even more important for GLBT youth, because most spaces are not GLBT-friendly. The Den’s unveiling in Baltimore City could not come at a more timely moment for GLBT youth – because a little tenderness, and room to maneuver, can go a long way towards protecting the next generation of innovative community thinkers.

Friday, 01 June 2012


  1. Lysandra · ·

    This is an excellent post. It is so important to spread the word about the “inside bullying” coming from the T’s. I’ve experienced it myself.

    One thing I’m confused about is the bedwetting reference–I always understood that to be a physical problem, not psychological.

    1. The Macdonald triad (also known as the triad of sociopathy) is a set of three behavioral characteristics that were originally claimed, if present together, to be associated with later violent tendencies. The triad was first proposed by J.M. Macdonald in “The Threat to Kill”, a 1963 paper in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

      The triad links animal cruelty, obsession with fire setting, and persistent bedwetting past the age of five to violent behaviors, particularly homicidal behavior. However, other studies have not found statistically significant links between the triad and violent offenders. Nevertheless, some serial killers exhibited at least some of these behaviors during childhood. For example, contract killer Richard Kuklinski, serial killer Dennis Rader, and serial killer Gary Ridgway all engaged in acts of animal cruelty.

      Further studies have suggested that these behaviors are often the product of parental neglect, cruelty or trauma, and that such events in a person’s childhood can result in “homicidal proneness”. However, the ‘triad’ concept as a particular combination of behaviors may not have any particular validity – it has been called an urban legend.


  2. MateoZeske · ·

    Maybe I need some more context for this discussion. I don`t condone violence or suppressing nonconformist expression, but this post seems to warp the reality transgender people experience. From the way I`m looking at it, most of the world denies and refuses to accept a trans person`s self-identity. I don`t see how continuing to tell trans people that they are what genitals they were born with is fresh thinking that will lead to good things. Most trans people experience this refusal of their identity as a type of violence, and are often victims of physical violence because other people are uncomfortable with them being non-conforming. While I`m not saying violence against anyone is an acceptable response, I would think the best way to help these kids is to examine and explain how cyclical this violence is. I think all GLBTetc. communities would be healthier if they worked towards unity by respecting that they experience different joys and challenges than hetero people and that each subgroup also faces different joys and challenges. Both the similarities and differences are important, and when you accept that, violent attempts at earning that respect seem a lot less inevitable.

    1. It is not violence to say trans people are not the sex they wish to transition into. The GLBT Community has demonstrated little to no respect for lesbians (you know, the females who love females in the soup?) Why is it the burden of females to make trans women in particular “feel good” about themselves? How, then, are trans women any different from all men, who are socialized to expect favorable and placating female attention?

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